ISO smarter, better, future-friendly packaging

The story of how one piece of useless foil got us thinking about sustainability. We explore our options with the help of forward-thinkers from TerraCycle and Unboxed Market.

Brand loyalty is an overwhelmingly strong force. A force that can go both ways for brands – winning you undying devotion or making you the recipient of an onslaught of ALL CAP rants of damnation. We write this as we’re still licking the wounds from a recent brand disappointment. We’ve been worshipping at the altar of Glossier for years now – singing their praises at every opportunity. While this chorus of adoration will continue, our voices have lost some conviction – growing hushed while we wait to see their next move.

As undying fans of the brand, we’re quick to fill our online carts at the first sight of a new product launch, so when Glossier Play came out, you could barely bat a Lash Slicked eyelash before our pink eyeliner and pots of glitter were en route to our homes. However, upon arrival we realized the usual glee that accompanied a Glossier unboxing session wasn’t there. Why? Because it went on for way too long. First there was the box, then there was the plastic pink pouch, then there was another box, and no – it did not end there, folks. Within that box, the product was wrapped in a piece of colourful foil, like a precious piece of plastic candy. Our brows immediately furrowed. What, pray tell, is the point of this colourful litter??

It may not have been until this multicoloured waste came into our lives – or perhaps it started when we were first staring at an empty container of Boy Brow and realized it may not be recyclable – but now it’s clear that this is a problem. A problem that all brands and consumers face at a time when excessive waste must be called into question. This seems like such a miss. Given that the company’s target is between 18 and 35 years of age – the lucrative Millennial and Gen Z consumer – you’d think a brand like Glossier – consumer-centric, progressive – would realize how important sustainability should be in their strategy around innovation and design.

With two-thirds of Gen Z consumers saying they consider sustainability when making a purchase, it just seems like these considerations should be a no-brainer for any brand seeking the dollars of those savvy, young consumers. This cause doesn’t just align with consumer thinking, it can prove to be very good for a brand’s bottom line. Not only do 92% of consumers have a more favourable impression of a company that supports environmental causes, but 75% of Millennials and 72% of Gen Zers say they would pay more for a product with sustainable packaging. With more than half of Americans saying they have “packaging pet peeves”, this is clearly a pain point brands need to address.

Companies like Loop are trying to change things. Loop is the company you’ve been reading about in the news – the one that’s helping Haagen-Dazs, among other big name, household brands (think P&G, Nestle, and Unilever), put their ice cream in reusable, stainless steel containers. The concept harkens back to a simpler time – one when the milkman was a familiar face. Rather than recycling the containers your products come in and purchasing new ones when they run out, the used containers will be picked up, washed, refilled, and sent out for delivery to another customer.

We asked CEO of TerraCycle and Loop, Tom Szaky, what the root cause of brands’ waste woes is. Unsurprisingly Szaky said, “The root of the problem is the tremendous amount of disposable packaging in the marketplace. We can’t recycle our way out of the garbage crisis, as that solves the symptom, not the root cause of disposability”. Of the three R’s, recycle shouldn’t be the first action taken (as explained by Tom Szaky in a #TomTime moment on Loop’s Instagram). First, you should reduce your consumption and then find ways to reuse the remnants of what you still must consume. This is what companies like Loop are attempting to do. “Packages are designed to be durable and aesthetically pleasing,” Szaky said, “While the lifespan of each package will vary, Loop encourages manufacturers to design packaging that can last at least 100 cycles.”

The option of redesigning not just your packaging, but also the process in which the product makes its way to the consumer, admittedly requires a hefty financial investment – often costing seven figures. That’s why other companies, like Unboxed Market – Toronto’s new waste-free grocery store, are creating local opportunities for consumers to shop sustainably. Here you can buy your produce, meat, spices, and household products with next to no single-use packaging, instead placing these products in jars, reusable bags, or containers brought from home or bought in the shop.

Michelle Genttner, co-owner of the waste-free store, thinks the issue comes back to the need for convenience. “Brands are crowded more and more on to smaller shelf spaces, and they are constantly searching for ways to stand out – to make life easier, to get things done faster. All of this, often unncessarily, leads to extra waste.”, she says. Michelle agrees with the Loop way of thinking, suggesting that, ‘We need to look at earlier times in manufacturing. We had products that lasted a long time and that weren’t overly packaged. Garbage for a family of four was incredibly minimal, as many things were in something that could be repurposed.” Count that as another vote to bring back the milkman!

We reached out to Glossier for a list of containers that can be recycled. Thankfully, many of the containers are (including the pink pouches!!!), but not necessarily all parts of the product. While that eased our minds slightly, these are still examples of single-use packages. The great thing about Glossier as a brand is that they listen to their customers. We want more shades of concealer? They make them. We want a highlighter that you don’t have to be a makeup artist to apply? Our wish is granted.

Imagine if innovative companies like Glossier would take note of the Instagram comments, the agency blog posts, the indisputable evidence and form a sustainability task force or partner with forward-thinkers like Loop – investing time and money, and leading the way to change how things are done in production and packaging? Not just that, but if the consumers who are at risk of living in this mess started to speak up, problem-solve, and take action more often? Well, that would be beautiful. With big players in e-commerce and beauty making strides, the trail is one that is soon to be ablaze and one that any modern company should want to be on.