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The Body Shop Finds Packaging Value in Plastic Waste: Q&A with Jason Roberts

The Body Shop Finds Packaging Value in Plastic Waste: Q&A with Jason RobertsWhen she started the Body Shop in 1976, founder Anita Roddick wanted to make her beauty business a force for good. Since those early days in Brighton, England, the company has grown to thousands of stores around the world.

Along the way, the Body Shop emphasized cruelty-free products and launched the fair trade initiative Community Trade. In recent years, the company has also begun focusing on the global plastic crisis.

“We know that recycling systems are not perfect,” says Jason Roberts, the company’s head of research and innovation packaging. “Every market, every country, and even within countries, systems are not identical. So we have to take a little bit of that control back and do what we can within the Body Shop.”

With that complexity in mind, we asked Roberts to share the company’s sustainable packaging strategy.

What are the Body Shop’s sustainability goals for packaging?

We’ve always looked to reduce packaging and our dependency on it. Over the years we’ve reduced the weight of packaging, where it’s required. We look to use plastics packaging that is recyclable — that consumers can easily recycle — and more post-recycled materials.

Our target is that, by 2030, where possible we will only use three plastics that are easily recyclable worldwide: polypropylene, polyethylene (HDPE), and PET.

Why plastic and not reusable packaging?

We serve approximately 70 markets where we have to have a certain amount of protection for products. We look at the best materials and arrive at plastics because they’re versatile, lightweight, economical to produce, and economical on the environment. Alternative materials are not always better. We do the full lifecycle analysis.

What is your strategy?

The recent program we launched with Plastics for Change uses PET, the clear plastic in most beverage bottles. It’s the easiest plastic to recycle worldwide. Plastics for Change helps us reuse recycled plastic in our products and helps the people picking the plastic. It’s what we believe is the first Community Trade Recycled plastic available in the market.

How does the partnership work?

Plastics for Change is an organization based in Bangalore, India, working with over 2,500 waste pickers. The waste pickers are identifying PET plastic bottles in their environment, collecting that resource, and preventing it from going into the landfills and oceans. We know the quality of plastic they sort on our behalf is good for the cosmetics industry. It is then shipped to a supplier we know well that converts the waste plastic into a usable resin granule that we can mold into bottles.

Traditionally most pickers didn’t get payment until the product shipped. That could be a week, two weeks, five weeks. We get the waste pickers a standard better-than-market pay at the point of exchange. It enables them to have more security.

We are incorporating 15% of the Plastic for Change material into our 100% recycled bottles. As we get more material, we’ll increase that percentage. Because this is a new venture, in the first year we will take 250 tons of material. In the second year that will increase to 500 tons. By year three, that will be up to 900 tons per year.

Anything else you’re working on?

In five markets — UK, Australia, Canada, France, and Germany — we teamed up with TerraCycle on a trial for consumers to return their Body Shop packaging and get money on their loyalty card to spend in the store. This is early days, but it’s looking successful.

TerraCycle is repurposing the plastics components and glass on our behalf. It’s forming things like watering cans, park benches, and school playground equipment today. But the idea is that once we’ve rolled this out, we’ll have a closed-loop system where materials brought back to the stores will be reprocessed back into the Body Shop products.

What have been your biggest challenges?

One of the challenges is how to widen this recycling scheme because of the complexity of different markets — how can we do this across 3,000-plus stores? We need to understand locally what is and is not possible.

The second challenge is getting consumers to treat plastic as a valuable commodity. Here in the UK all of our £10 and £5 notes are made of plastic. You won’t walk down the beach and find £10 notes, but you’ll find plastic bottles. We have to change the perception.

What’s next?

We’re taking a serious look at how we offer products in the future. For example, a laminate pouch for refills reduces the amount of packaging and doubles the amount of product in one go, but that pouch cannot be recycled. Previously you would have bought a smaller PET bottle that could be recycled.

So we’re trying to reduce the amount of laminates we use, and simplify the materials. Our target to only use three plastics is for 2030. That seems like a long way away, but it’s only 11 years.

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