Credo And MOB Beauty Create Pact To Help Solve The Beauty Industry’s Recycling Problem
Before municipal recycling existed and way before MOB Beauty was created, former MAC chief chemist and managing director Victor Casale was involved in a Back-to-MAC program incentivizing customers to return at least six pieces of packaging in exchange for a complimentary lipstick.
The returned packaging was sorted and eventually transformed into “park benches, pallets and skids,” says Casale, who recently launched the refillable and recyclable cosmetics concept MOB Beauty with fellow cosmetic industry veterans Beatrice Seguin, Alisha Gallagher and Steve Blanchet. The MAC program is still around today and turns much of the packaging customers return into new compacts. The returned packaging that doesn’t become compacts is converted into energy.
“It was an amazing experience because we took something on way before it became a serious issue like it is today,” says Casale. “And, then, 30 years later, not really seeing much change in the industry, it was frustrating.”
Motivated by his frustration, Casale has created Pact with Mia Davis, VP of sustainability and impact at clean beauty retailer Credo Beauty, department store company Hudson’s Bay and Element Packaging to pick up where the earlier initiative left off. Pact is a nonprofit recycling program designed specifically for the beauty industry, which is estimated to have generated 120 billion units of packaging, with a mission to handle beauty products that are hard to recycle. Particularly tricky products and product elements for recycling include items smaller than a yogurt cup, those with mixed-material packaging, pumps and certain tubes.
“The vast majority of the time these products are going to slip through the cracks with sorting machines and end up going to a landfill or to the trash,” explains Davis. “We knew that we needed to provide a solution—not the silver bullet—but an important solution by taking back these materials and finding another purpose for them.”
Items that can’t be recycled will be upcycled. Casale is drawn to the idea of Pact enabling beauty products to have future lives as other beauty products. He says, “Some of the plastics that are clean and used in our industry, through our packaging supply members, we will grind up and offer back to the beauty industry saying, ‘Look, this is material that came from your industry, we can put it back into your bottles, your compacts, your packaging and create true circularity within our industry.’”
Pact take-back bins will be placed at Credo’s 10 locations in the United States as well as 20 Hudson’s Bay stores in Canada. A mail-back program is in the works. Through software from Pact’s recycling partner R3 Reverse Logistics, the program is able to keep track of when items are picked up from stores, cleaned,and chopped up.
Outside of recycling initiatives put in place by individual brands like Kiehl’s, Lush and Origins, Terracycle has become the go-to recycling partner for many in the beauty industry. Casale and Davis emphasize they don’t want Pact to go up against other companies, but rather combine efforts. The goal is that, by joining forces, there will become more transparency and a collective understanding of sustainable processes. Pact will be open to beauty industry companies beyond its founding core joining as members later this year.
“We hope that everyone will come together and say, ‘Look, let’s not make this something we compete against each other, but just make it something we do. Let’s make it as efficient and cost-effective as possible, so we’re not duplicating our efforts, we’re collectively coming together and we’re making this work for us and we’re getting to the root cause together,” says Casale, adding, “What happens when you’re trying to use sustainability as a competitive advantage is that different messages come out from different brands. Each brand is going to say something different because of what they’re capable of doing. It’s very difficult for one brand to come out and do everything right.”
Casale and Davis approximate that it cost $100,000 to start Pact. Davis discloses it costs about $3,000 to $5,000 a ton to collect, ship and process hard-to-recycle beauty packaging. Pact takes fees from members that want to participate in order to offset the costs. Any savings will go toward reducing fees. “We want to grow and scale the program and have a healthy business model, but it’s not about making more money to market more and to line investor’s pockets,” says Davis. “We wanted to keep it nonprofit on purpose. It’s a different mindset, and one that we really hope will be extremely welcoming and inclusive. We’re gonna roll up our sleeves and do a lot of hard work.”
“What happens when you’re trying to use sustainability as a competitive advantage is that different messages come out from different brands.”
Part of that hard work is education “up and down the supply chain,” according to Casale. For consumers, there will be resources on the company’s website about best recycling practices and links to organizations. In Credo stores, experts will be available to answer questions. “With education comes a change in behavior, with change in behavior comes the change in the systemic problem,” says Casale.
Casale and Davis, however, emphasize the onus shouldn’t fall on customers to do all of the work. Davis says, “A second longer-term goal is to really educate and engage the beauty industry so that different folks are not in silos anymore, [with] the packaging designers over here and the beauty brands over here and the retailers over here, and bring everyone together so that we can make more informed sustainable decisions.”
They recognize that recycling won’t fully resolve the beauty industry’s environmental ills, but underscore it’s an important tool in the toolbox. “We’re not going to have all the answers,” says Casale. “But, as each member comes on, we will grow, we will learn, we will share, we will educate, we’ll implement programs, and rinse and repeat. And, again, I hope sustainability circularity won’t be something that we compete with each other on, but rather something that we share with each other on. So, what I learn or what some other independent entrepreneur learns, we share, and we try to get it to disseminate across our industry sooner.”