Lush sets the standard for greener packaging

Alissa Demorest
Lush sets the standard for greener packaging

Lush launched its first refillable lipstick earlier this year in partnership with supplier Reboul/Aptar. Nick Gumery, creative buyer for packaging at the UK brand, discusses how Lush is giving value and a much longer life span to its packaging.

What is your priority from a buying perspective?

As a buying team we are looking to move towards using regenerative materials. We classify packaging materials into three main categories: the first is degenerative, or materials that take resources from the planet without giving anything back—aluminum is one example. This is a category we’d like to move away from and eventually not use at all, but we’re not there yet. Then there are sustainable materials and as a company Lush is quite strong in this area: we use recycled plastics whenever possible and notably 100% recycled PCW plastics for our bottles, pots and lids.

We also give incentives to our customers to return the packs after use—they get a free product for bringing back a certain number of pots to the store, for example. These get collected and are returned to The Green Hub, our in-house recycling center at Lush headquarters in Poole, where the waste is collected, sorted, washed and shredded and then sent back to our manufacturer. We do this internally; it’s part of our business.

The third category is regenerative materials, which are natural and un-adulterated, so free of binders or other additives. Sustainable keeps the status quo, but regenerative is creating a surface of nutrition for the soil and is starting to reverse the damage we are doing to the planet.

What are some examples of regenerative materials?

Sustainably harvested cork is one good example; we use this material for our shampoo bars. At the end of its life the cork pot can be put back into the ground and it will nourish the earth—in that sense it is regenerative.

We source our cork in Portugal, where local farmers are starting to rethink their farming practices in a more sustainable way—reversing the habit of clearing all of the undergrowth beneath the trees to protect from fire, for example, which is promoting the return of biodiversity. Lush pays its farmers/suppliers €5 per pot and we then sell them at retail for €8.95; they are getting a good price for their product and we still manage to make a profit. I’m currently working on an expansion plan for our cork sourcing.

The brand has been producing 70,000 pots a year, which is nowhere near enough to meet demand, so we’re ramping up to 500,000 pots within the next 12 months. Instead of just being available in our flagship stores and online, we aim to sell them in all of our boutiques. Beyond just sustainable, we are also pioneering new materials, while supporting local communities.

The new eyeshadow pots we're working on are made of Tagua nut from Ecuador, and are both refillable and compostable. It’s a commonly used material in the button industry: the nut is white and resembles ivory, grows on trees and is basically 100% cellulose. There are still limits to what we can do in this area, however. We’ve tried to press the formula directly into the Tagua nut itself instead of using an internal aluminum godet, which has proved to be difficult, so for the moment the nut is used for the outer packaging and it is reusable. They last a long time, and at the end of its life makes for worry-free packaging.

Do you want to eradicate plastic from your offer?

Lush products still include a lot of liquids and that remains a challenge, thus our aim to source 100 % recycled plastics. I want to move away from plastic, but I don’t want to demonize it either as it is a wonderfully versatile material. But single-use plastic? Who came up with that terrible idea? We need to stop putting virgin plastic into the stream, but as getting clear plastic out of a recycled material is impossible, we choose to put environment before aesthetics. This is something we explain this to our customers.

Your makeup offer is in the midst of a revamp.

Yes, and our all-metal lipstick holder is a good example of where we want to go with the category. The idea is to give value to the packaging and reverse that mindset that packaging is essentially garbage. Our aim is to give consumers reusable products that at the end of their life can either be recycled or go back into the ground.

For the lipstick, the idea was to use zero plastic, create something that felt very vintage and that was refillable. I think we’ve nailed it, but this couldn’t have happened without Reboul (Aptar), our partner whose know-how and technology were fundamental to bringing this product to market. The lipstick holder is made of brass and aluminum and they come apart easily. The holder was conceived to fit Lush lipstick bullets, but also those from other brands as it’s a standard size. Rather than packaging the bullet in plastic, it is encased in wax.

Is there is another refillable makeup project in the works?

Yes, we’re working with Reboul/Aptar on a refillable makeup compact that will be a perfect partner for the lipstick holder and feature a similar design. We’ve been discussing whether to include a mirror in the compact and there are pros and cons to this, notably the environmental impact of the silvering of the mirror. We’re edging towards not having a mirror at the moment.

We also just launched a range of makeup brushes in the same spirit of a ‘treasurable’ item, with vegan glue and synthetic fibers.

Naked mascara is another avenue of research, the idea being that the mascara formula is outer pack; the formula forms a natural crust or skin, like a custard, so that the color doesn’t rub off. It resembles a cotton reel and the mascara brush, once wet, is inserted inside the mascara. But this is still in the very early stages of R&D.

As a buying team the bottom line at Lush is to work in a more regenerative manner and this approach is impacting all of our packaging developments today and for the years to come.

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