I attended The Body Shop’s Activist Workshop event in Mumbai, where attendees were asked to bring along waste plastic bottles for a ‘fun activity’. The store, located in Mumbai’s Palladium mall, has a plastic recycling machine that generates a gift coupon for every plastic bottle you put in. ‘Now this is interesting,’ I thought, my mind drifting to the various campaigns run by beauty brands to combat the use of single-use packaging waste in India. That being said, the scale of the problem seems insurmountable if you consider the numbers. According to Euromonitor, almost 151 billion packaging units are produced every year by the beauty industry, most of which is plastic.
Unfortunately, plastic is only part of the problem. We are talking about shredded paper, bubble wrap, carton boxes and secondary packaging required for online deliveries, that are sabotaging the environment, one purchase at a time. And while the Indian beauty industry has taken note of the problem and is constantly devising ways to counter it, sustainable packaging comes with its own set of challenges.
A MINDFUL APPROACH – GETTING STARTED
Globally, beauty giants like Unilever, Coty and Beiersdorf have pledged that all their plastic packaging will be recycled, reusable, recyclable, or compostable by 2025. India is slowly catching up with international brands extending their sustainable ethos to the Indian market, and with homegrown brands jumping on the bandwagon as well. Unilever’s Love Beauty Planet has introduced clean-flake label technology. “This aids in easier recycling at facilities as our labels peel off easily without leaving any toxic residue on the bottles,” says Pearl Shah, the brand’s Senior Marketing Manager.
Newly launched Indian skincare brand Aminu proudly refrains from including single-use samplers, make-up remover wipes and sheet masks in its portfolio. “Our eco-friendly packaging strategy includes the use of glass and paper tapes,” says Prachi Bhandari, the brand’s co-founder. Similarly, The Switch Fix has completely eliminated the secondary layer of packaging like outer boxes and fancy wrapping sheets. In addition, brands are running refill programmes that minimise single-use product containers for shampoos, moisturisers and conditioners. Supermodel and entrepreneur Miranda Kerr’s beauty brand KORA Organics is also making a slow transition into glass bottles and refill pods. Indian brand Enn’s Closet offers a face mask jar for free to its customers on returning five empty jars.
As the movement gains traction, beauty brands are incentivising loyal customers to be a part of their efforts. “Through our in-store recycling program, Return Recycle Repeat, customers can easily recycle their beauty product packaging. Bringing our empties back seems like a small step but one that could lead to a big change,” says Antara Kundu, Deputy General Manager, Marketing, The Body Shop Asia-South. While these small steps can lead to bigger changes in future, these also let consumers feel part of a programme that has direct implications on the environment.
AN UPHILL BATTLE
To provide sustainable options to the consumer, there are several factors to consider–from finding ethical sources to procure eco-friendly material from to dealing with changes in the price– brands don’t have it easy. Also, plastic has been an inevitable part of the beauty industry and eliminating it will involve an evolving process of educating and convincing buyers and manufacturers. “Making a change in the way consumers use our products has been a challenge. Returning and recycling beauty packaging does not come naturally to most customers and we’re on a mission to change that,” Antara says.
When it comes to finding eco-friendly packaging solutions, the challenge for beauty brands also lies in finding associates who align with the thought process. “This means looking for sustainable partners who share our principles, like suppliers and vendors who provide packaging materials that help us reduce our carbon footprint, and partners who help us recycle empty jars and bottles sent back to us by our customers,” explains Mira Kulkarni, the founder of Forest Essentials.
On the one hand, brand marketers are sold on the need to create ‘gram-worthy’ packaging to tickle the interest of the buyer and on the other, they are struggling to minimise our reliance on packaging altogether. While some brands have managed to achieve the balance, there’s still a long way to go. “We’re doing away with all secondary packaging like cartons and working to create minimal yet secure packaging for our products,” adds Antara.
SLOW & STEADY
Times are slowly changing for the better; today’s consumer is informed and aware. A report by Mintel states that ‘29% of Indian consumers’ agree that for a brand or product to be considered sustainable, it should have eco-friendly packaging. As consumers show their support towards reducing packaging waste, brands are resolving to have a zero-waste policy at the core of their ethos. However, the larger part of the discussion still lies in driving conversation and changing mindsets around everyday sustainability. “We must design packaging and products using materials, processes and ingredients that are sustainable and represent a modern definition of luxury. Our suppliers will need to innovate at a much faster rate to provide solutions that help us achieve these objectives,” summarises Prachi. In the meantime it’s imperative that consumers keep up their demand for more sustainable packaging and fulfil their part of the recycling process.
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