At the end of last year, I set out with some pretty lofty goals. I titled a document “Plastic Free 2020” and created an ambitious list of how our company was going to tackle this challenge and make a major shift in everything we do.
At the top of the list, a short intro read “I’d like to try to be 90% plastic free for consumer goods and (move towards) less packaging by 2020 for Salacia. This is going to be a big shift and won’t be the cheapest move but the right one. Is there a way to make any of our products package-free?!”
The list contained 7 items that contained some sort of plastic packaging component. It’s hard for me to even believe since we started our business from a dream about using upcycled bottles for our products. We started with reuse in mind - in a glass container that had already had a life. How did we get here? How did we get this evil junk into our product line?
Truth be told, when we started packaging liquid products, we needed a different type of vessel. Nearly all of our plastics for these products were packaged in PCR, or post-consumer recycled, meaning that the plastics had already been used before. They were made from recycled plastic and given a second life. But, some times, all good things must come to an end, even if the end result isn’t good. So, here’s the deal. Americans are not being taught how to recycle properly (or with enforcement) by local governments. That means that we Americans are mixing too many items that aren’t recyclable, along with trash, and those entities who used to handle recycling of plastics called it quits. What did this result in? You guessed it. No access - or unrealistic access - to these reused plastic containers. It’s simply too much work to sort and reuse, so instead it all goes into the landfill now. Okay, I digress.
So, back to the drawing board with our packaging design. We had always hoped the demand would come back for PCR materials and a solution would be found, but until then, we had to make a major shift and change 6 of our packaged products. Some changes were more difficult than others.
We moved from plastic tubs to glass for our body scrubs and body butters. And instead of plastic security wrappers on them, we found an amazing cellulose seal called a celon. Celons are made from regenerated cellulose. This cellulose is derived from the natural wood-pulp of fast-growing softwood trees, and the material is non-toxic and recyclable. When discarded, they bio-degrade even faster than paper!
Our lotions and washes now come in an aluminum container with a matching lid. We sell the product without a pump and offer 10% off to customers who choose to purchase this way, reusing a pump they previously purchased. This promotion reminds people that packaging can be reused. Some plastic is needed in our lives so when we must make that purchase, make sure we extend its life and make the most out of it. It’s all about reducing and reusing. No more single use plastics!
To encourage reuse of containers, we launched a Replenishing Beauty Bar in our shop. Shoppers can choose from our containers, or bring in their own containers from products they purchased before that they’ve used up. Products are sold by the ounce. We currently offer facial cleansers, facial moisturizers, aromatherapy salts, scrub and salt soaks to be refilled. We even offer a ‘refill Wednesday’ program that offers a 50% discount on all upcycled salt soak refills.
We were able to retrofit most all of our existing packaging elements like boxes and labels too, to work with the new replacements, so there was no waste with this change either. It’s not exactly perfect but it’s worth it – until we have an absolute need to print new labels. And instead of plastic caps for these items, we moved to aluminum screw caps for the lids. The end result is more beautiful overall - in terms of aesthetics and for our Mother Earth.
Our Small Soaks and Effervescent Soaks both were packaged in pouches containing a trace amount of lightweight plastic and a “plastic zipper” closure. We were able to source a compostable pouch for these salt soaks, with a plant-based PLA (Polylactic Acid) lining - and seal! This pouch is 100% certified compostable too! The pouches even have clear windows so you can see the beautiful salt soak inside that are made of a biodegradable film!
Other products we have like our BathTime Rocks have a plastic sleeve base - and we have a lot of them left (so sad). So we’ll use these up - and then have plans to sell bulk, wrapped in foil to reduce the total amount of packaging required.
One of the most fun ideas we implemented was wrapping our Kiss My Grits Cleansing Soap cake, made from Georgia grown grits, in a corn husk! Yes, a tamale wrapper. Genius? Corny? You pick!
By the middle of 2019, we had accomplished our goal. We have reduced plastics significantly in our production. We only use it where we have no other alternative, or are working through inventory. In some instances, we have even considered phasing out a product all together! It was a very rewarding goal and challenge we completed together as a team - assembly, product development, production and our designer. All the moving parts. When businesses call for private label products, we require their goals align with our values. We’re not trying to force our values on others, but is so important to us, that will we not enable others to have a choice of plastic. That’s that.
There are plenty of solutions out there - and we make it easy to make that decision with a variety of packaging options. After all, consumers only have the choices for products that businesses have made for them.
The good news we have discovered is that most people do want to make the sustainable choice. 60% of consumers say they want products that are eco-friendly. And of that 60%, 40% are willing to pay more. That’s amazing news; it is so encouraging that people do care.
I learned so much during this process that I decided to share the knowledge, solutions and data at a cosmetics and soap making conference in Grapevine, Texas in April. During my 50 minute talk, I showed examples of how to make the transition from single use product packaging to more earth-friendly options. I illustrated the (sad) impacts our choices over the past 40 years have made on our planet and shared the ways we can all make a difference through education and leading by example.
Being eco-conscious isn’t just about the packaging. It is about making choices about where you source your products (is the material coming from around the globe?), who you buy from (fair labor?), or what it took to produce that good (lots of water, energy, or other resources?). All of this trickles down into the way we run our business. Not only are our products 98% natural, but we support our local community, support buy local movements, and support other small businesses through the products we use and other gifts of relation we sell in our shop.
In the shop, we have introduced more locally made products with the help of our partner Make Savannah. Oyster shell artwork and earrings, illustrated postcards and greeting cards, handwoven wash clothes, cloth bags and beach towels covered with soft watercolor brushstrokes, magazines and books from local writers, and beautiful leather goods from Savannah artisans are available in our gift shop. We want to embrace the shop local, support your neighbor vibe in everything we do - down to the products we stock on our shelves. We do carry some brands from out of market, the majority of which are made in America and from female business owners. We must support our tribe.
Sustainability is a three prong approach. It must be accessible (price point must be right), good for the earth, and the bottom line of a business - so they can afford to produce the product and still make a living wage. We are happy to have found a way to accomplish the goal of plastic free (or significantly reduced) packaging that’s accessible to our customers in our line of skincare products.