Premium Beauty News - How to put an end to virgin plastic of fossil origin?

Frédéric Dreux - Plastic is a very valuable packaging material - and, compared to many other alternative materials, it often has a lower carbon footprint. But plastic has no place in the environment. Globally, it’s clear that the world must reduce its use of virgin plastic to further limit its environmental impact and, ultimately, prevent plastic from leaking into the environment.

In this sense, it all starts with the reduction of virgin plastic and the scaling of new business models, materials, and technologies that support circularity to help – a top priority for Unilever, as part of our commitment to halve our use of virgin plastic through our “less plastic, better plastic, no plastic” sustainable packaging framework.

One of the most significant opportunities is in our sourcing of post-consumer recycled (PCR) plastic. Not only does PCR move us away from virgin fossil sources, but it also has approximately a 60% lower greenhouse gas footprint compared to virgin plastic.

Unilever has made tremendous progress in this regard; globally, we’ve increased our use of recycled plastic to around 21% of our total plastic footprint since 2018, with many of our Prestige beauty brands also accelerating their use of PCR. Two examples that come to mind include Dermalogica’s cleanser bottle which uses 50% PCR, and, in France, our Garancia brand using 100% PCR for the bottle of its cult micropeel product “Pschitt Magique”.

Premium Beauty News - What are the alternative materials of interest?

Frédéric Dreux - Innovating with alternative materials – such as paper, aluminium, glass, and board – is a key part of our sustainable packaging strategy and plays an important role in reducing our use of virgin plastic.

Our Prestige brands are increasingly experimenting with new formats that use alternative materials to remove plastic entirely from some of our products and packaging. For example, in 2021, REN Clean Skincare launched a beauty world-first through the introduction of re-closeable aluminium sample tube made with 100% recycled aluminium (95% PCR), providing consumers with a brand-new sampling experience without the need for mini plastic caps or tamper seals.

When using alternative materials, however, it’s important that we still take steps to minimise the environmental impact wherever possible – for example, by using recycled materials and ensuring a life cycle assessment approach is applied to compare materials and inform packaging decisions.

Premium Beauty News - How do you approach the path of reuse?

Frédéric Dreux - Supporting an industry-wide shift towards reusable and refillable packaging at scale – in addition to scaling our own successful models – is an important part of our plan to reduce the amount of plastic we use.

We’ve tested a variety of reuse-refill models across our portfolio, building expertise, testing, learning, and exploring different approaches. One such example, on the market right now in France, is Garancia’s “Étoile du Jour” face cream, which features a recyclable glass jar that can be refilled easily by consumers at home.

What we’ve found is that different consumers have different wants and needs (based on where they live, how they shop, and what they buy) and that some product categories perform better as “refill-at-home” solutions, compared to “refill in-store” (and vice versa).

The common thread is that any innovative solutions (particularly those that require considerable behaviour change) must still guarantee a positive consumer experience overall. This is why it’s so important that we adapt solutions accordingly and remove barriers to entry, to help consumers form new habits.

To ensure consumers come with us on the journey towards a global reuse-refill revolution, we’ll also need buy-in right across the value chain – for example, from retailers, other businesses, and policymakers. We can’t change a global system alone, which is why we are collaborating across the industry to help make this happen. For example, we’re working with the World Economic Forum’s Consumers Beyond Waste initiative, which seeks to create harmonised definitions, measurements, and reporting frameworks that will not only allow businesses to better track these new models of consumption, but also support well-drafted policy in the future.