This bottle is made entirely from postconsumer HDPE. Image: Aveda Corp.

Before botanical beauty brands had the market penetration they do today, Horst Rechelbacher created Aveda Corp. “with the vision to bring beauty professionals botanical products that would be good for them, their guests and the Earth and its communities” in 1978.

According to Aveda’s website, Rechelbacher’s overriding philosophy was: “Every day presents every one of us with the opportunity to create positive effects. Even the simplest, seemingly insignificant choices we make in our daily lives—what to eat, what to wear, what to use on our bodies and in our homes—have a ripple effect that reaches far beyond us personally.”

The company remains guided by that philosophy today, with its website stating, “We believe there is no responsible alternative to doing business other than through the pursuit of environmental sustainability and this belief guides every decision we make. We find inspiration for doing so in nature and believe that nature is not merely something to be cherished and protected, but also should be emulated as a model of sustainability.”

Aveda brings those principles to its products as well as to the packaging that houses them.

Guiding principles

Edmond Irizarry, executive director of packaging development for Aveda, Blaine, Minnesota, says the company’s packaging philosophy is defined by several principles:

  • minimizing the overall weight of materials and components to lessen the use of transportation, energy and manufacturing resources;
  • using materials that contain high percentages of postconsumer recycled content;
  • using reclaimed materials;
  • using bioresins that will not contaminate the plastics recycling stream;
  • using materials that are easily recycled or composted in residential or community programs; and
  • specifying materials and packaging systems that support Cradle-to-Cradle Products Innovation Institute principles and that hold a widely recognized environmental or organic certification.

“Our Aveda mission of caring for the world we live in and to setting an example for environmental leadership and responsibility guides all of our strategic choices for packaging and material selection,” Irizarry says.

According to the Aveda website, “We can’t guarantee that our packaging will be recycled, but we can do our part, ensuring that the material it’s made of will now have the chance of another life rather than going to a landfill.”

Aveda claims to be the first beauty company to use 100-percent-postconsumer polyethylene terephthalate (PET) in its packaging, having done so in 2003 with the launch of jars made from this material.

“By doing so, we were able to improve on our consumer usage experience and quality versus glass while decreasing overall weight,” Irizarry says. “We did extensive research to understand processing parameters and limitations to achieve the desired heavy-wall feel needed within our luxury business. Today, all of the retail Aveda PET jars and bottles include 100 percent PCR (postconsumer resin) content.”

The company also initiated a polypropylene (PP) cap collection program, he says, that led to the co-creation of a PCR PP specification. “The Aveda caps recycling program prevented an estimated 145 million caps from entering waterways and landfills, and we included the APR (Association of Plastic Recyclers) to establish the ‘caps on’ recycling initiative, asking municipal recycling facilities nationwide to accept bottles for recycling whereby caps were left on the bottle, allowing for the PP cap resin to be separated from the bottle resin during mechanical sorting and processing at the material recyclers.”

Aveda stopped collecting caps in 2015 to support the broader caps-on movement.

While Irizarry says Aveda works to incorporate 100 percent PCR in its packaging where possible, it’s focused primarily on PET, PP, high-density polyethylene (HDPE) and acrylonitrile butadiene styrene.

Addressing challenges

Presently, 90 percent of Aveda’s HDPE bottles use a minimum of 80 percent PCR; however, the bottles for its Invati Exfoliating Shampoo and Stress-Fix Body Lotion are made from 100 percent PCR, according to the company.

This jar is made entirely from postconsumer PET. Image: Aveda Corp.

“To achieve a 100 percent HDPE PCR claim, we needed to first identify postconsumer recycled HDPE color carrier,” Irizarry says. “These carriers have a green-gray hue before colorant is added. By using a trilayer composition, it allows [us] to load colorant at different loadings.”

This method, combined with using high-quality PCR, allows Aveda to produce a range of bottle colors from 100 percent PCR without compromising quality or the brand’s expectations, Irizarry adds.

He says, “We were able to make these adjustments on our existing tools, allowing us to quickly introduce this technology to the market.”

Bottles made with 80 percent or more PCR account for nearly 90 percent of Aveda’s retail and professional packaging. The company says its remaining packaging is made either from glass, which is frequently recyclable, or plastic tubes, which are not yet accepted by municipal recycling programs.

The company says using PCR in its PET and HDPE packaging prevents the use of 600 tons of virgin plastic each year.

To get to this point, Aveda has had to and continues to work through many challenges, Irizarry says, and has qualified multiple resin streams to ensure it has backup resins specified should PCR supply issues arise.

“For sustainable materials, we need new streams and technologies to drive new benefits,” he says. “Color consistency is a big one for us because current PCR streams, for example PP, limit our ability to do light and/or translucent colors. In other instances, critical for when your packaging is produced within multiple regions, color variation on PCR streams could lead to inconsistencies within the shelf.”

Among converters, Irizarry says Aveda still must “correct the misconception that PCR is trash and that there will always be quality issues when using it.”

It is better to think of PCR as “a new material,” he says. “It won’t be ‘plug-and-play’ that you can load into your silos and/or presses and expect to run without putting the time and effort to understand their melt flow and processing characteristics and adjusting your process to meet them.”

Irizarry adds that brand owners also need to better communicate to consumers the difference between sustainable materials and recyclable materials. “There is a lot of confusion in the industry right now and, as people become more aware of the impact plastic has on the Earth, they need to understand exactly what to do with it in order for it to have a second life. Brands should be wary of how they try to capitalize on the sustainable packaging trend to ensure that they are not overlooking the importance of educating consumers on what to do with their used materials.”

He adds, “For consumers, we need to continue to educate them and incentivize them to join the war on plastics, and to lobby their local legislators to help close the loop with plastic collection.”

Prioritizing PCR

Irizarry says Aveda’s size and focus on sustainable packaging have led many of its business partners to use the company to test and learn about new materials and/or technologies. “This has led to over 20 packaging industry awards within the past 15 years for our achievements in sustainable packaging solutions,” Irizarry says. “Our recognitions extended across primary, secondary and auxiliary packaging and across multiple material categories.”

He says Aveda’s mission will continue to guide its design choices as it develops new packaging. “It is our vision to lead the beauty industry with luxury packaging and aspirational design that reflects our sustainability and environmental responsibility principles."

The author is editor of Recycling Today and can be contacted via email at dtoto@gie.net.