As one of the more contentious issues in sustainability, we took on packaging for our first digital meetup. From material choices and their trade-offs to closing the loop and communication – here’s an overview of what we learned...
We ran a poll asking our Provenance community what they’d like to know more about as part of our new meetup, #ProvenanceLive, which runs Wednesday at 5pm GMT. We framed this around beauty and personal care – an industry we’ve been seeing very exciting changes in recently and have been supporting through our partnership with Cult Beauty and a growing group of transparently-minded brands.To bring insights from different sides, we had special guests Dr Adam Read, External Affairs Director of Recycling and Recovery for SUEZ and Namrata Nayyar-Kamdar, founder and CEO of a skincare brand for Gen-Z, Plenaire.
Our key takeaways
There are rarely simple choices: “Weighing up the benefits of one material over another is never simple without understanding the entirety of the system that you're going to operate in.” (Dr Adam Read)
Closing the loop means going beyond the basics: "Recycling – as a blind journey – isn’t the end goal.” (Dr Adam Read)
It’s important to communicate your packaging decisions – brands leading the way have interesting stories to share around the decisions they’ve made for their customers: “We're not perfect, but we’re sharing the fact openly so we talk about it.” (Namrata Nayyar-Kamdar)
Q: Is the footprint of recycled packaging materials less than virgin materials?
A: “Recycling those materials makes environmental sense. But at the moment, we don't capture all the externalities of the virgin material, so therefore virgin always looks cheap. There are times when recycling will not have an environmental benefit because the quality of the recycling is so low. The effort of the energy being used to recycle the material then goes up. You might have to transport it long distances. And if you're not sending it by a renewable energy source, but you're using diesel, then again – your footprint is growing, so there is a tipping point. ...If you're having to put it through intensive energy or heat-related treatment technologies, the balance around recycling plastics and glass starts to look less obvious on a case-by-case basis.” – Dr Adam Read
Q: What is your ‘ultimate’ material packaging choice?
A: “I think the anti-plastic brigade is too easy to talk about. Single-use *plastics* has been the bane of our ‘consumption existence’... when actually there are single-use everything.And it's the single-use that is potentially more of a problem (if the single-use isn't designed with a very clear view of how the system, post-consumer, works.” – Dr Adam ReadA: “We chose plastic and then we educated ourselves on mono-material – on the benefits and what the actions are in the supply chain between the time that she (the Plenair customer) buys us in her store to the time that she disposes of us. ...We kind of developed our packaging choices based around her lifestyle, making sure that we were going to be successful with her, but then also then back-ending that into sustainability.” – Namrata Nayyar-Kamdar
Q: How can we help communicate those choices to citizens and help them actually recycle?
A: “I feel very lucky and grateful that we can, in a very uncomplicated and easy way, lay out all the facts transparently. There are things that we could get better at. There are things that we're not doing perfectly. Yes, we are in plastic – but I think the most important thing to the person who's buying us is this transparency and the idea that we're trying to find a good solution.We talk about it on social a lot and we get a lot of direct messages about it... Within two clicks, you can look at all of our materials – what's the best way to dispose of them and suggestions on how to upcycle them if you wanted to.” – Namrata Nayyar-Kamdar
A: “Brands will be required to pay for all of the packaging they put on the market in terms of the tax, the cost, the externalities, the impacts on the environment. How much does the waste management system really cost to capture that material? At the moment, brands are paying 8-9-10% on average because local authorities are paying the rest (we as consumers are paying it, as a resident, not as a consumer). The future will be you as a consumer paying it because certain brands will become more expensive because they pass on the cost exactly. Low-recycled content or hard-to-recycle materials will have a higher cost.” – Dr Adam Read
And looking to the future...“Recycling has been the only message in town for 20 years. We've been trying to build the norm that people recycle. Now we've got to educate them further that recycling – as a blind activity – is not the end goal in this journey. We need to be better citizens, better consumers. We need to think more about our choices. And that may mean refillable. It may mean a circular system, it may be that you hire certain products in the future. We've just got to shift the gears now.” – Dr Adam Read