“We all agree on the importance of eco-responsibility but the thing is... do we really consider what is behind it? I don’t think consumers understand exactly what they are asking for,” said Raphaël Yousri, president and CEO of Ales Groupe.
He elaborated: “For instance, consumers will buy a completely biodegradable product for $5 online and get it shipped 600km, increasing the carbon footprint. Things like that show that there are bigger issues behind the trends and behind the marketing.”
Limitations of biodegradable plastic solutions
Recently, Phyto overhauled its packaging in honour of its golden jubilee. This included using 100% recyclable aluminium for its tubes and replacing its iconic cylindrical aluminium bottles with lighter, square-shaped eco-friendly plastic bottles.
The company now uses paper materials are sourced from sustainably-managed forests and can be traced back to its origins.
According to the company, the new bottle design increases space for transportation and on shelves by an estimated 20%. Additionally, the new packaging allowed Phyto to increase the volume of its products by 25% and reduce its prices by 20%.
Yousri noted that using eco-friendly packaging was not as straight-forward as many like to believe and can be challenging to implement.
“There are many solutions out there today. There are plastic made from sugar cane and maize… but while all this sounds good, are limitations, like the use of water,” he said.
Even though there are challenges, it is still one of the company’s priorities, which is why it is collaborating closely with start-ups that are working on biodegradable plastics.
“We are working on the technical side of it and we are looking at a 100% compostable plastic. We need to do a lot of test for compatibility and we are working very hard on that,” he said.
The right questions
However, using biodegradable products is not enough, said Yousri. He stressed that even if the entire industry committed all its resources to sustainability, it would need the support of government bodies.
“Even if the consumer uses biodegradable plastic, do they have a place to properly trash it? If they don’t have, the chain is broken,” he said.
He added that it was just a matter of time before the consumer starts asking these questions and poke holes in the marketing.
“That is what is really challenging about sustainability and eco-responsibility; each time you unlock the door, there is a bigger door behind it. This is why it is very important for companies like us to be transparent,” he said.
Yousri believes the Ales Groupe is only at the beginning of its sustainable mission. He said that ultimate goal would be to create a circular economy, however, he added that it will be hard to achieve.
“[Ales Groupe] doesn’t want to make any promises. I know there are others that make huge promises, but we know we are not magicians. What we can say is that we are working very hard on it and we are very serious about it because it is in our company’s DNA to lessen the impact on the environment,” said Yousri.