L’Oréal For the Future, the group’s environmental strategy through 2030 unveiled last week, includes ambitious goals for its packaging across all brands, divisions and regions. Philippe Bonningue, Global Director of Sustainable Packaging, gives Luxe Packaging Insight a deep dive into the group’s commitments for the years ahead.
At the launch of L’Oréal for the Future, you mentioned the group’s aim to “go further in terms of packaging’s technical conception”. What does this entail?
First of all, we’ve made a major commitment to reduce the weight of our packaging—all materials included—by 20%. This is very ambitious as L’Oréal is already quite advanced in this area given that our products are conceived to be ‘light by design’.
In terms of plastic, we have several levers. First, we’re increasingly looking to ‘featherweight’ designs—bottles and jars with very low weights. Every component of the container comes under scrutiny: the bottle’s neck, base and walls, for example, so that each be designed at the optimal weight for the required performance.
Lightweighting can also mean changing from a rigid to a flexible pack, or making a flexible pack more rigid to create a hybrid format that can represent a weight reduction ranging from to 20% to 50%.
Refillable and reloadable formats are another solution to reduce packaging. What are your priorities in this area and how ready is the consumer for these formats?
L’Oréal embarked on refills and reloads about five years ago with the launch of a refillable pouch for Garnier Ultra Doux, but at the time the consumer wasn’t ready. And let’s face it: if we have the technology and the environmental advantages that go along with it, but the consumer isn’t responsive, it’s not worth developing. But today consumer interest in these formats is accelerating. We’ve already launched several products in this vein including rechargeable jars for Lancôme’s Absolue skincare and reloadable formats for Yves Saint Laurent. This format is ideal for facial skincare as it keeps the formula safe and free from contamination. Of course, reloadable formats are interesting only if the reload is lighter than the “mother” packaging.
Whereas for fragrance, the refill system is a great solution. We already offer this with Armani, Viktor & Rolf and Thierry Mugler.
And in the salon channel, L’Oréal Professional offers La Source, a shampoo fountain.
By 2025, you’ve committed to having 100% of your plastic packaging be reusable, recyclable or compostable.
Yes, and our priorities are in that same order as the most intelligent solution today is for reuse. Once the pack has been used as many times as possible, it’ll have to be recycled. As for the compostable solution, while it’s part of our commitment in light of our agreement with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, today we don’t offer compostable packaging simply because the composting streams for packaging don’t exist. That said, if they develop sufficiently in the next five years it might make sense. Our stance is that ‘reuse, refill and recycle’ makes more sense for the market as it stands today.
What is your strategy for the use of bioplastics?
The term bioplastics is very general so we look at it in two ways: upstream and downstream. Upstream means biosourced materials—those used to make the packaging—and downstream means end of life, be it biodegradable or compostable. In terms of materials, we haven’t found any first-generation bioplastics that satisfy our benchmarks when it comes to quality and environmental impact, but we’re keeping a close eye on developments.
Other generations of bioplastics include those based on lignin or by-products from first generation bioplastics, mushrooms or microorganisms. We are also working on fourth-generation bioplastics that capture greenhouse gases from industrial production to convert them into packaging. But of course this is innovation, and innovation means a longer and riskier process with surprises along the way.
We’ve committed to getting rid of all fossil fuel-based packaging by 2030 and we’re banking on our strategy to use recycled materials to get there. But if these sources are not sufficient we’ll turn to biosourced materials if—and only if—their environmental impact meets our requirements.
What are your ambitions when it comes to enzymatic recycling?
The spearhead of our sustainable packaging strategy is to use recycled materials, especially for plastics. This means developing recycling processes that will give us access to recycled material of the same quality as the virgin material. This hasn’t been possible, which means that we are limited in the amount we use in our packaging. Tomorrow, we want the very same quality no matter how many times the material has been recycled. With Carbios’ technology, the material is regenerated as it returns to its original molecular state, so the quality is perfect. This process also allows us to expand the boundaries of the waste we can use; we want to recycle our packaging, but also other waste sources.
You’ve created a €50m fund to benefit the circular economy. What will this be used for exactly?
The details are currently being established. What I can say is that we want to boost the circular economy, which includes both recycling and waste management. This approach was behind the consortium we created along with Carbios.
Apart from plastics, what other materials are you exploring?
For our tubes, we recently launched a La RochePosay product where the use of cardboard allowed us to reduce the amount of plastics by 45%. We continue to progress in this area to cut down on our use of plastic as much as possible, while still ensuring the same level of protection for the formula.
We’re taking a similar approach for bottles with Paboco, the Paper Bottle Company.
New formulas—concentrated or dry formats—are another area of research and will allow us to expand our palette of materials and opens the door to some very interesting packaging solutions.
In terms of other novel materials, we look at their environmental impact with a holistic perspective, from their origin to end of life. We are opposed to choosing one material over another in light of just a few criteria. By using SPOT (Sustainable Product Optimization Tool) we can analyze a product’s impact throughout the life cycle via 14 separate criteria.
What steps are you taking to use more sustainable decoration techniques?
Clearly, decorating a pack is an additional step, and all additional steps have an impact. Each technique has different repercussions, but metallic decoration has an environmental impact. First, we metallize only where it is absolutely necessary. Some brands are removing certain types of decoration from their products, including metallization. We’re working with our suppliers to develop more environmentally friendly techniques, are decorating less and are using energy sources that are as green as possible.
L’Oréal, along with Quantis, was a co-founder of SPICE. How is the project advancing?
SPICE is going into its third year and it’s quite a success. We began with nine beauty company members and there are now 26 of us, including suppliers and associations. Beyond the methodology that has been validated, we’re developing a tool to evaluate the environmental impact of packaging that will be unveiled in the coming months.