Unpacking the truth on packaging: Great or greenwashed?

Unpacking the truth on packaging: Great or greenwashed?

Posted by Aker Skincare on

The sustainability push in the last decade has been so heartening to see, but not all progress is beneficial, and there are some choices brands are making that aren’t quite green as they might first seem.

We try to be as transparent as possible about our choices and how they weigh up against our sustainability goals — and this article is partly an exploration of why we make the choices we make… and why we don’t make other choices with our packaging!

So, if you’re curious about what makes truly green packaging for skincare products (or for any product, really), then read on for a closer look at the sustainability credentials of different packaging — and why we chose ours.

Our sustainable packaging choices

We’ll start straight away by saying, there are no perfect choices. We’re not here to pass judgement, but to share our approach to sustainable packaging and explain why we make certain choices.

When you place an Aker order, your postie will deliver you:
  • A cardboard box
  • Recycled, shredded cardboard packing filler
  • A paper/card product leaflet
  • A glass jar, with a plastic lid, containing your product

And that should be it.

Our labels are printed directly onto our amber jars, but we used to use adhered plastic labels. This was an important upgrade for us, as it makes our jars easier to recycle and reduces the chances of contamination and plastic waste in the environment.

We choose glass because the UK’s glass collection rate for recycling stands at 76.5%. That’s the second-highest rate after paper in 2018 (expected recycling rates for following years predict glass will become the most-recycled material).

So, the vast majority of the packaging you get with an Aker product is recycled, recyclable, and/or biodegradable.

Our plastic lid is the one area we’ve struggled with, but we’ve taken the step to not use shives (internal plastic lids) in our products to minimise the plastic in our products.

Feel free to read our deep dive on sustainability in more detail.

Aker Skincare - Seasonal Skincare

The biodegradable elephant in the room

Bioplastic, plant plastic, green plastic… call it what you will, it’s a hot topic in packaging circles. On the very slim chance that you’re not keeping up-to-date with the riveting world of product packaging, we’ll pop a quick explainer below.

What are bioplastics?

Bioplastics are a group of plastics made from a biological substance (or substances), rather than petroleum. Common bioplastics are made from sugars, starches, and cellulose from algae or corn. Coming from plant and other biological matter, bioplastics are technically a renewable resource.

What are the limitations of bioplastics?

This is where the language of sustainability can trip us up. Hearing the word “bio” makes everything seem grand and green, but bioplastics are not necessarily any better for the planet than their petroleum cousins.

The biggest issue with bioplastics is that, while they may be made from biodegradable materials, the production process renders them incredibly hard to biodegrade.

“If bioplastics end up in landfills… without enough oxygen to break them down,” explained Jim Robbins in Yale Environment 360, “they can last for centuries and release methane, a potent greenhouse gas. If thrown into the environment, they pose threats similar to PET plastic.”

So, in essence, they are no better for the planet than traditional polymers. And when we know that just 9% of plastics get recycled in the UK (or 32%, according to the British Plastics Federation), can we really rely on the existing waste management infrastructure to process bioplastics?

Bioplastics are also more expensive than polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastics. Polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA) and polylactic acid (PLA) are the two most common bioplastics, but even the cheapest options “have 1.7 to 2 times higher production costs than virgin plastic per metric ton of plastic utility,” as reported in 2020’s groundbreaking Pew Report.

The most sustainable packaging choices aren’t the most glamorous

Using “paper, coated paper, and compostable materials” in packaging, rather than plastics, would see “plastic pollution in 2040 decreased 59%” compared to our business as usual approach. That’s according to the ‘Evaluating scenarios toward zero plastic pollution’ study, conducted by a team including the leads from the aforementioned Pew Report.

And the less we use sticky labels, vinyl stickers, and non-vegetable inks in our packaging, the easier they are to recycle. That’s why we take a stripped-back approach to our packaging with simple kraft brown packaging that is free of inks and is easily recyclable. 

We could go all out on a complicated box, with plastic inserts and other bells and whistles, but we believe that actions speak louder than words. A sustainable business that thinks only about aesthetics ahead of utility in its packaging might need to reassess its priorities.

We hope you see it the same way!

Making the right choices for you, the planet, and Aker

We’re not here to argue that bioplastics don’t have a part to play, but we’ve made a choice to focus on using materials that have high recycling rates, much lower associated environmental risks, and lower prices.

That’s good for the planet, for you, and for us as well.

When it comes to choosing a sustainable skincare option, don’t let the complications of packaging weigh too heavily on you. If you are concerned about the sustainability of your skincare packaging, do a bit of research and choose what feels best to you. That might be glass, that might be bioplastic, it might be a DIY option.

There is a misattribution of responsibility on ‘consumers’ (one of our least favourite words!) when it comes to packaging waste. In the end, our packaging is our responsibility and if you choose to use Aker products, we hold that responsibility entirely.

If you care about packaging and sustainability, that’s hopefully part of the reason you’re buying our products.

Well, that and the fact they’re just so good at what they do!

Shop sustainable skincare

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