Estée Lauder to develop refillable packaging as part of circular economy drive

Other companies to have signed up to CE100 include SC Johnson

The company, which owns brands such as MAC, Too Faced, SmashBox and Jo Malone London, this week joined the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s CE100 initiative – a cross-industry collaboration aimed at accelerating the transition to a circular economy.

Companies which join CE100 are given the chance to collaborate with competitors, governments, local authorities, academics and innovators to accelerate the transition to an economy that is “restorative and regenerative by design” through a series of workshops and events. They are also granted access to a digital portfolio of learning materials on circular economy principles.

As a CE100 member, Estée Lauder has pledged to make sure that at least 75% of its packaging portfolio is recyclable, refillable, reusable, recycled or recoverable by the end of 2025.

To meet this ambition, its team of packaging designers and material engineers will re-design the majority of its packaging portfolio, switching items currently made from fossil-fuel-based polymers with pulp or bio-based alternatives.

Where this is not possible, recycled content will be used, with Estée Lauder having set an additional target for increasing post-consumer recycled (PCR) content across its plastics portfolio by up to 50% by the end of 2025.


The company already PCR content in its Aveda skincare range and to make bottles and jars across the Aveda hairstyling portfolio. Of these lines, more than 85% contain 100% PCR material.

Estée Lauder is already a member of two cross-industry partnerships for more circular packaging, namely the Sustainable Packaging Coalition (SPC) and the Sustainable Packaging Initiative for CosmEtics (SPICE). The firm’s senior vice president for global corporate citizenship and sustainability Nancy Mahon said that by joining CE100, the company will have a broader opportunity to collaborate in a pre-competitive manner of sustainable packaging innovation.

“As a global company, employer and corporate citizen, The Estée Lauder Companies is committed to taking positive actions to ensure a healthier planet for all,” Mahon said.

“Driving circularity through sustainable packaging innovation is a priority for us and we believe a collaborative cross-industry approach is key to making meaningful progress.”

The beauty of circularity

The global cosmetics and toiletries sector has been estimated to produce 120 billion units of plastic packaging every year by think tanks, with many of these items either classed as “non-recyclable” in kerbside collections in developed nations or sold in the developing regions where recycling infrastructure is either sparse or non-existent.

Estée Lauder is therefore just one of several companies in the sector to have bolstered its commitments around circular packaging in recent times, with many of these firms now turning to refill and reuse amid increased concerns around the ethics and environmental credentials of the global recycling industry from policymakers and the public alike.

In January, 24 consumer goods and food and drinks firms revealed that they would support TerraCycle’s “Loop” platform, for example, whereby businesses will provide product refills while retaining ownership of their reusable packaging. Early supporters of the platform’s initial launch in New York and Paris include Unilever, Procter & Gamble (P&G) and Colgate Palmolive, with Tesco set to spearhead a UK launch this autumn. 

Away from Loop, P&G has also started offering refillable products through its Olay brand, which this week confirmed it will trial refillable pods for its Regenerist Whip moisturiser across its UK and US markets in October. Once the three-month trial is complete, P&G is hoping to replicate the model across other products in its brand portfolios.

Sarah George

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