For Albéa, 2019 looks to be a turning point when it comes to sustainable development. In July, the French group published its first sustainability report and it is now a member of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, meaning that in time 100% of its production will be reusable, recyclable or compostable. Albéa also joined the SPICE program this summer. In Paris early September, Albéa unveiled the five guidelines of its sustainable strategy: Reduce, or the reduction of raw materials; Re-use, designing packaging that can accommodate refills or refills; Recycle; PCR (in 2025 Albéa aims to have 10% of its production come from post-consumer reycled materials) and Bio-Sourced Materials. Gilles Swyngedauw, Albéa vice president marketing, innovation & sustainability, shares his vision of the issue.
Will plastic remain essential in the packaging realm, even when it comes to luxury?
It's the use of plastic that is the problem and not plastic itself. So-called "responsible" packaging can very well embrace plastic as it is a material of the future: it is light, durable and very versatile, offers unparalleled protective properties, and has a low-carbon and economical production process. Nevertheless, at Albéa, work is in progress to gradually eliminate certain polymers, including POM, SAN, and ABS.
Recycling is one of your priorities?
Yes, our aim is to make plastics recyclable in municipal circuits; in France, for example, today no more than 25% of plastic is recycled. But we are also seeing the implementation of other recycling systems, such as the "back to store" concept where brands encourage their consumers back to the point-of-sale to return their packaging; if this happens, we'll have a whole new vision of quality. The entire process must be thought out in a systemic way and fit together perfectly: from the raw material manufacturer to the re-user. The question is no longer "is it recyclable? "but "where will our product be in the future, and in what form?". Today, the challenge is to be recyclable, but tomorrow it will be downcycling: how packaging can be made to lose as little value as possible, or upcycling: how to increase its value as much as possible. What is shocking today is that all the products we sell become worthless after use. For bio-sourced materials, we favor those from food-grade waste and not those manufactured from food ingredients, such as sugar or corn.
You have secured enough PCR to allow you to integrate up to 10% into your packaging for the next three years.
Indeed. But it isn't only a question of volume, although when everyone wakes up there will certain be a problem when it comes to quantity. The main concern at the moment is to be able to obtain good quality PCR. At Albéa, we try to get as close as possible to food grade. We know what we are buying when we buy food quality, but we must be able to identify the recyclers who separate these packs from the rest. And as there are not many of these nuggets, one has to spot them very quickly.
Is PCR compatible with luxury?
PCR undoubtedly has its limits: it isn't as white as natural and in luxury this can be a problem given the high levels of quality required. For luxury, I believe we are moving towards reuse; we need to change how some packs are used. It will no longer be a question of simple packaging, but of objects that can be reused as much as possible in a bid to make the pack even more qualitative. I often take the example of a Montblanc pen: an object that is kept for life.
If most packaging becomes reusable, how will this impact your business model?
We see the problem in a different way: we may produce fewer quantities, but the packaging will not be the same, it will be more robust, maybe even repairable. This will be disruptive of course, but since it's going to happen we may as well be a driving force and develop things that make sense for Albéa and for the market!
You recently joined the SPICE initiative.
Yes, a month ago. When we found out that they were tackling the issue of recycling—an area where we are quite advanced—it was important for us to be able to explain how we work. Furthermore, we know that change won't happen in isolation. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation has a habit of saying that a whole system needs to be built and not just individual parts. At Albéa we've set out road maps for the next five years: in the long term, there will be no more loss as we'll recycle practically everything we consume. The holy grail of recycling would be the closed loop: to be able to use our tubes to make new tubes. It may be utopian, but I think things will happen in the market that will allow us to make it happen.