Industry still using too much low-value vs high-value plastic, says Pact Collective chief

Pact Collective Executive Director shares key takeaways from 2023 Impact Report

In a bid to tackle the beauty industry’s mounting packaging waste, the beauty industry non-profit Pact Collective continues to lead efforts in the beauty industry’s journey towards sustainable packaging practices with the recent release of its 2023 Impact Report. From addressing the prevalence of #7 plastics to forging new partnerships with major beauty retailers, Pact’s initiatives aim to foster collaboration across the industry and drive long-term sustainability impacts.

In this exclusive CosmeticsDesign Q&A, we spoke to Carly Snider, Executive Director of Pact Collective, who shared key insights from the Report, which highlights pivotal developments and challenges in Pact’s pursuit of circularity, including the organization’s strategic evolution and priorities, and offers valuable perspectives on their ongoing efforts.

CDU: Can you share some insights into Pact Collective’s mission and how it has evolved since its inception?​ 

Carly Snider (CS)​: Pact’s mission is to unite the beauty industry to take responsibility for our industry packaging waste and work together to move towards circularity. Pact’s focus for 2023 was maximizing our impact.

We rolled out a collection program requirement for Activator members in an effort to increase the volume of hard-to-recycle beauty empties we divert from landfill. This will help us ensure all Pact members are taking action through a unified program with consistent messaging that enables us to collect more material and find better end markets for it.

We also shifted our education approach to rely more heavily on the data collected through our programs. We are convinced that by gaining a better understanding of our packaging waste, we can make more informed decisions about our packaging. 

CDU: The 2023 Impact Report highlights the continued use of #7 plastics in beauty packaging. Could you elaborate on why this is a concern and how Pact is addressing it?​ 

CS​: The increase in #7 plastics collected means that we are still designing packaging with materials that will rarely ever be mechanically recycled. As an industry, we’re still using too much low-value plastic instead of high-value plastic, like #1 PET and #2 HDPE (sometimes #5 PP).

For Pact members, we address this by providing recommendations and resources for better packaging design solutions that avoid #7 plastics altogether. We are working with the industry to ensure buy-in and move away from designing packaging in a way that renders it unrecyclable (meaning it can’t be mechanically recycled or molecularly recycled and will end up going waste-to-energy i.e. incinerated, or in the trash).  

CDU: One of the key recommendations from the report is better labeling on packaging materials. How does Pact propose to implement clearer labeling practices within the beauty industry?

CS​: If packaging suppliers and brands begin including resin codes for plastic on all packaging, this will help municipal recovery facilities (MRFs) and specialty collection programs like Pact properly sort the packaging, which can lead to a better end market for the material. In an ideal world, the resin codes are added to molds by packaging suppliers, however it can be added as part of the deco process.

Pact also encourages brands to add a QR code on packaging that links to proper disposal/recycling instructions.  

CDU: The report mentions an increase in contaminated packaging in 2023. How does Pact plan to address this issue, particularly in terms of educating consumers about ‘clean and empty’ practices?​ 

CS​: By working with our members to educate beauty consumers on the importance of clean and empty. This can be through marketing and social efforts as well as at the store level by ensuring store staff have the resources they need to properly educate the consumer at the point of drop off (the collection bin).

Pact provides resources on properly cleaning empties to both members and consumers as well. 

CDU: Pact saw a 53% decrease in the material collected in 2023 compared to 2022. Could you discuss some of the contributing factors outlined in the report and how Pact plans to overcome these challenges moving forward?​ 

CS​: We saw a 53% decrease in Pact’s total material collected in 2023 from the previous year. However, this decrease is mainly attributed to decreased participation in our obsolete inventory program (an approximate 85% decrease from 2022, and our consumer-facing programs actually grew exponentially).

This unsellable, bulk material can often be mechanically recycled because many of the components may have never touched goop, meaning they are not contaminated. Obsolete inventory still presents the largest opportunity for impact due to the high volume it usually comes to us in.  

It’s crucial that we as an industry use more sustainable methods for packaging and product destruction for unsellable goods. This will help us divert more waste from landfill  and accumulate larger volumes of material that can be repurposed for better second-life outcomes.

This is a significant call to action for the Pact community in 2024 and we hope the broader industry will join us. 

We do expect to see an increase in overall volume including volume collected via our obsolete inventory program in 2024 with the rollout of our collection program requirement for our Activator members. 

CDU: Pact has welcomed new major retailer partners like Saks and L’Occitane. How do these partnerships contribute to Pact’s mission, and what impact do you foresee from their involvement? 

CS​: Having major retailers partner with Pact means more accessibility for beauty consumers while demonstrating that our industry is willing to work collaboratively to find solutions to beauty’s packaging problem.  

CDU: How does Pact collaborate with its members, which include industry giants like Sephora, Ulta, and leading brands like Hailey Beiber’s rhode, Glow Recipe, and Victoria Beckham Beauty, to drive sustainable packaging practices? 

CS​: Pact serves as a community and knowledge hub for our members large and small with a focus on innovative packaging solutions, best practices, and lessons learned from past failures to avoid making the same mistakes in the future. Achieving circularity in the packaging industry requires collaborative efforts beyond individual brands or organizational silos.

It’s essential to come together as a unified industry to accelerate our progress toward this goal. 

CDU: Looking ahead to 2024, what are some key priorities and initiatives for Pact Collective in furthering its mission to revolutionize packaging practices in the beauty industry? 

CS​: Our biggest focus will be further evaluating the material collected through our collection programs with an even more scrutinous eye, and turning that evaluation and our findings into tangible, data-driven recommendations for the beauty industry to design better packaging at the start of the process.  

CDU: How can other stakeholders, such as government bodies, NGOs, and consumers, support Pact Collective’s efforts towards creating a more sustainable beauty industry? 

CS​: For organizations, they can join Pact! We offer membership to any organization involved in the beauty supply chain. 

For consumers, they can discard their hard-to-recycle empties with Pact so we can divert them from the landfill. Our drop-off locations are the most sustainable way to do this – we now have more than 2,800+ locations thanks to recent launches with Ulta Beauty, Saks and L’Occitane.                                                                                                                              

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