Solving the Problem of Plastic Packaging: An Imperfect Path to Lessening Waste
The topic of plastic packaging is a tough one. Especially when you sell products in plastic packaging. Because we believe in transparency, we want to share exactly where we are in our journey. We're committed to significantly lessening our impact and realize that we have a long road ahead of us to do so. We hope you'll join us in taking up the challenge of reducing plastic waste.
So how did we get here?
You can’t talk about plastic packaging without talking about recycling. By now, you've probably learned that in 2018, China decided to restrict the import of recycling to protect environmental and human health, and this decision included materials produced by the United States. Over the last year, this policy has changed the world of recycling drastically. While many businesses and individuals continue to collect and sort their recyclables, the market to purchase and transform them into new materials is shrinking which means much of it can end up incinerated, landfilled, or in our oceans. In fact, before this global shift, less than 9% of plastic was recycled each year before 2015. Today, the market for that plastic is even more limited.
The single-use packaging system is broken. Recycling alone is not good enough. Businesses and individuals must find innovative ways to eliminate, reduce, and reuse packaging. At Badger, we're on a mission to eliminate waste and create a new consumer paradigm that results in healing, rather than harming our planet. We know this work won’t be easy. But with consistent effort and many small steps along the way, we're hopeful it will result in big changes.
Thank you to everyone who has asked for (and sometimes demanded!) plastic-free solutions. Your voices are getting through, and your actions will help businesses like ours make needed changes.
Why ditching plastic packaging isn't easy
We manufacture nearly everything in-house, which means that we're somewhat limited on the kind of packaging our machines can fill. For example, our sunscreen filling machines are currently designed to fill plastic tubes only. However, we're researching the feasibility of filling sunscreen into metal tubes, and we love the idea of filling recyclable tins with our sunscreen too! It will take time to make equipment adjustments that allow for these alternatives. But it's something we can do and are seriously considering for the near future.
Sustainable packaging is often at the cutting edge of innovation, which can lead to high material costs. Putting organic ingredients in expensive packaging can make products less accessible due to the high retail price. Luckily, more and more packaging options come out daily, and the price is coming down.
While there's a growing demand for plastic-free options and an increasing number of our customers willing to use less-convenient alternatives (and pay more for them), it's not yet preferred even within our conscientious community of customers. We hope that the collective efforts of individuals and businesses will help shift the tide to broader adoption of plastic-free products. This, in turn, will help companies make changes to their sourcing, machinery, and manufacturing practices to support the plastic-free movement.
How have we already reduced plastic packaging?
The easiest way to reduce plastic in our packaging is to launch products that are plastic-free from the get-go. In fall 2018, we made the deliberate choice to come out with a product that required no plastic packaging: a Shampoo Bar. Packaged in a recyclable paperboard box, this super-concentrated shampoo lasts the same amount of time as a 12-ounce bottle of shampoo. It also doubles as a body soap. Hello, multi-use non-plastic product!
New Tubes for Most of Our Sunscreens
In 2018, we switched our sunscreen tubes, and they're now made of 50% post-consumer resin (PCR) plastic. Another way to look at it: our tubes now use 50% less virgin plastic. PCR is a great way to support the growth and expansion of recycling programs. No, it's not perfect, but it's a step in the right direction.
In 2020, we are hoping to launch a sunscreen in a tube made from 50% bioplastic and 50% made from recycled OceanBound Plastics (plastic at risk of entering the ocean as litter). This packaging would be HDPE plastic (commonly referred to as plastic #2) which is widely recyclable at this time. If this packaging is successful, we will be switching all of our sunscreens over to this in the upcoming years while we continue to explore more sustainable options.
Another change is we're now printing directly on the tube instead of affixing an additional packaging component: a label. Eliminating the label means we're saving plastic in both the label and the backing, resulting in a simpler tube that's easier to recycle.
Aluminum Caps for Beauty Balms
A couple of years ago, we were excited to switch from plastic to an aluminum lid on our beauty balms. Not only is the lid recyclable, but we also think it looks better!
While none of these changes are particularly groundbreaking, they're the ones we could easily tackle first, and we’re not stopping there.
Scope 3 Assessment
We're currently working on a project to measure our scope 3 carbon footprint. This means looking at everything outside of our electricity and propane use, such as travel, transportation, and even the creation and end of life of packaging and ingredients. We hope that shining a light on measurable impacts in these previously undocumented areas will support and inform our decision-making process. Eventually, it will also allow us to take direct responsibility for the entirety of our carbon footprint and empower us on our journey to climate neutrality.
What plastic-free ideas are we looking into?
Not a lot of readily available and cost-effective plastic-free options exist today, but there are some. We're currently running stability and manufacturing tests on different types of packaging to see if we'll be able to use them with our products. Here are some new packaging options we're researching:
- Biodegradable cardboard push-up tubes for our lip balms, mind balms, bug sticks, and sunscreen sticks
- Aluminum squeeze tubes for diaper cream and sunscreens
- Tins and glass jars for sunscreens and lip balms
What other ideas are we exploring?
Moving everything out of plastic may not happen as quickly as we want so we're also looking at better ways to work with plastic.
- Lightweight plastic tubes offer comparable packaging but with much less plastic used for a significant reduction.
- Making tubes with OceanBound Plastics (plastic at risk of entering the ocean as litter)
- Bulk-sizing certain products to reduce the ratio of packaging to product
- Take-back programs that support increased reuse and recycling efforts
That’s our list of ideas so far – do you have more to add? Which of these ideas do you like best? We hope to start implementing some of these ideas in the next year, but we won't know which ones are possible until we've done more feasibility testing.
How you can help in 4 steps
So here we are. We’ve shared a lot of what we are doing to help lessen our reliance on plastic packaging. But what can you do? If you’re anything like me, I bet you’re ready to jump in and help. Here’s the good news: you can!
If this past decade has taught us anything, it's that when a lot of people show up at the polls, change is possible. More and more resources are available each time an election rolls around so that you can be better informed about who is running. Read up! And choose candidates that have strong climate justice platforms. The time to act is now.
2. Contact Your Local and State Officials
While voting is important, conversations can also be effective. Check out who your local and state officials are. Send them a postcard. Give them a quick call. (Some offices can also receive texts! #lookingatyoumillenials). Let them know what matters to you.
3. Contact Your Favorite Brands
You can also “vote” by asking your favorite brands about their packaging policies. This blog was significantly influenced by many of you asking to know more about our actions!! We love having customers who are actively advocating for change.
4. Just Say "No"
When it’s an option, just say “no” to the simple stuff, like plastic bags, straws, and cutlery. By now, this may sound like a broken record. But until its history, it’s important to keep playing that song. Want an easy way to remember? We suggest practicing the following, in this order: refuse, reduce, reuse, and recycle.
The story of recycling single-use plastics is not a pretty one. But it can only change if we all pitch in. While Badger won't be changing our packaging tomorrow, we can honestly say that changes are coming. Thank you for joining us in our efforts to become plastic-free!
Have any additional waste-free suggestions? We are all ears. Let us know in the comments below!