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Packaging & design

“Sustainability must be seen as a strategic issue in the packaging industry,” Gisela Schulzinger, ABRE

Global trends point to new materials; in Brazil, consumers are increasingly more aware of the impact of their choices.

Sustainability used to give companies an edge, but now it must be one of the core principles of the packaging industry, says Gisela Schulzinger, president of ABRE (Brazilian Packaging Association). “The biggest challenge faced both in Brazil and worldwide is how to establish sustainability as a key strategic and cross-sectional issue. It must be a part of a companies’ value propositions”, she says. In order to have sustainability as an integral part of the manufacturing processes, business models and logics of competition must be conceived with sustainability at their core, says Schulzinger.

Gisela Schulzinger, president of ABRE

Gisela Schulzinger, president of ABRE

Packaging is where sustainability is most visible to consumers in the cosmetic and personal care industries. Worldwide, initiatives such as the use of biodegradable plastic – which facilitates recycling – and innovative materials are revolutionizing product packaging. One such material is the bionic wood developed by French startup WooDoo, which is waterproof, 300% stiffer than natural wood, fire-retardant and translucent.

In Brazil, in line with global practices, Unilever claims to have overhauled its business strategy to incorporate sustainability in every aspect of its operation. This new way of thinking about products and operations was first introduced in 2010. Commitments include the reduction of total packaging weight by a third by 2020, to have all its packaging made of recyclable, reusable or compostable plastic by 2025 and to increase the use of recycled plastic in packaging by at least 25% by 2025.

In the personal care category, Unilever’s hair care brands have started reducing the generation of solid waste. Seda Pretos Luminosos’ shampoo bottles are now made with at least one third of recycled post-consumption plastic – that is, plastic originating from products previously disposed of by consumers. This packaging is 100% recyclable.

The TRESemmé brand has completely revamped its portfolio with packaging that uses 20% less plastic in comparison to previous packaging solutions. Unilever claims that this change makes TRESemmé’s packaging some of the lightest available, and has led to 382 tons of plastic being spared every year. This reduction also represents 281 fewer trucks used to transport products in a year, subsequently reducing CO2 emissions. Similarly, new Dove conditioners come in packaging manufactured with 100% green plastic, made from sugar cane.

Figures published in July by Instituto Akatu show a decrease in consumer indifference over consumption in Brazil. The category of “newbie” consumer – or those who are in the early stages of conscious consumption – has grown from 32% in 2012 to 38% in 2018. According to the study, consumers said the main reason for purchasing more sustainable products is creating a better future for society and the planet.

Schulzinger believes the sustainability movement must be explained to consumers. “The cosmetics industry must provide consumers with a view into their operations. People are often not familiar with the processes and the limitations faced by companies. One of the biggest challenges experienced in this industry is to educate consumers – that is, to provide information, instead of taking a defensive position.” She also mentioned the difficulties faced with materials, operations, and logistics. “We will never fully reach sustainability ideals because there are other issues at play, which consumers are often not willing to forgo, such as improved product durability. When consumers are educated about sustainability, they are able to assess if they are ready to relinquish certain benefits to buy a more sustainable product.

Amanda Veloso

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