You spin me right round baby, right round – the circular economy and our view on sustainable packaging
Let’s talk about plastic. It’s the devil, right? It washes up on beaches, gets suck in turtles’ noses and really pisses people off. It really annoys our hero, David Attenborough too. And quite rightly so. Discarded plastic is the cause of many of our environmental woes.
And that’s the crucial issue here – discarded plastic. Irresponsible trashing of plastic leads to all of these terrible things we hear about.
Since Blue Planet II highlighted the plight of sea creatures trapped in an ever-growing tide of plastics and microplastics (plastic will never completely break down - instead, it breaks up, into smaller and smaller, eventually microscopic, plastic particles called microplastics), the focus has been on passing on plastic.
We’re all doing great things to reduce our consumption – reusable shopping bags, coffee cups, water bottles and cutlery are now the norm. And we couldn’t get behind an initiative more. If you’re still using plastic straws and you don’t need to, then please, we implore you to think again.
But plastic still has a place, or rather, recycled plastic has a place.
The problem with plastic is also its hero characteristic. It’s built to last. Damn stuff, it lasts forever. Every single piece of plastic ever manufactured still exists, in one form or another (see microplastics above). But that’s what makes it so handy, too. It’s sturdy and reliable, as well as being robust, hygienic, stable (when carefully thought out so as not to react with its contents) and lightweight (better for carbon emissions).
Now, before you turn off in your droves, hear us out.
“But you said you were sustainable!” we hear you cry.
We are, we are! We promise…
Let’s get circular
We believe in the power of the circular economy. Circular, what now?
WRAP, the Waste and Resources Action Programme, defines the circular economy perfectly:
“A circular economy is an alternative to a traditional linear economy (make, use, dispose) in which we keep resources in use for as long as possible, extract the maximum value from them whilst in use, then recover and regenerate products and materials at the end of each service life.”
So yes. Our products will be responsibly packaged. In plastic. But we’re making a stand against virgin plastic. We’ll be using recycled plastic in a way that means it can be recycled and used again. A true circular, and sustainable, economy.
The alternatives to recycled plastic, and why they’re not a silver bullet
Glass – if glass does end up in the sea, it eventually turns into beautiful, smooth, coloured pebbles on the beach. The problem is, it’s heavy. Transporting glass to plants where they’re filled, and then shipped again to your doorstep is less good news for carbon emissions. It’s also more wasteful on the production line. If something breaks, how much product needs to be binned to make sure your product is free from shards of glass?
Aluminium and tin – both lighter than glass and recyclable, but both also need to be mined and the world’s natural resources of these metals are finite. They can also oxidise (rust) over time. Plus, the human rights and safety of aluminium and tin miners is also questionable. (Apple and Samsung have both faced criticism over their use of mined metals, and quite honestly have enough money to find an alternative that we can all consider, that doesn’t simply shift the problem elsewhere.)
Bamboo – a great, naturally antimicrobial material, but some of it has questionable provenance. Growing demand means farmers clearing forest and farmland to grow bamboo as a monocrop – which raise questions for biodiversity and sustainability.
Biodegradable plastics – whilst these are great solution to the problem of single-use plastic, our (the world’s) infrastructure simply isn’t set up to deal with them, causing a serious problem for recycling plants. Biodegradable plastics require heat, UV light, moisture and soil microorganisms to biodegrade. They’re often rejected by recycling plants and end up in landfill, where they can’t completely biodegrade. They then break up into microplastics and produce methane - another greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change along with carbon dioxide. Until we have the right places to separate and degrade these materials, they need further work. (Compostable materials are different again, and also require strict conditions in order to compost fully.)
So what’s the answer?
Let’s cut to the chase. If we compare materials like glass vs plastic, there is no clear winner. Instead, we believe that the Ellen MacArthur foundation is on the right track – reduce, reuse and recycle. If we reduce, reuse and recycle by design, rather than a linear model of make, use, dispose, as a society, we’re on the right track.
Plastics are convenient and cheap. But our primary concern here at SKIN SAPIENS is what happens at the end of their of life. Statisticians predict an increase in plastic use as the world’s population soars. Our goal is to make more use of the plastic that’s discarded.
So that’s why we’ve decided to use recycled, recyclable plastic for our packaging. It took us a year, working with experts to come to this decision.
For sustainable skincare, in eco-friendly packaging, join the skin-wise. Join our tribe of Skin Sapiens and be part of our journey!
PS: Want to know more about our packaging story? Check out the video of our crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo here.