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Making Sustainability More Economically Viable

By: Alessandra Funcia
Posted: August 29, 2012, from the September 2012 issue of GCI Magazine.

Type the name of almost any company in the beauty industry into your favorite search engine, add the word “sustainability” and you’ll likely find pages and pages of information about its commitment to the environment—saving energy, eliminating waste, reducing water consumption and so on. The commitments companies have made publicly are significant, and the world is watching: Environmental groups track their progress and are quick to point out shortcomings; consumers, many of whom are also trying to improve their environmental profile and reduce their carbon footprint, shift their allegiance to brands with compatible ideals; and shareholders watch carefully for signs of declining profitability.

In the end, environmental responsibility is just a part of the picture. To be successful, a product needs to stand out on store shelves and entice consumers to buy it at a price that ensures the brand owner will make a profit. That doesn’t mean, however, that the two objectives—responsibility and profitability—cannot go hand in hand. In fact, at least one major beauty brand has publicly stated its objective to double the size of its market while simultaneously reducing its environmental footprint by half.

One of the places where you find the most synergy for this relationship is in plastics packaging. There are several different ways beauty companies, beauty brand owners and beauty product developers can realize their environmental objectives, and looking at the total package—including materials, manufacturing efficiency, productivity, etc.—there is almost always a solid business case for sustainable choices. The following is a rundown of some of those sustainable choices.

Using Less Material

It is possible to produce a plastic bottle that uses up to 30% less plastic and yet, compared to a more conventional package, there would be no observable difference in appearance and performance. With less resin in the container, there is a reduction in feedstock consumed, and the package will weigh less. This translates to reduced handling costs and less fuel required to transport finished goods and less plastic going in to the waste stream. And the lighter weight package is just as recyclable as the standard container.

In addition to the environmental benefits, it is easy to see that the material cost per unit will be reduced, but that’s not all. The same technology makes the plastic easier to process, saving energy in production and increasing productivity. This makes it more economically viable. By helping to keep manufacturing costs down, it can make it possible for brand owners to expand market penetration and bring attractive, engaging products to consumers who may be less affluent than the brand’s typical customer.

A Choice of Forms

Plastic colors and additives are available in either solid or liquid form. While this might sound like something of importance only to the bottle producer, beauty companies should be interested in the significant sustainability and economic advantages the liquid form can provide in many applications.

For instance, with liquids’ colors, you often can achieve the desired look while reducing the amount of color used by 50% or more. This is especially true for translucent or transparent colors in clear polymers. You are actually using less color and, because liquids can be metered very precisely, there is less risk of oversaturating the color.

Also, when it comes time to change from one liquid color to another or from liquid color to solid, the switch can be made in less time than it takes to purge solid color from the processing machine, so less scrap is generated. Liquid masterbatches also can be formulated so they improve the flow of the polymer, resulting in faster processing, increased productivity, reduced energy consumption and lower overall manufacturing cost.

Options for Biopolymers

Interest in biopolymers continues to grow. These plastics are made from renewable resources such as corn, sugar, starch and other natural raw materials, instead of fossil fuels, so they have an attractive environmental profile.