How much of a role does packaging play in a company’s effort to reduce its carbon footprint? Should a product be called ‘clean’ beauty if it’s packaged in virgin, single-use plastic? Industry Expert Jerome Fraillon of Alder Packaging has answers.
In August, Johnson & Johnson announced it would stop selling its iconic talc-based baby powder. While the company contends its product is safe, others in the category have begun putting warnings on talc products because of the increased risk of developing ovarian cancer. In 2018, a St. Louis jury found the multinational personal care giant’s baby powder was negligent in warning consumers about the risk. Johnson & Johnson was handed a $4.7 billion in damages verdict.
The demand for clean beauty products was already on the rise prior to the Johnson & Johnson case. The E.U. has banned thousands of chemicals with known health and environmental risks. Companies are responding — a look at the Clean at Sephora category that continues to grow is proof.
And celebrities are following with clean beauty offerings from an A-list roster including Kim Kardashian, Scarlett Johannson, Alicia Keys, and most recently, fashion industry icons Stella McCartney and Kate Moss. Even Brad Pitt is now in the clean beauty game.
Consumers want products that are healthier for their bodies — whether soap, skincare, or fragrance. As this clean beauty demand grows, so too is the demand for zero-waste products. Consumers are seeking out products that can be refilled in order to reduce their dependence on single-use items — there are bulk options for personal care and cosmetics as well as laundry and cleaning products.
But despite the growing awareness of and interest in zero-waste and refillable options, it’s still just a small fraction of the consumer packaged goods market. Alder Packaging, a Los Angeles-based sustainable packaging solutions company, says that how brands package their products can play a critical role in re-shaping the industry.
Cosmetic industry veteran Jerome Fraillon, founder, president, and CEO of Alder Packaging, built his career developing packaging for big-name companies including Smashbox, Marc Jacobs, and Bare Minerals. He says as consumers become more concerned about climate change and how to make responsible choices with their purchases, there’s a widespread need for sustainable packaging solutions.
Globally, the personal care and beauty industry produces more than 120 billion units of packaging every year. Much of that is made from virgin plastic and paper. The U.S. accounts for nearly ten percent of that, according to the Plastic Pollution Coalition.
The industry is only expected to grow. The cosmetics market alone is expected to jump from $341 billion in 2020 to more than $560 billion by the end of the decade.
“Packaging is omnipresent,” Fraillon told Ethos via email. “Everything we use, touch, and purchase has a package. That even includes the green compostable bags we use at the grocery store to hold our lettuce.
“Packaging has been engineered and designed to meet a demand or a need. Most packaging solutions were created without the environment in mind. The challenge now is to offer the same consumer experience without adding waste or polluting the environment,” he says.
But any packaging alternative that requires an adjustment on the consumer side can be difficult, Fraillon says. “A good example is how difficult it has been for consumers to adjust to bringing their own bags to the grocery stores—the same idea can be applied to certain beauty applications,” he says.
“Imagine a world where we do not use a wand and applicator to apply mascara. Is this more sustainable? Yes! But is it realistic or ideal for the consumer? No. This means that as innovators of sustainable solutions in the beauty space, the goal is to keep the gesture of using a package the same as a conventional package without disrupting the consumer’s habits,” Fraillon says.
According to Fraillon, today’s beauty consumer is not only purchasing a product for the formulation, but also for the form and function of the package. “A package’s main purpose is to contain and protect the product as well as inform the consumer. Beauty packaging must do all of those things as well as add a desirable design element,” he says.
But as the threats of climate change continue to loom, there’s more pressure than ever for sustainability in everyday products.
“At Alder we want the package to be beautiful, protective, informative, and sustainable,” Fraillon says. “Knowing a consumer often purchases the package before the formulation we are aiming to make sustainable packaging attainable and beautiful to drive change industry-wide.”
According to Fraillon, almost all conventional beauty packaging winds up in landfills even if consumers drop them into the recycling bin. This is because recycling infrastructures can be lacking for the specific types of packaging used in the beauty industry.
Another platform, Novi, is also working to address ingredient and packaging challenges for brands. Founded by Air Force veteran Kimberly Shenk, it recently raised more than $50 million to develop its platform.
Both Alder and Novi are highlighting a new wave of sustainable packages that is moving away from single-use into refillable systems and recyclable options.
“We help brands innovate by thinking outside the box—offering glass, aluminum, post-consumer-resin plastics, and paper solutions for every variety of beauty products,” Fraillon says. “We prioritize offerings that look beautiful while still maintaining the performance of conventional packaging.”
The biggest hurdle though is still plastic, says Fraillon.
“Most if not all our customers are looking for alternative solutions from using mixed plastics in their packaging,” says Fraillon. Plastic is a leading source of ocean pollution and human health issues. Microplastics have been found in the most remote parts of the Arctic and in human blood. The more plastic accumulates in the world’s oceans, the more it exacerbates climate change.
Oceans sequester a lot of carbon — about 50 times more than the atmosphere, and 20 times more than both plants and soil combined. And just like plastic accumulation in the oceans is harmful to those ecosystems, the more plastic accumulates in the body, the more it can lead to metabolic and reproductive issues and increase the risk of certain types of cancer.
Alder’s brand partners are working hard to meet the demand of the consumers by pivoting away from single-use and mixed-material packages, says Fraillon. “We all have a responsibility to positively impact the world we live in. Beauty customers are the key to the sustainability movement with their constant push for earth-friendly solutions,” he says. Sustainable packaging plays a big role in the changing landscape of consumer packaged goods, Fraillon says.
“As beauty professionals, it is on us to provide the engineering and design expertise to help brands say what they want in a way that is good for the planet. The package has the responsibility to be sustainable,” he says.
“The package is the first thing a consumer sees on the shelf. It is the first point of attraction. If you look at fragrances, you will notice how much the package looks like a piece of art,” he says. “The designers working on those shapes spend hours refining the designs to convey the brand’s image and ethos. That same image and ethos can be conveyed using sustainable materials and manufacturing processes.”
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