OK, so packaging of consumer goods has kinda always been an issue. In fact, issue – s. More than one. But we may have now reached a tipping point on one of these issues that might just lead to a dramatic change in the way we consume.
Packaging adds another cost to the manufacturer, which of course gets passed on to the consumer. It creates more bulk around the products for shipping, which in turn adds cost to that process, which again is passed on to the consumer. Then you’ve got that annoying waste issue once the product has been used. It’s this last one, the disposal of the waste created by the packaging process, that is causing a re-think by manufacturers. Interestingly, this re-think isn’t really motivated by cost savings, although that will probably be one of the side effects. The Great Packaging Re-think is being driven by consumer consciousness. Specifically, around its environmental impact.
Lessons in Rubbish
When I was young kid my Dad taught me a few valuable lessons about recycling and the environment. He taught me that you could make money from rubbish. He also taught me that if you find the right motivation, you can get anyone to recycle. And that motivation does not have to be to save the planet. Case in point…me! I was motivated by the cash I could make by collecting aluminium cans and taking them to the recycling depot.
Neither of these lessons was clear to me at the time. And truth be told, they weren’t really the lessons he was teaching me either. He just wanted me to learn to not be lazy. If you want money, you have to work for it. But as I look back today, I see that the issues around this packaging dilemma are the same. We are still largely taking the same approach – recycling. Let’s just make sure our packaging can be recycled and then we won’t harm the environment.
Glass bottles, aluminium cans, PET plastic bottles, cardboard boxes, etc. All can be recycled. Great. But what about if we didn’t even need this packaging at all? Then we wouldn’t need to worry about recycling. What if we could change the way consumers used these products? That could be a real, meaningful change. Now, we’d not only be helping the environment, but also saving money – at multiple points of the product journey.
Plastic Bag Revolution
The Plastic Bag Revolution was, in my mind, the first big movement on this front. And I have to say, it annoyed me. For years I, like most people I knew, had been keeping the plastic bags I got from the supermarket, 7-Eleven, etc. They made perfect garbage bags for household rubbish. I don’t reckon I bought a proper bin liner for 15 years! Then, one day, my local supermarket announced they would start charging 10c for plastic bags. As an alternative, I could buy a re-usable bag from them for $2.50 and just keep using that each time.
SCAM! I cried! Surely this is just a money-making scheme masquerading as an environmental cause. I mean, after all, they say it’s an environmental initiative, but they’re selling these green shopping bags made from a polypropylene that’s note even biodegradable. Grrrr! And surely if the money they saved by not giving away free plastic bags was used to subsidise the cost of the reusable bags, they’d only cost 50c. Then they can just do away with plastic bags altogether. Double Grrrrr! But I digress…
This Plastic Bag Revolution caused a change in behaviour. If you don’t bring your own shopping bags, it’ll cost you.
No More Straws Movement
Next came the No More Straws Movement. Turtles and Dolphins are dying because straws aren’t being disposed of correctly and ending up in the oceans Lots of food and beverage establishments have made them an ‘On Request’ item. No longer is the default to hand you a straw with you glass of Coke. Again, behaviour is changing. But this time it’s a little different. This time, we’re not being asked to bring our own or pay extra. Now we’re being asked to change the way we consume. And this is where it starts to get interesting. If consumers are willing to change the very way in which they consume, the door opens on an entirely new paradigm for packaged goods. Imagine what this could mean for one of the most package-dependant industries around – skincare.
LUSH Gets Naked
UK cosmetics retailer LUSH has been making the news recently with their Go Naked range. The concept is simple enough – no individual packaging. Shoppers are told to bring in their own reusable containers to put their products in. One of the key brand innovations that allows LUSH to reduce the packaging is what I call ‘bar-ifying’. They’ve made products that are usually in liquid form, into solid bars. Shampoo, facial cleansers, facial toners, facial oil, etc are all available in solid bar form. Clever. Of course, if you buy them online, there will be some packaging involved, but LUSH commits to 100% biodegradable materials.
I sense an opportunity.
Luxury Skincare Refills
High end skincare is over-packaged. From the fancy jars, bottles and tubes to the additional glossy cardboard boxes. It all adds the impression of luxury – and consequently, the price tag. Many outside the industry would be stunned to know just how much of the $100 they pay for their face cream is actually attributed to the cream itself. As already highlighted in this article, there is also the significant cost to the environment to consider.
What if there was a high-end skincare brand that was not sold in individual packages? Instead, customers would come to spa with their refillable bottles, and fill them from the one big ol’ bottle.
The naysayers jump in with …‘But the product will expire quicker that way.’ or ‘But it won’t be very hygienic.’
On the expiration front, think about what happens in the spa when you go in for a facial treatment. The product the therapist is putting on your face is coming out of one of those big bottles. Professional Size, we call it. Most facial products will last at least 6 mths after being opened. For body products, they can last up to 12 mths after opening. Surely you’ll finish your product in that time, won’t you?
As for hygiene, well, if we used a system like this in our spas, it’d probably be using pump bottles. Think of how many high-end skincare products come in jars. You screw off the top, stick your fingers in a grab a dollop. You can’t tell me that is more hygienic than using a pump bottle.
Brave New World
But a product delivery system like this doesn’t sound terribly luxury or 5 star, does it? Maybe not. Not today at least. But, in a world of Conscious Consumerism…maybe it can be. Maybe, in this brave new world, what’s in the jar will actually stand on its own, without all the fancy packaging? In a new frontier where consumer behaviour can be changed for the good of the planet, it just might work.