Towards zero waste: How we're reducing plastic use
From our earliest days as a company, our commitment to respecting the environment has served as a guiding light. It's been written into our mission, it's shaped the building we work in, and it's even part of our bottom line! And one essential piece of this commitment has been our journey toward zero waste—understanding and reducing our waste output as a company.
Being a skincare manufacturer, one of the greatest challenges we face is improving the sustainability of our packaging, all the way through from our sunscreen tubes to plastic-free products like our Shampoo Bar. While moving toward zero waste packaging is at the top of our list, we also strive to look holistically at the waste throughout our entire business, from our manufacturing process to our water usage.
“We have achieved over a 95% diversion rate for the waste that we create in manufacturing, but the vast majority of our impact is not actually at our factory, it's in our supply chains,” says Rebecca Hamilton, our co-CEO. “And so that's been our focus in the last several years and going forward into the future. The more we can partner with suppliers and share what we're doing and figure out ways that we can help each other, the further we can really start making more of a positive impact.”
One of the greatest and most urgent concerns we hear from our customers is about our plastic packaging—and we share those concerns ourselves. In the years to come, we believe company transparency will be key in addressing the crisis of plastic pollution. So this Plastic-Free July, we spoke to our Sourcing & Purchasing Manager, Will Collins, about the roadblocks we face in the journey towards zero waste packaging.
An industry built around plastic
“Plastic is ubiquitous due to its low cost/weight and high efficiency/durability, but also because it’s the industry standard,” Will says. “Machinery across every market you can think of is literally built around its process inclusion.” That includes our own machinery, which is currently designed for—you guessed it!—sunscreen tubes. While we’ve been able to release some new low-waste products (Protect Land + Sea Sunscreen Tin, anyone?) the remainder of our machines still require plastic tubes for their size, shape, and material.
Even so, small changes can have a big impact when implemented on a large scale. “The way we prefer to move forward in manufacturing is via small iterative steps and not grand sweeping initiatives, which is ultimately much lower impact than going all-in on a new thing and plugging the holes afterward,” says Will. For example, our sunscreen labels are printed directly on the tubes to eliminate the extra label, and we’ve switched to 50% post-consumer resin (PCR) plastic for our tubes.
What we're working on
The good news is, we have some exciting changes in the works (keep an eye out for some NEW zero waste products packaged in tins and aluminum)! We’re exploring the option to eliminate the shrink band on tins and replace it with a paper-based, tamper-evident seal. And eventually, we’re looking to transition all lip balms into paperboard packaging, and are currently working with a startup to explore feasibility.
Above all, we thank you for walking this journey with us and continually holding us to a higher standard. “Shifting the firmament is going to take some doing,” says Will. “But that’s what we’re working on, one conscientious and educated customer at a time.”
We recognize that our planet is a closed system with finite resources, and we’re committed to using those resources wisely. Towards this end, we implemented our ‘Save Every Drop’ initiative to explore creative and innovative ways of turning our waste into something valuable.
Measuring our waste
Since 2015, we’ve conducted a company waste audit multiple times a year. (While a little smelly, waste audits can be a powerful way to understand where your trash is coming from; you can even do them at home!) Identifying our biggest waste streams has allowed us to seek creative solutions and eliminate, compost, or repurpose more ‘trash’ every year.
Before the pandemic, we had achieved over a 95% diversion rate for our manufacturing facility. However, like many companies, we took on short-term hand sanitizer manufacturing following the pandemic—which led to an increase in our overall waste for that year. Fewer people working onsite also resulted in less recycling and composting, which meant we diverted a lower percentage of our waste. As our company has grown (taking on in-house sunscreen manufacturing, for instance), we have tended to create new waste streams and then seek creative solutions. You can see that pattern of fluctuation in our diversion rates over the last few audits:
|2019 est. total||2020 est. total||2021 projected total*|
|Reuse cardboard & pallets||73,309||35,239||47,008|
But that’s one of the joys of every challenge—having a new opportunity to get creative! Here are some of the solutions we’ve found for different sources of waste.
Saving Every Drop
- Challenge: We were using organic oils and waxes to flush the lines after each production run.
- Solution: We repurposed those gleanings into our Citronella Candle which we've sold out of.
- Challenge: When we started manufacturing sunscreen in-house, there was a new waste stream created from cleaning our sunscreen equipment.
- Solution: We now bring waste from cleaning or leftover product to an industrial composting facility, where it's turned into rich compost!
- Challenge: Our organic employee lunch program results in leftover food scraps.
- Solution: We compost them on our grounds during the summer and feed them to local pigs during the winter!
What creative solutions have you found for reducing your own waste at home?
OUR WATER USE
Along with measuring our solid waste in these rigorous weeklong trash audits each year, we also keep a close eye on our liquid and water waste—which may be an even greater concern within our industry, based on recent reports.
Why it's an issue
According to a review in Emerging Contaminants, the presence of pharmaceuticals and personal care products in aquatic environments is now considered an emerging environmental concern. Cosmetics are now ubiquitous in water bodies—which is especially concerning given the long-term environmental and human health effects of exposure to chemicals. Today, manufacturing companies like ours have a responsibility to incorporate more efficient technologies, designed to help reduce water use, energy consumption, and emissions.
How we're saving water
At Badger, we address our wastewater liquid through a four-part approach.
- Tracking water use: We measure and track water usage and the quantity of liquid/solid waste produced in order to set goals for reduction.
- Making clean products: We design and formulate products that do NOT contain known environmental contaminants. This ensures that any wastewater released into the ground will not contaminate the groundwater.
- Oil-based cleaning: We use organic oils to clean our machinery, rather than the industry standard of water-based cleaning. In some cases, our manufacturing efficiencies help reduce the need for cleaning altogether! As a result, we calculate that we reduced our wastewater production by as much as 84.72% in 2020. Compare this to only 20% of global manufacturing wastewater even being treated.
- Recycling our waste: We recycle the solid waste we produce. Out of all the remaining liquid and solid waste produced in our manufacturing process, 19% gets recycled or reused. The organic sunflower oil we use to clean equipment becomes biofuel (and the base ingredient for our “Save Every Drop” candles!). Our zinc waste from sunscreen manufacturing is sent to a regional composting facility to be turned into rich compost.
Ultimately, our journey towards zero waste is a journey of appreciation and respect. Annie Leonard reminds us, “There is no such thing as away. When you throw something away, it must go somewhere.” This work is not simple or easy, but it is essential, and we look forward to more creative solutions to come.
Thoughts or suggestions for us? Share them in the comments below!