regulations | plastic

regulations | plastic

Plastic tax: are cosmetic brands prepared?

The cosmetic industry is known for using plastic in its packaging and is set to be an industry largely affected by the upcoming plastic tax in the UK. With the tax proposed for 2022, Jessie Paige talks to experts across cosmetic brands about their plans for when the tax finally comes into effect, and how they think the cosmetic industry will change as a whole.

Cover image: Shutterstock

The UK

plastic packaging tax was announced at Budget 2020, where Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak confirmed that as of April 2022, companies will be paying £200 per tonne of packaging made from less than 30% recycled plastic.

The tax was created to encourage the use of recycled plastics, something that many companies in the cosmetic industry have been known to use in packaging already.

However, there are still those who are using virgin plastic, or plastic that cannot be recycled. So what will these companies have to do to adapt to the upcoming law?

Perceptions of the tax

Emily Hodgson’s business, Shea Sassy, is based in Yorkshire, UK. The company creates artisan handmade soaps and natural bath and body products. According to the company, it’s specialism in soaps began when searching for alternative, natural skincare products free from synthetic detergents.

Hodgson says that Shea Sassy only looks to packaging companies that provide recyclable, sustainable, and biodegradable material.

She adds that Shea Sassy products use no unnecessary plastic packaging and plans to continue to manufacture without plastic, and so doesn’t see her own business being affected by the tax. However, she sees the implementation generally as a positive thing for cosmetic packaging.

“It can only be a good thing to encourage businesses to source more sustainable materials and use more recyclable materials in their processes,” Hodgson says. “There will be more pressure for the cosmetic industry to use more recyclable materials where they can and companies will have the opportunity to promote their changes.

“They may also look to adapt current products so they don’t require plastic materials. Plastic that contains less than 30% recycled plastic will be charged at a higher cost and the cost will likely be passed onto the customer.”

Of a similar opinion to Hodgson is Phil Wild, CEO of paper products producer James Cropper. Wild also believes that the plastic tax will urge the cosmetic industry to think in different, innovative ways, including switching to alternative materials.

Wild says that the plastic tax is bound to prompt change in the cosmetics industry as it exists today, from big brands switching materials, to health and beauty startups approaching the industry with sustainability at the core of their offering.

“The tax will force brands to review their current packaging options,” Wild adds. “Increased use of recycled materials is becoming more commonplace in packaging across the board, and we’d like to see brands thinking about how they can move to more renewable materials.

“Significant strides have been made in the supply chains already and this can only improve as more sustainable packaging solutions are made available and the infrastructure for waste materials works to keep recyclable materials in the value chain.”

The tax will force brands to review their current packaging options

A sustainable and recyclable future

It’s possible to assume, then, that the cosmetic industry is set to become more sustainable following the plastic tax. Those in the industry who are in favour of the tax are hoping that it will cause a shift in how businesses operate and also prompt discussion over the environmental impact of plastic.

This is a positive, as being environmentally friendly and recyclable is a big challenge the cosmetic industry faces. This can be attributed to a number of factors, such as with the case of products using black plastic or small plastic.

“As beauty packaging is often designed and dressed to be a premium or luxury product, some of the decorative and print processes can also significantly contribute to the barriers of recycling,” Mark Tosey, the production director at brand-design consultancy Lewis Moberly, previously told Packaging Gateway. “There are also specific difficulties with recycling black plastics, a colour often used in cosmetics, which has received much attention recently.”

Black plastic is notoriously hard to recycle because it cannot be sorted using Near Infrared (NIR) technology, meaning that products using this packaging usually end up in landfill as residue.

Cosmetic products also tend to use smaller-sized packaging, which means the plastic ends up as residue after the recycling process, even in the case where it’s recyclable.

This is due to the small plastic pieces deteriorating in recycling facilities when going through a trommel – a piece of equipment designed to remove small contaminants from a recycling stream. This is a problem that could be solved by using alternative materials to plastic in cosmetic packaging.

Alternative materials

Both Hodgson and Wild agree that the use of alternative materials to plastic could help the cosmetic industry become more sustainable, as well as helping businesses adapt after the plastic tax takes effect.

“With plastic waste high on the Government’s agenda, it’s highly likely the minimum requirements will increase year on year so brands simply can’t avoid it,” Wild says. “With just under two years to go until the tax is enforced, we have already seen brands looking to make changes now.”

Wild highlights Colourform Moulded Fibre, a thermoformed, plastic-free, moulded fibre created by James Cropper that was inspired by the principles of a circular economy.

“We have shown that there are credible plastic-free packaging alternatives through our Colourform solution and we’re already making waves in the industry working with brands such as Lush and Floral Street.”

Change needs to begin now

Steve Spencer, the managing director at UK plastic recycling firm Bright Green Plastics, says that brands and businesses must start planning now if they wish to avoid large bills following the plastic tax.

“Some of our customers already produce packaging with 100% recycled materials,” says Spencer. “However, there are some that are below the 30% level, who we are currently working with, to bring them higher than the minimum requirement.

"This will not only ensure they’re ticking the box for April 2022, but are prepared for future potential amendments to the plastic tax legislation, as well as enabling them to be more environmentally-friendly in the long term.

“We would recommend all businesses aim for a higher recycled plastic content benchmark than the minimum 30% - particularly as the outcome is not likely to be noticeably different from virgin materials.”

Whatever cosmetic businesses decide to do once the tax is implemented, be it switching to alternative materials completely or at least aiming for a higher recycled plastic content benchmark, it’s crucial that those in the industry start making changes now, in preparation for 2022.

Cover image: Shutterstock

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