In the context of the AGEC law, European regulations stipulate that 100% of packaging must be recyclable by 2030. How is the French luxury sector prepping for this deadline, and how are brands adapting their circularity strategies? The issue was debated by a panel of experts from Chanel and Rémy Cointreau along with industry associations Plastics Europe, Carton Ondulé de France and Citeo, at a dedicated session at Edition Spéciale by LUXE PACK 2023.
In France, brands and suppliers are already scrambling to prepare for the 100% recyclable packaging directive set to go into effect in 2030. Vincent Colard, Materials R&D Director at Citeo, opened the roundtable dedicated to recycling with a note of optimism, explaining that the recycling rate in France has already breached the 90% mark, for household packaging at least. “We have 10 points to go, which is well within reach given that 98% of French cities are equipped with household recycling bins”.
Kareen Desbouis, Director at Carton Ondulé de France, warned that household waste is just a portion of the bigger packaging picture in France. “For just under 1.2 millon tons of paper/cardboard packaging that ends up in the consumer’s home, there are more than 3.8 million tons of transport packaging.” Yet companies, she points out, have proven to be “better recyclers” than consumers in the paper/cardboard sector, with rates that reached 88% in 2020.
How to reach a 100% recycling rate? Create new streams for non-recyclable materials, or phase them out of packaging altogether? Both avenues are being explored. “Finding replacements in the form of PET or PP for unrecyclable plastics like ABS are the subject of ongoing research,” Colard pointed out. “We’re also rationalizing our centers to be able to sort more materials with new recycling streams coming onboard, notably for plastics like polystyrene, PET trays and flexible PP.” This last initiative, he added, will truly move the needle and allow France to reach its goals.
Chanel’s focus on products' end-of-life
Luxury brands are tackling the issue in various ways. Chanel began “changing its mindset” regarding product end-of-life around five years ago, explained Hélène Villecroze, Head of Eco-Design at Chanel Parfums Beauté. “We started tracking where our products ended up and how to give precedence to recyclable materials”. By 2021, 70% of materials used by the beauty brand were deemed to be “technically recyclable”. Villecroze remarked that although giving priority to recyclable materials was a first step, more needs to be done. “A product’s design is also paramount as it can disrupt recycling due to size or to components that can’t be separated,” she added.
Sorting is indeed “the big issue”, retorted Jean-Yves Daclin, Managing Director France at Plastics Europe, and luxury packaging poses specific challenges in this area: “Cosmetics products, notably, are often too small and fall through the collection mesh and are incinerated.” Monomaterial products need to be a priority – a mascara alone can contain up to seven different types of plastics – and brands need to steer away from over-decoration, which is an additional disruptor to recycling streams, he added.
Are next-gen materials the answer?
Innovations in novel ‘next-gen’ materials, while potentially less environmentally impactful than the traditional triumvirate of glass, plastic and metal, pose their own obstacles to recycling. “If there is no recycling stream to support a material, in time it will be banned. Along with the fray of next-gen materials popping up in the market, textiles, wood, stone and certain resins are equally at risk. “We won’t be able to create an infinite number of recycling streams, so we must favor materials with an existing end-of-life sorting solution,” notes Colard.
At spirits group Rémy Cointreau, the focus remains on glass, in line with the group’s 3R strategy (reduce, reuse, recycle). “We aren’t adopting material innovations that are non-recyclable, like the multi-layer paper bottle; the harm that they can do to the recycling stream outweighs the benefits,” opined Thomas Decré, Rémy Cointreau Sustainable Packaging Innovation Manager. Beyond prioritizing glass for its reuse potential, the group is phasing out gift boxes from much of its portfolio along with polyester lamination. Monomaterial secondary packaging is another direction for more premium products.
“Today we’re working towards a circular economy, but we need to work collectively: we’re talking about regulations coming into effect in 2030, that’s tomorrow!” concluded Chanel’s Villecroze.