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Big Plastic (and Big Oil) have a five-decade lead and massive economies of scale that will take a little longer to match in terms of costs and simplicity. But working with the right partners and openness to shaking up the status quo is paying off for brands willing to put their
principles and profits on equal footing.
Beauty and personal care brands know that their customers are looking for more than just a potion
for great looks, fewer wrinkles and luxurious locks — they also want to immerse
themselves with brands that align with their values. Beauty products are costly
items used daily, so the desire to feel good about looking good is natural.
Recently, this mentality has extended past the ingredients and origin of the
products themselves and has crept into accountability in packaging, as well.
Having to toss out lots of plastic wrappers and “box fillers” to access the
product container — which itself will eventually be thrown away — puts a damper
on the “feel-good” enjoyment and delight these products deliver.
Cognizant of this reality, beauty brands have begun exploring options to create
sustainability stories around their brands; and packaging is quickly becoming an
essential component to that strategy. But as beauty brands dip their
[well-pedicured] toes into these waters, they’re encountering unfamiliar
Some of these new complications revolve around finding and incorporating
responsible plastic for packaging, which Beauty Independent touched on in a
This piece covered a number of areas regarding the viability of post-consumer
recycled plastic, bioplastics and ocean plastics for the beauty industry;
highlighting risks such as increased costs, quality trade-offs and concerns
about potential greenwashing by brands unaware of or
by some of the nuances in this domain.
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While choosing responsible plastic is a far cry from the silver bullet in
creating sustainable packaging, utilizing these materials is a legitimate and
positive step toward creating a healthier and more sustainable future. If the
reasons “why not” overshadow the reasons “why,” we will continue to find
ourselves in the endless loop of pollution that has plagued our planet for
Post-consumer recycled (commonly known as PCR) plastic is a great
option. A common criticism of PCR plastic is that it eventually loses its
capacity for repeated remanufacturing after multiple rounds of recycling — 100
percent PCR does have limits in terms of how many times it can be recycled
before its integrity is compromised.
However, a true circular economy is still largely
and combining PCR with some virgin plastic is far more common in practice. This
results in superior products that still reduce our reliance on virgin plastic
and new petroleum, albeit not yet 100 percent.
More importantly: Even if PCR only gets recycled five, six or seven times,
that’s still a drastic reduction in the demand for virgin plastic while slashing
the amount of plastic waste that ends up in landfills and waterways. Any amount
of recycling is a positive; and focusing on its limitations hinders the adoption
and growth of recycled plastic as a preferred material.
Ocean plastic and ocean-bound
are subsets of PCR and can be loaded terms with the potential to bring confusion
and predisposed ideas to the conversation. But that is exactly why it has an
important role in the conversations between consumers and the beauty industry.
Plastic waste is an unquestionable threat to oceans, waterways and shorelines.
From the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and litter-strewn shorelines to the
daunting issue of
it’s in everyone’s best interest to properly manage plastic waste. Recycling as
much of that plastic as possible is a double-win for the environment: Not only
does it keep plastic from polluting, it also decreases the overall demand for
virgin plastic derived from petroleum and the associated CO2 that accompanies
Although the benefits are grandiose, brands — and their supply chain partners —
must be truthful and transparent with the market when it comes to exactly where
their recycled plastic comes from … and how much of the plastic content is
recycled versus virgin.
For instance, extracting plastic directly from the ocean and recycling it into
usable feedstock is possible and does happen; however, for a number of reasons,
many brands are relying on ocean-bound
as any mismanaged plastic
within 50 km of the coast). Given this, brands must be accurate in their
without underselling the importance and benefits of using ocean-bound plastic in
their products and packaging. Not only does ocean-bound plastic collection and
recycling reduce litter and pollution, it also makes those neighborhoods and
attractions safer and more attractive for residents and tourists.
Those taking on these collection and recycling activities aren’t doing it for
marketing purposes — they’re entrepreneurs creating jobs and helping improve
their communities and local environment, which should be applauded and
celebrated. Telling these stories and highlighting the meaningful local impact
of these activities can be a powerful complement to the environmental benefits,
but it requires a more nuanced message from brands.
Sunlight and seawater can take their toll on waste plastic, which could make
recycled ocean plastic a poor fit for the strict standards of beauty product
containers and packaging. However, with strict testing and quality-control
standards in place, there are many use cases where it can achieve the standards
required for the application.
Ocean-bound plastic can often hit the “sweet spot” brands are looking for. It
still has a strong, compelling sustainability story but it is easier to acquire
high-quality material in the volumes brands require.
This highlights the importance of working with a trusted partner for sourcing
recycled ocean plastic that meets both the specific needs for manufacturing the
final product and that fits with the story brands are trying to tell. For
example, Oceanworks quality
checks material before it’s sent to manufacturers and supports accurate labeling
that correctly attributes its provenance and characteristics.
Using reputable suppliers that scrutinize their recycled feedstock and put it
through rigorous quality testing, personal care brands such as
have brought such products to market. These products showcase their brands’
commitment to corporate responsibility and sustainability, all without any
performance or quality issues. It is great to see the industry celebrate and
share the learnings of brands that have already successfully brought products
using recycled ocean plastic to market.
Once upon a time, PCR was cheaper than virgin plastic and was used as a low
quality filler. But the consumer-driven demand for sustainable products has
flipped the script. Now with higher quality processing standards and limited
supply of high-quality PCR, this sometimes means a higher price tag for
This again highlights the benefits of working with an experienced sourcing
partner. Companies such as Oceanworks
simplify this process for companies of all sizes, allowing them to incorporate
recycled PCR, ocean-bound and ocean plastic material into their manufacturing
process as easily and inexpensively as possible.
For example, Roberts
Beauty has partnered
with Oceanworks to create a turnkey set of designs
including clear or opaque lipstick tubes as well as brik stiks, bottles, pump
closures, compacts, and other common containers all made from ocean plastic.
These are responsible solutions for beauty brands looking to quickly up their
Big Plastic (and Big Oil) have a five-decade lead and massive economies of scale
that will take a little longer to match in terms of costs and simplicity. But
working with the right partners and openness to shaking up the status quo is
paying off for brands willing to go the extra mile and willing to put their
principles and profits on equal footing.
Working with recycled plastic is a departure from the norm, and all changes are
challenging — particularly when blazing a new trail. But the benefits and
rewards of incorporating recycled plastic into the manufacturing process are
great, as well.
Luckily, this journey doesn’t have to be so daunting — thanks to the groundbreaking
work of brands that have already taken steps to include recycled plastic and
trusted partners that can help beauty brands of all shapes and sizes navigate
these unfamiliar waters. It’s the right thing to do for the business and the
For sustainability leaders, perfection can’t be the enemy of good. 100 percent
PCR may not yet be a viable option for every brand and use case. But almost
every application in the beauty industry can include a mix of PCR and virgin
resin in their processes to at least begin their responsible plastics journey.
Small steps made constantly can have a huge impact at scale.
To learn more about how you can start integrating recycled plastic into your products, visit Oceanworks.co.
Published Jan 5, 2022 7am EST / 4am PST / 12pm GMT / 1pm CET
This article, produced in cooperation with the Sustainable Brands editorial team, has been paid for by one of our sponsors.