New decoration systems and rediscovered ways of communicating luxury cannot disguise the continued focus on sustainable options for bottles, jars and tubes. Paul Gander reports
The established view regarding the split between glass and plastics in beauty packaging used to be ‘what was in plastics would stay in plastics’.
After all, the brand owners knew their target demographics, and there were good cost, weight and logistics reasons why plastics were often the preferred option.
Today, these certainties are not so entrenched, and the idea, at least, that the use of plastics should be questioned in all primary packaging applications is gaining credibility.
At Stoelzle Masnières, France, CEO and Head of Perfumery and Cosmetics Etienne Gruyez admits to SPC that messages about plastics tend to be oversimplified.
“The trouble is that it’s so complex with recyclable, non-recyclable and other types of plastic that the consumer is left confused, and people end up simply saying: ‘plastic is bad’” he says.
Predictably, the glass industry has not been slow to capitalise on this confusion. “There are strong reasons to move out of plastics and into glass, even at the masstige end of the market,” Gruyez argues. “Brand owners are afraid of being caught out.”
Stoelzle is not alone in benefitting from a move away from plastics in general towards glass, over the past couple of years. Verescence, which believes positive perceptions of glass are especially strong among millennial and Gen Z consumers, cites the example of Estée Lauder’s Advanced Night Repair Eye Supercharged Complex jar.
“This high end cream was previously packaged in plastic, and the group decided to move it to glass in 2018,” comments Global Marketing and Communication Director Astrid Dulau-Vuillet, adding that the move was a success both commercially and in terms of consumer perception.
At Vetroplas, which sells both glass and plastics packaging in the UK, Sales Director Simon Dix confirms that demand for glass remains strong. “We have had some customers who were previously using polymers, such as jars for face creams designed to look like glass moving to real glass containers instead,” he states.
Despite Stoelzle’s claims, and notwithstanding these examples, the plastics industry has seen significant innovation: and more on that in due course.
But, while it is happy to be associated with ideas of venerable tradition, the glass industry has not stood still. When it comes to sustainability, the two core areas of development have tended to be lightweighting and the use of recycled content – with the emphasis on post-consumer recycled (PCR) material.
Gerresheimer’s glass business is among those to have tackled many of the issues relating to greater use of recycled content. In the case of its Momignies site in Belgium, this process has been underway for over a decade.
“We have created glass packaging for cosmetics with the highest proportion of post-consumer recycled (PCR) content available on the market,” says Momignies General Manager Nicola Balena.
“At the same time, we’ve ensured that the clarity and overall quality of our glass is maintained.”
Progress with PCR content for clear glass has been so positive that Gerresheimer now plans to integrate the use of recyclate into its site at Tettau, Germany, during 2020.
Similarly, Verescence sees the development of options with recycled glass as a process stretching back at least ten years. The company used its Verre Infini brand for the first time in 2008, with a 100% PCR bottle.
But over the past two years, it has been behind some major launches using Verre Infini NEO, which combines 25% PCR cullet with 65% internal cullet.
Dulau-Vuillet claims that this level of innovation “is still a difficult exercise” in the luxury segment, both for packaging supplier and customer.
“However, today, some premium brands are breaking the rules of the luxury codes and are showing that it is possible to make a product even more prestigious by reducing its glass weight and using recycled materials.”
She singles out Guerlain’s Abeille Royale cream jar, launched in 2019, as a current example of multi-dimensional eco-design along these lines.
Other glassmakers are cautious about making too much of these trends. Gruyez at Stoelzle confirms that, yes, there is a demand for lighter glass. “But when it comes to demonstrating quality and luxury, it seems that even for the biggest brands, lighter glass doesn’t sell,” he contends.
“Brands are not in a hurry to put all their eggs in one basket. Otherwise, why would they not change all their existing bottles to lighter weights?”
In fact, brands can sometimes be strongly motivated to move not to lighter but to heavier glass, as Vetroplas makes clear. “We have launched new, heavier weight versions of existing glass bottles and jars in order to provide a pack that offers a higher perceived value and added luxury,” says Dix.
Naturally, there has been no shortage of innovation focused on the glass container’s visual impact. Verescence, for example, highlights the various internal coating options that it offers, including COLOR’in and METAL’in, used over recent months for fragrances including Tom Ford’s Lost Cherry and Michael Kors’ Wonderlust Sublime.
“Every year, we create unique effects, such as translucent, gradients and pearlescent finishes,” says Dulau-Vuillet.
Meanwhile, the most recent example of the company’s SCULPT’in system for creating repeatable designs, with glass distributed asymmetrically in the mould, has been produced for American brand Vince Camuto.
The needs of e-commerce are another concern. Verescence has launched its CARA range of premium mini-size containers, including format sizes of 7.5ml and 10ml.
But durability through home delivery channels is also a requirement. “That’s why we propose our Unbreakable technology – a unique finish that doubles the resistance of glass,” explains Dulau-Vuillet.
When it comes to visual impact, sometimes the ridged outer surface of the container is all a brand needs. This is the case with the bottle for Promise by Jennifer Lopez, produced by Stoelzle and launched in September 2019, complete with a branded signature plate.
On the polymer side, Gerresheimer Plastic Packaging is among those offering packs incorporating different proportions of PCR and virgin polymer. But like others, it can provide alternatives to recyclate, too.
Under the BioPack brand, Gerresheimer has launched bio-PET and bio-polyethylene (bio-PE), so-called ‘drop-in’ biopolymers, which behave and perform exactly like fossil-fuel-derived virgin polymer, but in this case are derived from renewable resources.
In the UK, Vetroplas notes, the picture with regard to glass, plastics and alternative plastics is “very mixed”. “Some customers wish to move away as much as possible from plastic, while others see more value in requesting ‘bio’ or recycled content in the packs,” says Dix.
When it comes to tubes, there is less temptation to switch to a completely different material type. But the industry is increasingly being pressured to ensure structures are readily recyclable, and the design challenges can be considerable.
There are typically fewer challenges for rigid plastics, argues Head of Marketing at Neopac Cornelia Schmid.
“Tube solutions often require the combination of multilayer barrier and other components,” she says. “By contrast, bottles often comprise just one material, and so are easier to recycle.”
At November 2018’s CPhI Worldwide show in Hanover, Germany, Neopac launched its Tube Design Guide for Recyclability, with recommendations including the use of either PE or polypropylene (PP), with additives and additional layers, including barriers, not accounting for more than 5% of the material.
Barrier options include ethylene vinyl alcohol (EVOH), oriented PE films with special barrier coatings or thin film barriers such as metallised, aluminium oxide (AlOx) and silicon oxide (SiOx) layers.
“With extruded plastics tubes, these guidelines can be met today,” says Schmid. “But barrier properties are often insufficient to make meeting our guidelines feasible.”
Laminated plastics tubes adhering to Neopac’s own recyclability guidelines will be launched during 2020, she adds. Meanwhile, the company has its EcoDesign suite of solutions. This includes “75% recycled, food-grade compliant PE plastics” and the PICEA tube, integrating a proportion of forestry industry waste.
Schmid is honest about Neopac’s third EcoDesign option: “Tubes composed of bio-PE are often misunderstood regarding the origins of their ‘sugar cane’ material, which sometimes causes larger brands to shy away from them.”
While PCR content glass jars and bottles are popular from an eco perspective, the luxury look and feel of heavier glass is still preferred
For its part, Vetroplas supplies extruded tubes with the option of utilising either 50% PCR content or 100% bio-PE, again derived from sugar cane.
“Both are often requested these days, with PCR currently being the most popular,” says Dix. These tubes are sourced from CTL Packaging, with plants in Spain, France and the US.
Elsewhere, there are alternative materials on the horizon which make the task of explaining bio-PE look relatively straightforward. Petrochemical company SABIC processes post-consumer plastics (chiefly PE and PP) at high temperatures and in the absence of oxygen, to break them down into their component chemicals.
These can then be reconstituted to create virgin-quality polymer free from additives and impurities. PP repolymerised this way has been used in bottles for Unilever’s REN Clean Skincare brand.
Mark Vester, Circular Economy Leader at SABIC, explains that the properties of mechanically recycled plastics can be less reliable than those of virgin polymers.
“This, combined with possible contaminants, is limiting the use of such products in applications driven by high standards and regulation, such as food or skin care packaging,” he says.
Questions remain over how far sustainability should stretch in the sector, and how visible it needs to be. Perhaps these innovations are in their own way (much as the use of packaging itself) ‘exercises in containment’/.