Procter & Gamble is pairing up with Walmart in a new test to recycle beauty products. The trial, in conjunction with TerraCycle, is scheduled for 25 stores.
Illustrating the complexity of sustainability marketing, the move comes less than a year after TerraCycle and P&G, as well as L'Oréal, Clorox and Coca-Cola, reached a settlement to change their labeling, following a greenwashing suit from an environmental group.
Between shampoos, moisturizers, body wash and sunscreens, the beauty biz churns out about 120 billion packaging units each year. Much of that is plastic, used once and never recycled. One of the grimmest realities of the CPG world is that of all the plastic produced since 1950, less than 10% has been recycled.
This new approach will rely on free in-store recycling bins so people can drop off empty hair-care, skin-care and cosmetic packaging. The selected Walmart stores are in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Oklahoma and Arkansas.
TerraCycle, which works in 20 countries, is looking at ways to recycle everything from dirty diapers to cigarette butts.
Many of its programs rely on mailing in reused plastics. In November, after it was sued for deceptive claims by The Last Beach Cleanup, an environmental activist group, TerraCycle agreed to change product labels and start a supply chain certification program.
But consumers can still be deceived, the group says.
"There is no specific law against companies promoting high carbon emission, non-scalable solutions that masquerade as real solutions," it says in its statement about the settlement. "Long distance mail-back programs for plastic products and packaging have significant environmental impacts that outweigh the meager benefits of downcycling the plastic products into picnic tables or park benches."
A recent ranking named Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and Unilever the three largest plastic polluters in the world, followed by Nestle and Procter & Gamble.
Companies like P&G and Unilever, as well as other CPG giants, have been dabbling in small attempts to solve the problem. But it's not easy. For example, P&G recently revealed that it was struggling to meet its sustainability targets due to the shortage of recycled plastics.
And consumers, especially Gen Z, are increasingly aware of these companies' impact on the environment, especially in terms of plastics winding up in the oceans.
A recent study found that 75% of Gen Z shoppers prefer an environmentally sustainable product over a brand name. Many are turning to companies pledging to be low-plastic or even plastic-free, propelling the popularity of brands like Lush, Ethique and EcoRoots.