Understanding what makes an item sustainable has become a difficult undertaking as so many people claim sustainability to help sell a product or impress an audience. Rather than letting these temporary strategies take hold, maybe it’s time to stop wasting valuable resources and offer something better instead.

The Problem with Packaging

It shouldn’t come as a shock to learn that the beauty industry is one of the worst offenders when it comes to waste, with tons of packaging being thrown away by consumers as products are emptied. In fact, the current estimate is that 120 billion different packaging units are thrown away by consumers and the vast majority of the waste is not recyclable at all.

It’s not all doom and gloom, many consumers are now working to source items that are recyclable or refillable, saving the amount of items that are sent to landfill. Interestingly, as consumers demand better options, refills have become the default solution, saving up to 70% of CO2 waste a year and helping brands to keep customers through refill purchases and subscriptions.

With so many different refill options available, the question still remains ‘is the refill revolution the solution or a stepping stone to a new strategy?’

Some of the Current Sustainable Options

As refills and sustainable products are often different in design, it’s important to know which types are offering the best solutions for consumers and brands. We’ve shared some of the most innovative refill ideas below:

  • Returnable Pouch Products – one of the most popular solutions for refills is the returnable pouch. They are often made from aluminium, plastics and sometimes paper that has all been laminated together. The benefits of these pouches is that they are leakproof and lightweight, costing companies very little. However, recycling them when you no longer want to have them refilled is virtually impossible as the layers cannot be easily separated. This makes them sustainable when in use, but damaging to the environment when they reach the end of their life.
  • Aluminium Containers – another popular option for brands is to use aluminium containers to supply products before having the containers refilled. Sadly, creating the packaging takes a lot of energy compared to other types of packaging, reducing the environmental benefits on offer. In contrast, recycling the aluminium containers requires very little energy and the recycling rates for aluminium in the UK are quite good at 75%. When used properly for refills, these containers can last for a long time without the need to be recycled.
  • Reduced Plastic Containers – another new method that claims to be sustainable is the reduced plastic bottles that come with a paper pulp outer, giving the bottle greater sturdiness. When the product is finished with, the pulp shell is separated from the plastic inner, allowing it all to be easily recycled. The only downside is that creating these bottles uses a lot of energy and they are not always refillable.
  • Reduced Water – one of the biggest changes in sustainability is the move some manufacturers have made to stop shipping water. Instead of sending a liquid product to market, many brands are choosing to send powders, pellets and concentrates that the consumer adds water to after purchase. This lowers postage, carbon footprint and waste, supporting better product delivery across the globe.

The Verdict – Are Refill Actually Sustainable?

When it comes to deciding whether refills are sustainable or a step towards something better you have to look at each product as a separate entity. Ask whether the manufacturing process is kind to the environment, how many times a product can be refilled and whether there is an eco-friendly recycling solution when the refill is no longer required. Aluminium packaging offers a long life for refill users and concentrates bring down carbon footprint and packaging needs.

In short, the best way forward is to consider what you want to package and then question how it can be better manufactured first, and then find the best packaging solution for the product on a case by case basis, helping you to ensure the best sustainability solution possible.