Running with the green pack

Published: 30-Oct-2008

With an entire day of lectures devoted to the issue at this year\'s Luxe Pack Monaco, sustainable packaging has moved into the mainstream. Julia Wray looks at the latest green developments.

With an entire day of lectures devoted to the issue at this year's Luxe Pack Monaco, sustainable packaging has moved into the mainstream. Julia Wray looks at the latest green developments.

?The phrase sustainable packaging conjures up images associated with certain brands. Think of Anita Roddick encouraging The Body Shop’s customers to return empty bottles for reuse, or the use of popcorn as protective packaging by Lush. Sustainable packaging is no longer a niche issue, as this year’s Luxe Pack Monaco proves. According to the event’s general commissioner Nathalie Grosdidier, most exhibitors will be displaying packaging that is sustainable is one way or another. “Eco-design is not a trend any more it is really integrated,” she tells SPC. A full day of lectures devoted to sustainable development, in the form of Desirable & Durable - That’s eco-design! serves to confirm how fundamental environmental issues now are to packaging design and manufacture.


Lush recently ran a campaign featuring employees dressed only in aprons to promote the environmental benefits of its packaging-free “naked” products. But packaging does not need to be abandoned entirely in order to reduce a brand’s impact on the environment. It merely needs a rethink. One example is Boots, which has exchanged its Botanics Essential gift set packaging for a re-usable tin and an 80% recycled material card sleeve, cutting its weight by 453g and therefore reducing the environmental impact of transit. Boots is one of the signatories of the Courtauld Commitment, an agreement between the UK government sponsored Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP) and UK grocery organisations to reduce the amount of waste ending up as household refuse. This begins with a reduction in the volume of packaging used, something that suppliers are catching on to; Alcan Packaging Beauty’s Slender Cap line contains less plastic than ordinary dispensing caps, for instance.

There is more to eco-design than reducing volume. “When the words sustainability and packaging are said together it’s often followed by a comment about reducing excess packaging or packaging waste,” says Alison Waterhouse, sustainability network manager, Faraday Packaging. “Yet sustainable packaging is not simply a question of less, it’s a far more complex issue affecting the whole packaging supply chain.” For packaging to be considered sustainable, its entire lifecycle must have minimal environmental impact. But, as Waterhouse points out, this is where the problems start: “What do you count or measure as minimal environmental impact? Is it the amount of resources used? Is it using resources from a renewable source instead of fossil fuels? Is it the inherent recyclability of a specific material? Or is it a product’s footprint based on carbon, water or another measurable value?”

The Sustainable Packaging Coalition (SPC) defines the term as packaging that is responsibly sourced, effective, meets market criteria for performance and cost, is made entirely using renewable energy and recycled once used. Raw material sources, the manufacturing processes used by packaging suppliers, total transport miles and modes of transport and the packaging materials end-of-life all have to be taken into account. And this consideration must stretch to every area, from pumps and caps to secondary and tertiary packaging, and even inks.

Assistance is available, however, for manufacturers who wish to tread the eco-route. SPC, for instance, has redeveloped a tool – Comparative Packaging Assessment, or COMPASS – that enables packaging designers to assess the environmental impact of their designs by providing comparative environmental profiles. And Faraday’s upcoming FaraPack Futures Briefing promises to provide attendees with an insight into emerging technologies for a more sustainable future. “Across the board there has been a recent shift from discussions around what constitutes sustainability to how it can be achieved,” Waterhouse says. “Increasingly we are seeing that organisations have determined their overarching sustainability strategies.”


One of the SPC’s founding members was Estée Lauder, and current vp of global package development for Aveda, Clinique and Origins and chief environmental officer at Estée Lauder Companies Corporate Packaging, John A Delfausse is an executive director. Delfausse is passionate about eco-design and is leading by example. “The Estée Lauder Companies is designing and developing packaging to meet the EU recovery requirements for packaging materials. The requirement is that at the end of life, all packaging must be able to be recovered through recycling, composting or incineration to energy,” he explains.

While glass is widely used in fragrance packaging, not all flacons are recyclable, with many featuring immovable metal parts. Estée Lauder’s Donna Karan Gold fragrance features a novel way to overcome this. “Since the Donna Karan Gold package cannot be composted, or its energy recovered through burning, it was imperative that we designed the package to be recycled,” says Delfausse. The glass bottle and hammered-metal sleeve are separable, allowing the product to be recycled in two parts.

Hollywood stylist Tara Smith faced a similar challenge when sourcing packaging to complement her natural Vegan Society and BUAV approved hair products. “A lot of lines out there have a brilliant product inside the bottle but the bottle itself is made from different materials and relies on the consumer to separate lids and bottles accordingly,” says Smith. Her packaging is 100% recyclable, even down to the labels. Collcap’s Amanda Pritchard, who worked on the bottles, caps, and pumps used in the range, refers to the pump as an “all-plastic mechanism of bellow and piston”. As the pumps contain no metal, they can be recycled along with the bottle.

For Aveda, when it comes to environmental awareness, packaging should not just be recyclable, it should also be made from as much recycled material as possible. The brand recently released Vintage Clove Shampoo featuring its first 100% post consumer recycled (PCR) cap. To amass the material Aveda set up a caps recycling programme, encouraging students to collect used plastic polypropylene (PP) bottle caps, and according to Dean Maune, executive director, Aveda package development, Aveda has collected more than 50,000 pounds of plastic caps since the initiative began.

The number of suppliers offering recycled options for C&T packaging has ballooned. Impressions Packaging manufactures bottles made from 100% PCR polyethylene terephthalate (PET), which can be put back into the recycling stream after use, while the O.BERK Company now offers its most popular lines with PCR content options of 25%-100%. Chameleon, a part of Design & Source Productions Inc, offers items including boxes, pouches and toiletry bags made from Double G, an innovative material comprising 100% PCR plastic bags.


While recyclable and/or recycled packaging is the most appropriate sustainable packaging solution for many manufacturers, others want to push the boundaries even further. In 2007 Canadian brand CARGO Cosmetics’ PlantLove lipstick range became one of the first lines to feature bio-plastic packaging. PlantLove’s lipstick cases were made by Italian group Leoplast using Ingeo, the brand name for the starch-based polylactic acid (PLA) created by NatureWorks LLC.

Other C&T manufacturers using bio-plastics include Smashbox, whose Green Room Collection featured biodegradable compacts, and Josie Maran Cosmetics.

According to Stefano Cavallo, European business development manager, NatureWorks, interest in its products is highest in France. Oléanat, a lip balm from Le Secret Naturelle, and a lipstick from Science et Nature, Cybelle par Nature, both feature Ingeo cases and NatureWorks is also working with CARGO on a major project. “We are in the process of expanding our PlantLove range to a full line of make-up,” Hana Zalzal, CARGO’s president, tells SPC.

The main benefit of bio-plastics is environmental. “At the end of the day, the environmental benefit of Ingeo is that it provides several different end-of-life products, such as chemical recycling and composting,” says Cavallo. Yet he is quick to point out the product’s other plus-points: “The main advantage of Ingeo is that it works fine on existing equipment. It is easy to mould, print on and emboss, so the converters don’t have to make huge investments.”

However, there is ample room for confusion when it comes to what constitutes a biodegradable packaging material. Steve Mojo, executive director of the Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI), defines a biodegradable product as “one where the microbes in the disposal environment will consume all of the organic carbon in the product, use it as a food source and do it in a timeframe consistent with the disposal method.” It differs from both degradation, which is essentially fragmentation due to environmental conditions, and composting. While all compostable plastics are biodegradable, not all biodegradable plastics are compostable. To be classified compostable certain criteria, such as rate and the maximum residue of material left at a specific point in time, have to be met. In addition, the material must not have any harmful impact on either the compost or the process.

Bio-plastics are not the perfect packaging solution for all C&T products. “Several companies a week ring in, and we have to inform some of them that our polymers aren’t suited to their applications,” says Cavallo. “Solids (fats and powders) are no problem but liquids would be lost over time.” According to Cavallo, the company is working on improving Ingeo’s barrier properties. Indeed, there is constant progress throughout the sector. Novamont SpA, which produces the Mater BI family of bio-plastics, is working on a new generation of polymers based on vegetable oil technology, while NatureWorks is in the process of improving its polymer’s impact resistance using additives. Such additives stop Ingeo being compostable, but Cavallo is excited about the possibilities provided by chemical recycling, a new process which involves the polymer being hydrolysed to make a monomer, purified, and then reformed back into a polymer. “With mechanical recycling you lose some of the value of the product. Chemical recycling provides the option to make an identical product,” he explains. Potentially, this means that additives can be used to provide polymers with certain properties without compromising on sustainability.

But the success of bio-plastics as a packaging material ultimately depends on the composting facilities available. “Here in Toronto, we have municipal composting and we are hoping other cities will follow,” CARGO’s Zalzal explains.

“Packaging made using Ingeo should be industrially composted, and companies in charge of waste treatment should really be the ones to take care of this,” emphasises Cavallo. “It is not up to the end user, the customer, to compost it.”


When it comes to secondary packaging the debate rages on. For the pro-party they are an integral part of the luxury C&T sector, adding to the consumer experience as well as protecting the primary packaging and the product inside. For the antis they are an unnecessary environmental hazard. But there are ways of ensuring that boxed and wrapped products have a minimal impact on the environment.

According to the Forestry Stewardship Council (FSC) there has been a substantial increase in applications for FSC certification, particularly from the packaging and print sectors. Beck Woodrow, technical advisor, FSC UK Working Group explained what a certified product must entail. “FSC sets standards for Forest Management certification, to ensure that the forests are managed with due regard for communities and the environment in addition to ensuring that tree harvesting is matched by replanting or natural regeneration,” she says.

“Then the next part of the FSC system, the Chain of Custody certification standard for manufacturers, tracks that timber at every stage of the supply chain and ensures that when recycled fibre or other non-FSC fibre is added, it is in permitted proportions and not from controversial sources.”

When the forest owner and the paperboard supplier are one and the same, like FSC certified Swedish company Iggesund, sustainability is in its own best interest. “We have a fabulous starting point at Iggesund because we are forest owners,” comments Guy Mallinson, the company’s business director Europe graphics and packaging. “The forest we have today in Sweden is thanks to the industry; that in itself is sustainability. It started with the idea that to sustain the industry we had to make sure there was a raw material.”

One of the trailblazers in environmentally friendly secondary packaging is luxury folding carton specialist Curtis Packaging. Curtis was the first company in the industry to use 100% renewable energy and be 100% carbon neutral. It is also FSC certified and approved by the US Environmental Protection Agency. “Secondary packaging provides a degree of protection and brand equity that cannot be underestimated,” says Rosanna D’Oleo, the company’s marketing associate. “Today many options exist to make secondary packaging environmentally friendly.

“Curtis can provide customers with an Environmental Calculator with each quote, which shows tangible environmental benefits related to their packaging. For example: how many trees are saved by using stock made with wind power or how many gallons of gasoline are saved by using 80% post consumer waste (PCW) stock.”

Solutions to making secondary packaging more sustainable can be innovative. CARGO hit on a second inspired packaging idea when designing its PlantLove range: boxes made from paper containing meadow-flower seeds, which can be planted after use. More recently, Tara Smith’s range followed a similar route, using seed paper swing tags, supplied by Neil Hopkins at Two Rivers Paper. As well as being compostable, the tags are made from FSC certified, unbleached paper, made using 60% recycled fibre. “Even if you just throw it away at least it has the possibility of creating something good for the planet via the seeds,” Smith explains.

Burt’s Bees recently switched its soap packaging from two layers of paper, one waterproof and one printed, to a single layer of a waterproof material called Terraskin, described as both tree-free paper and, more accurately, as paper made from stone. Made from scrap calcium carbonate supplied by the construction industry, a sheet of Terraskin is manufactured using 50% less energy than a sheet of paper. And unlike paper, no bleach or water is used in the manufacturing process. The material is both degradable and recyclable. Indeed Nicole Smith, environmental director, Design & Source Productions Inc, tells SPC that Terraskin “could be infinitely recycled”. But the material’s end life, whatever form it takes, depends once again on the facilities available. The degradation process relies on a combination of UV light and moisture and, as Smith points out, not even the US has the necessary infrastructure in place at present. She predicts that it will take time for end-of-life facilities to catch up with the new types of sustainable material now available, and that progress will not be driven by suppliers alone, but also by the manufacturers and retailers who go into partnership with them. “I don’t think it is going to happen in ten years,” she concedes. “Retailers who are partners will make things a lot faster.” For now, the main environmental benefit of Terraskin lies in its beginning-of-life.

Another tick in the green box for Terraskin is that it is less absorbent than paper, allowing ink usage to be reduced by 20%-30%. Ink is an important component of secondary packaging to take into account. For instance, the less petroleum in an ink, the better it is for the environment, as fewer volatile organic compounds are released into the atmosphere. Equally, some ink colours contain high levels of heavy metals, such as barium, copper and zinc. While recycled inks are available, the most effective way of minimising the environmental impact of printing is the simplest: use fewer colours.

With so much to take on board, eco-design is not easy. But with various bodies offering advice and help, and a wealth of varied and innovative sustainable packaging solutions available to manufacturers, it needn’t be too difficult. There are problems; lack of facilities for recycling or disposal is a recurring issue, especially when it comes to the newest and most innovative packaging solutions. But with sustainability now firmly in the mainstream, such issues are likely to be resolved, if not immediately then in the foreseeable future.

Eco-design has come a long way, but it has still further to go. “It is not the end,” stresses Grosdidier. “But it has begun, and it is really effective.” And with shows like Luxe Pack Monaco giving the sustainability issue the recognition it deserves, the future of luxury packaging looks green.


?Susan Palombo, md of New York-based brand and packaging innovation agency Ready366 gives SPC her tips on sustainable luxury packaging.

As consumers and manufacturers begin to embrace sustainable packaging, the luxury category is poised to lead the way. The good news is that brilliant design is not at odds with sustainable solutions. All you have to do is follow these simple guidelines of reduce, recycle and reuse:

1. Reduce Opt for a less is more approach. Avoid secondary packaging and engineer your primary design to protect the product. This can save the client money in both package production and shipping costs. Besides, the primary package in luxury shows beautifully on shelf.

2. Recycle Create a package design that uses materials that are both recyclable and of post-consumer recycled content. Glass and metal are perfect materials, and while they are a bit more expensive, consumers buying luxury are more educated, more concerned about the environment and more willing to spend the extra money. If possible, use materials that are biodegradable and suitable for composting.

3. Reuse Make your packaging reusable. A refillable package means that the consumer will come back again for the product. Also, creating a package that consumers can reuse keeps your product name in front of them long after the product is gone.

Contact: Susan Palombo, managing director, Ready366, +212-488-5366 - please note that Susan Palombo would prefer to be contacted via this Ready366 mainline number and not via the incorrect number printed in October's issue.

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