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April 01, 2022
Lately there has been a huge amount movement to reduce waste and cosmetic packaging, with a focus on eliminating plastics and using recycled cardboard. This sounds so fantastic and so eco-friendly, however it is not that simple.
Recycled paper and cardboard from the onset sounds like the perfect solution, and while it certainly has its benefits (such as not adding to deforestation and using less resources) it is not without environmental impact. Post consumer waste from things such as corrugated containers, packaging and newspapers are put through a process in order to extract the usable materials. A standard post-consumer recycling process starts with chemicals and water to break down paper, then it’s cleaned, de-inked, bleached and mixed with more water, strained and eventually made back into paper. This process uses chemicals, energy, water as well as other resources and contributes to pollution and other environmental concerns. While it reduces the burden of deforestation, it is still an environmental burden contributing to climate change and using precious resources nonetheless. No box is still the better environmental impact option.
There are more and more options for plastic substitutes such as bags made from corn, potato and other starches - making biodegradable and compostable options. These are promising, but the ones we have sourced don’t quite hit the mark for other requirements - namely being non-GMO and the processing chemicals they were using. Additionally, I’m not quite sure what I feel about using food for packaging when we are still facing global food insecurity.
I do shy from plastic in my personal life, but also weight out what is left as waste when I make decisions. At Sumbody, we us a plastic bag to wrap our bar soap as opposed to a box. While this may seem contradictory, a thin plastic film is tiny in comparison to the overall processing waste of a box. Think of it this way - an itty-bitty bathing suit made from plastic would be less wasteful then someone wearing boots, two pairs of socks, long underwear, pair of pants, undershirt, over shirt, a sweater, jacket, scarf, hat and gloves of all natural fibers. The amount of energy would take to make all that compared to the itty bitty teeny tiny bathing suit, actually makes the suit win the eco test. So looking at the over all volume and amount of waste from a thin film plastic bag as opposed to a box, the bag actually becomes the more eco-friendly choice.
So What Do We Do?
This leaves it up to the consumer to demand products without secondary plastic and paper containers. Take it a step farther - demand bulk options! We’ve seen the power of the consumer on a billion dollar industry where the top few companies had all the power, and now smaller independent brands have a huge voice - gaining traction and investments against mainstay mega powers. As we see a rise in the use of ‘eco-friendly’, biodegradable and recyclable packaging, there has also been a rise of awareness of the limitations, leading to the increasing popularity of bulk (super sized) products and refill stores around the nation. Voting with your dollars is a huge way to create change in an industry focused on profit.
Just 20 years ago when I started Sumbody everybody asked “where would you sell your products”? The shelves were filled with the same classic brands. As the power shifted, a voice (aka shelf space) was given to smaller brands. When I first began to make cold calls buyers could not conceive of the concept that I had my own brand and wanted to sell it. Now buyers are scouring the market for companies just like us, looking for the next hot indie brand.
Our next step is to use that same power to create change when it comes to packaging. Don’t just say no to plastic, look at the entire picture. The more naked, the better off we all are. The most eco-friendly packaging option is to reuse what you have - extending the life of your jar, bag or bottle, saving energy from the recycling process, buying larger sizes and reducing the amount you use as a consumer. Dare to go bare and forego our love of packaging to show love to mother earth. Think out of the box with Sumbody.
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