Solving the Problem of Plastic Packaging: An Imperfect Path to Lessening Waste

The topic of plastic packaging is a tough one. Especially when you sell products in plastic packaging. Because we believe in transparency, we want to share exactly where we are in our journey. We’re committed to significantly lessening our impact and realize that we have a long road ahead of us to do so. We hope you’ll join us in taking up the challenge of reducing plastic waste.

So how did we get here?

Plastic_packaging_in_the_ocean
Research estimates that up to 87,000 tons of plastic are currently floating in all oceans.

You can’t talk about plastic packaging without talking about recycling. By now, you’ve probably learned that in 2018, China decided to restrict the import of recycling to protect environmental and human health, and this decision included materials produced by the United States. Over the last year, this policy has changed the world of recycling drastically. While many businesses and individuals continue to collect and sort their recyclables, the market to purchase and transform them into new materials is shrinking which means much of it can end up incinerated, landfilled, or in our oceans. In fact, before this global shift, less than 9% of plastic was recycled each year before 2015. Today, the market for that plastic is even more limited.

The single-use packaging system is broken. Recycling alone is not good enough. Businesses and individuals must find innovative ways to eliminate, reduce, and reuse packaging. At Badger, we’re on a mission to eliminate waste and create a new consumer paradigm that results in healing, rather than harming our planet. We know this work won’t be easy. But with consistent effort and many small steps along the way, we’re hopeful it will result in big changes.

Thank you to everyone who has asked for (and sometimes demanded!) plastic-free solutions. Your voices are getting through, and your actions will help businesses like ours make needed changes.

Why ditching plastic packaging isn’t easy

Manufacturing Capabilities

Our sunscreen currently comes in plastic packaging. We're looking to change this in 2020.
Badger Jeremy boxing up fresh Clear SPF 30 Sunscreen Cream

We manufacture nearly everything in-house, which means that we’re somewhat limited on the kind of packaging our machines can fill. For example, our sunscreen filling machines are currently designed to fill plastic tubes only. However, we’re researching the feasibility of filling sunscreen into metal tubes, and we love the idea of filling recyclable tins with our sunscreen too! It will take time to make equipment adjustments that allow for these alternatives. But it’s something we can do and are seriously considering for the near future.

Price

Sustainable packaging is often at the cutting edge of innovation, which can lead to high material costs. Putting organic ingredients in expensive packaging can make products less accessible due to the high retail price. Luckily, more and more packaging options come out daily, and the price is coming down.

Market Demand

While there’s a growing demand for plastic-free options and an increasing number of our customers willing to use less-convenient alternatives (and pay more for them), it’s not yet preferred even within our conscientious community of customers. We hope that the collective efforts of individuals and businesses will help shift the tide to broader adoption of plastic-free products. This, in turn, will help companies make changes to their sourcing, machinery, and manufacturing practices to support the plastic-free movement.

How have we already reduced plastic packaging?

New Products

No plastic packaging here! Our shampoo bar comes in a recyclable paperboard box.

The easiest way to reduce plastic in our packaging is to launch products that are plastic-free from the get-go. In fall 2018, we made the deliberate choice to come out with a product that required no plastic packaging: a Shampoo Bar. Packaged in a recyclable paperboard box, this super-concentrated shampoo lasts the same amount of time as a 12-ounce bottle of shampoo. It also doubles as a body soap. Hello, multi-use non-plastic product!

New Tubes for Most of Our Sunscreens

In 2018, we switched our sunscreen tubes, and they’re now made of 50% post-consumer resin (PCR) plastic. Another way to look at it: our tubes now use 50% less virgin plastic. PCR is a great way to support the growth and expansion of recycling programs. No, it’s not perfect, but it’s a step in the right direction.

In 2020, we are hoping to launch a sunscreen in a tube made from 50% bioplastic and 50% made from recycled OceanBound Plastics (plastic at risk of entering the ocean as litter). This packaging would be HDPE plastic (commonly referred to as plastic #2) which is widely recyclable at this time. If this packaging is successful, we will be switching all of our sunscreens over to this in the upcoming years while we continue to explore more sustainable options.

Another change is we’re now printing directly on the tube instead of affixing an additional packaging component: a label. Eliminating the label means we’re saving plastic in both the label and the backing, resulting in a simpler tube that’s easier to recycle.

Our Rose Beauty Balm no longer has plastic packaging. We switched out the plastic lid for a metal lid.

Aluminum Caps for Beauty Balms

A couple of years ago, we were excited to switch from plastic to an aluminum lid on our beauty balms. Not only is the lid recyclable, but we also think it looks better!

While none of these changes are particularly groundbreaking, they’re the ones we could easily tackle first, and we’re not stopping there.

Scope 3 Assessment

We’re currently working on a project to measure our scope 3 carbon footprint. This means looking at everything outside of our electricity and propane use, such as travel, transportation, and even the creation and end of life of packaging and ingredients. We hope that shining a light on measurable impacts in these previously undocumented areas will support and inform our decision-making process. Eventually, it will also allow us to take direct responsibility for the entirety of our carbon footprint and empower us on our journey to climate neutrality.

What plastic-free ideas are we looking into?

Not a lot of readily available and cost-effective plastic-free options exist today, but there are some. We’re currently running stability and manufacturing tests on different types of packaging to see if we’ll be able to use them with our products. Here are some new packaging options we’re researching:

  • Biodegradable cardboard push-up tubes for our lip balms, mind balms, bug sticks, and sunscreen sticks
  • Aluminum squeeze tubes for diaper cream and sunscreens
  • Tins and glass jars for sunscreens and lip balms

What other ideas are we exploring?

Moving everything out of plastic may not happen as quickly as we want so we’re also looking at better ways to work with plastic.

  • Lightweight plastic tubes offer comparable packaging but with much less plastic used for a significant reduction.
  • Making tubes with OceanBound Plastics (plastic at risk of entering the ocean as litter)
  • Bulk-sizing certain products to reduce the ratio of packaging to product
  • Take-back programs that support increased reuse and recycling efforts

That’s our list of ideas so far – do you have more to add? Which of these ideas do you like best? We hope to start implementing some of these ideas in the next year, but we won’t know which ones are possible until we’ve done more feasibility testing.

How you can help in 4 steps

So here we are. We’ve shared a lot of what we are doing to help lessen our reliance on plastic packaging. But what can you do? If you’re anything like me, I bet you’re ready to jump in and help. Here’s the good news: you can!

1. Vote

If this past decade has taught us anything, it’s that when a lot of people show up at the polls, change is possible. More and more resources are available each time an election rolls around so that you can be better informed about who is running. Read up! And choose candidates that have strong climate justice platforms. The time to act is now.

2. Contact Your Local and State Officials

While voting is important, conversations can also be effective. Check out who your local and state officials are. Send them a postcard. Give them a quick call. (Some offices can also receive texts! #lookingatyoumillenials). Let them know what matters to you.

How plastic packaging gets into the ocean.

3. Contact Your Favorite Brands

You can also “vote” by asking your favorite brands about their packaging policies. This blog was significantly influenced by many of you asking to know more about our actions!! We love having customers who are actively advocating for change.

4. Just Say “No”

When it’s an option, just say “no” to the simple stuff, like plastic bags, straws, and cutlery. By now, this may sound like a broken record. But until its history, it’s important to keep playing that song. Want an easy way to remember? We suggest practicing the following, in this order: refuse, reduce, reuse, and recycle.

What’s next?

The story of recycling single-use plastics is not a pretty one. But it can only change if we all pitch in. While Badger won’t be changing our packaging tomorrow, we can honestly say that changes are coming. Thank you for joining us in our efforts to become plastic-free!

Have any additional waste-free suggestions? We are all ears. Let us know in the comments below!

24 comments on “Solving the Problem of Plastic Packaging: An Imperfect Path to Lessening Waste

  • A push up compostable cardboard tube for lip balms is a wonderful idea! It’s hard to find an actually good lip balm or lip tint that comes in sustainable packaging. It is also very exciting that you are considering metal tubes for your sunscreen. It’s so nice to hear about your sustainability ventures and ideas and I look forward to more in the future!

    Reply
  • Lisa Marie says:

    I just can’t understand why the aromatherapy balms were changed from being in an up-cycle friendly/ recyclable tin to a plastic twist up stick with much less product to boot. Why? I love your tin packaging for several reasons. Both sizes. I’ve re-used for safety and straight pins, keeping matches dry & safe in my backpack, craft notions, carrying aspirin in my purse and they can even be used for bringing peanut butter or cream cheese in your lunch bag! Plus they’re so visually fun! With the tin I can dip a clean hand in and get exactly the amount I want. With the stick, the assumption is to rub on my temples/hands/body using the tip of the product. Whether a cool fall afternoon or a hot, humid summer day. (eh). The tin is your signature, very recognizable and accentuates “the happy” of using your products. PLEASE, some things really should stay the same. Thanks for listening.

    Reply
    • Badger Balm

      Thank you for asking, Lisa Marie, and for the brilliant lunch use suggestion! The switch to twist up sticks was a push by both customers and retailers. We were hearing from customers that they wanted an easier way to apply these balms directly to their pulse points without having to touch the product. We were also hearing from retailers who wanted an easier way to display this product and our stick packaging allowed for hang tag options. That being said, keep an eye out for packaging changes to come over the next two years. We are working very hard at leaving as much plastic as possible behind so you may see either a return to tins or a transition to other options such as cardboard tubes. I will share your interest in tin packaging onward and upward! Kindly, Emily

      Reply
  • Emma Marshall says:

    I think both the aluminum tins for lip balms and the cardboard tubes would be good options! Having a specification for packaging at checkout may help too, especially for those who need a tube-style package. My mom has arthritis, so she has a hard time opening tins, and an alternative low-waste packaging would be good as an option! Personally, I like the aluminum tins, and I use them to store other personal care products when I travel! Tiny tins make a good home for travel soap and shampoo bars!

    Reply
    • Badger Balm

      Thanks for your thoughts, Emma! We are working on accessibility to be sure everyone can use our products easily. One trick in the meantime which could be helpful for your mom, is to lay a piece of ribbon or string across the lid before closing so that it can be popped off easily. Another tin hack is to place a rubber band around the circumference of the lid for a better grip. Wishing you and your mom all the very best! -Emily

      Reply
    • Badger Balm

      Thank you, Annie! This is something we are certainly considering. It’s a bit harder for smaller companies to take on the associated shipping expenses, and of course there is a carbon footprint there, too, but definitely something we are putting careful thought into. I will pass on your support! Kindly, Emily

      Reply
  • I’ll add my voice to the others requesting that lip balms in tins be brought back! I always preferred the tins to the plastic tubes. There is no waste — with a tin, it is easy to use every last bit of the balm. And not only can the tins be recycled, but they’re pretty enough to reuse, and can hold lots of small items.

    Reply
  • I would love to see you bring back the lip balm tins! Especially in the unscented. That is the only lip balm I have ever found to not make my chapped lips worse and not cause a scratchy feeling in my throat. Your tins are perfect for at home, at work, on the road, and backpacking/camping. I am another customer who keeps coming back to Badger for over 10 years. Can’t wait to see how you continue to develop over the decade to come!

    Reply
  • Catherine Powell says:

    I’m glad that you are looking for alternatives. I find the sunscreen tubes hard to squeeze. I have carpal tunnel problems so this may be the reason but I hope you come up with a solution that makes it easier to extract the sunscreen. Thank you for your efforts and great products!

    Reply
    • Badger Balm

      Thank you, Catherine! It should be about as easy to use as toothpaste so if you are finding it to be more difficult to extract than that, feel free to give us a call and we’ll be glad to assist. 1.800.603.6100×1. Kindly, Emily

      Reply
  • First of all, I LOVE Badger products and the Badger company. Over the years I’ve tried other brands and I keep coming back to you. I am wondering about the feasibility of refillable containers. Obviously that would be difficult for the solid balms, but what about the liquids?

    Reply
    • Badger Balm

      Thanks for the long time support and for the suggestion, Talya! This is definitely one of the areas we are exploring and it’s great to know that there is interest. Kindly on behalf of the Badgers, Emily

      Reply
      • Thanks for working on this. A couple concerns:
        How do we recycle the tins? They aren’t accepted in my community.
        I have neuropathy in my hands and can’t open your tins, especially once they get a little bit of oil on them, except with great difficulty and often several days worth of added pain. This then causes me anxiety about even trying to open them again. I’ve tried putting ribbon, dental floss, thread inside which helps but is still not foolproof. Please address this problem better in the future so that I can enjoy more of your products.
        I also have severe neck & shoulder problems so must minimize the weight and size of items I carry with me in a purse/backpack. Your current larger size lip balm is fine, but glass jars are generally too heavy.

        Reply
        • Badger Balm

          Amy, thanks so much for connecting. I’m surprised to hear that the tins are not accepted – I have not heard of anyone having trouble before. Are you unable to recycle food cans as well? I would check with your local municipality to see what suggestions they may have for tin-plated steal. In terms of access, we do have some improvements in the works. For the time-being, however, here are a couple tricks that may help: you could place a rubber band around the circumference of the lid for additional grip and/or lay a piece of string or ribbon across the tin before replacing the lid so that you can easily pop the lid off again by pulling it. Feel free to reach out to our customer service team if you would like further assistance: custserv@badgerbalm.com or 800-603-6100×1. Be well! Kindly, Emily

          Reply
  • Bringing back the aluminum lip balm tins would be a huge step in the right direction! And bonus, I personally prefer them. 🙂

    Reply

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