California’s plastic law puts beauty and fashion on red alert

California-based Boox — which CEO Matt Semmelhack says is on track to ship 1.3 million Boox boxes in 2022 compared to approximately 100,000 in inaugural year 2021 — launched a new service “almost directly pointed at SB54”, says Semmelhack. It invites brands to return both the Boox shipper and the interior packing material for reuse. “In time, this will lead to e-comm brands switching to reusables not just for the outer shipper like Boox, but also any interior packaging materials, garment bags, etc.”

Reorienting a business towards reuse is also more likely to avoid unintended consequences, such as “manufacturers finding other raw source materials — like chopping down trees — to meet the guidelines to the letter of the law,” he says. “We’re going to need to accelerate the transition to a circular economy, not just give an ‘out’ by making things more recyclable or more compostable.”

Refill and reuse systems can also reap dividends for the business, he adds. “Brands are able to make the returns process an additional post-purchase offline touch point that leads to sales, retention, loyalty, etc. — all those critical things direct-to-consumer brands are after.”

Building momentum

Brands already focused on plastics reduction welcome the bill. Everlane says it has eliminated 90 per cent of virgin and single-use plastic from its supply chain, by shifting to recycled-plastic polybags and recycled fibres in its apparel, among other changes, and Katina Boutis, the brand’s sustainability director, says they are working on the rest. “We’re hopeful that Senate Bill 54 will support us in developing solutions for the last 10 per cent of our goal, namely trims and elastane, by spurring much-needed innovation in recyclability,” she says. “Much of the remaining virgin plastic in these areas requires material innovations that are not currently available at scale.”

Some companies have already found alternatives or ways to avoid some common waste-generating products. Hailey Bieber’s beauty brand Rhode, which launched in June, doesn’t offer samples, according to CMO Claudia Allwood, who says they’re holding out until there’s a better, “responsible” way to offer them.

Credo switched away from all single-use plastics in 2020, including sample packets as well as other items including sheet masks. “That item could last for hundreds of years, even though we only use it for seconds,” says Davis. They now have a travel size jar made from upcycled, plastic-free materials that they invite customers in to refill when they’re looking to try a new product. But, Davis says, the quest for a sustainable way to sample products is about more than the material itself.

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