ELC Partners With Largest Glass Recycler in N.A. to Advance Packaging Sustainability

As a global leader in prestige beauty with a long-held commitment to sustainability, The Estée Lauder Companies (ELC) is committed to providing consumers with breakthrough cosmetic products, packaging, and experiences that deliver exceptional performance and luxury while aiming to reduce environmental impacts. In celebration of Earth Day, the company is proud to spotlight its partnership with Strategic Materials, Inc. (SMI), the most comprehensive glass recycler in North America. As glass continues to be increasingly depended on as a material of choice in luxury cosmetics, ELC and SMI recently completed a multi-year study to identify ways to enhance recyclability of cosmetic glass packaging and the availability of recycled materials.

While most North America public recycling guidelines and instructions emphasize amber, green, or clear glass as preferred material colors for recyclability, the use of multiple decorations, colors, and formats to achieve unique packaging aesthetics in the luxury cosmetics industry may at times inadvertently inhibit recyclability. Understanding what makes glass cosmetic packaging efficiently sortable and overcoming the challenges of delivering luxury decorations, colors, and formats that can be identified as recyclable by recyclers in practice and at scale represents a unique opportunity for the cosmetics industry. To address this challenge, over the past 4 years (2020-2024), ELC and SMI have collaborated on in-depth testing of more than 200 glass beauty containers and packages to better understand these barriers and explore potential solutions. This has yielded new insights on the recyclability of various decorations, colors, and formats as well as design best practices that can serve as a guide to designers, developers, suppliers, and brands to help advance circularity.

In North America, the complex recycling supply chain is comprised of a variety of stakeholders, from companies that produce packages—such as ELC—to material providers, sorters, reclaimers, and recyclers of a particular material like glass—such as SMI. While recyclers like SMI devote resources to creating as much value as possible from the packages received, a lack of high-quality post-consumer recycled (PCR) furnace-ready glass, or cullet, availability has created a need to continue improving contamination rates by having a cleaner stream of materials to begin with. This not only helps increase the amount of material that gets recycled through their facilities but also generates higher quality recycled glass. 

ELC and SMI plan to publish their findings publicly within the next few weeks to inspire and enable packaging sustainability innovation across the cosmetics industry in North America by promoting more strategic design. Learnings and best practices highlighted in this study will help the industry design glass packaging that yields a higher output of glass to support local and national governments in an effort to increase recyclability rates around the world, especially as public recycling guidelines and regulations continue to vary across markets globally. 

This collaboration is intended to support ELC’s broader efforts to help reduce the potential environmental impacts of a package across its lifecycle. ELC uses a variety of different packaging materials—including glass—across its brand and product portfolio. The company aims to deliver a luxury experience, combining the best packaging options with attention to quality and safety while continuing to help drive more responsible packaging solutions. ELC has committed that by 2025, 75-100% of its packaging will be recyclable, refillable, reusable, recycled, or recoverable and that it will increase the amount of PCR material in its packaging to 25% or more. Most recently, ELC announced a commitment to reduce the amount of virgin petroleum plastic in its packaging to 50% or less by the end of calendar year 2030. Additionally, the company is committed to using responsibly sourced paper products whenever possible with a goal to have 100% of its forest-based fiber cartons RSC certified by 2025.  

Learn more about ELC’s sustainability commitments and progress in its Fiscal Year 2023 Social Impact & Sustainability Report.

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