‘Giving plastics new life’: Singaporean skin care brand pilots initiative to recycle plastic bottles into oil

By Amanda Lim

- Last updated on GMT

Re:erth has launched a new sustainability initiative to recycle used plastic cosmetic packaging into oil. ©Re:erth
Re:erth has launched a new sustainability initiative to recycle used plastic cosmetic packaging into oil. ©Re:erth

Related tags Packaging Recycling Singapore

Singapore-based skin care brand Re:erth has launched a new sustainability initiative to recycle used plastic cosmetic packaging into oil, and help consumers overcome hurdles to traditional recycling.

The lack of transparency and limitations of conventional recycling pushed the skin care company to seek a solution that would simplify the recycle process for itself and the consumer.

Founder and CEO Shinji Yamasaki believes the biggest obstacle to recycling is on the consumers’ side.

He noted that in order to recycle properly, they would need to clean out their plastics and separate it according to the type of plastic – information a majority of people would not have access to.

“There are different components to a bottle that use different types of plastic. You would have to break it all apart, clean it out and separate it in order for it to be properly recycled – that’s not realistic,” ​said Yamasaki.

COO Toh Ziling highlighted that based on current statistics only 4% of plastics are recycled in Singapore and even then, she was not sure all of that small amount gets recycled.

“It’s only done through mechanical recycling, which means they have to sort it out. There’s not enough manpower to do that, so the rest will be incinerated and exported overseas.”

Yamasaki added: “Even if it gets put into the recycling bin, chances are they will just get thrown out. You don't really know where it goes.”

‘We know exactly where the plastic goes’

The firm partnered up with Singaporean waste management firm Environmental Solutions Asia (ESA) to pilot a scheme which recycles plastic containers into non-fossil derived diesel.

With this process, the burden on the consumer to clean and sort out their plastics are removed.

“We are very glad to have found a solution that gets rid of that whole step. Essentially, you don't have to do anything to the product. We will collect it as-is – even if it's half-used. Doesn't matter if it has glass components, springs or marbles inside, we will collect everything,” ​said Yamasaki.

The recyclables are handed over to ESA, which will superheat the plastics to generate crude oil and refine it into diesel.

“The essentially knocks off the entire mining, pumping and refining process. We’re taking a source that has already been through the entire carbon footprint process and further extending its lifetime. This whole process actually creates a carbon credit.”

Toh added: “We know that diesel and petrol consumption increase year-on-year, so at least we can provide an alternate source and reuse that oil.”

Toh noted that the recycling process was done locally to minimise carbon footprint.

“The key benefit is that everything is done locally in Singapore, so we don’t have to export it. We know exactly where this plastic waste goes.”

Moving forward, Yamasaki said it may be possible to use the recycled oil to make its plastic containers and potentially close the loop on consumption.

However, that would be dependant on a few factors such as regulation, the volume of plastics it is able to collect and the green costs of shipping.

“If we ship it to a refinery and create more carbon footprint, it defeats the whole purpose,” ​he said.

The right encouragement

To reward consumers for their efforts, the brand is offering reward points which consumers can use to offset their purchases.

The brand also encourages consumers to bring in cosmetic packaging from other brands than Re:erth.

Currently, consumers may drop off their recyclables at two locations in Singapore, Design Orchard and TheAC, as well as its office located on the city fringes.

The company will be holding its first pop-up store at Tangs, a local departmental store, in order to reach more consumers.

The pop-up dates are pending on the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) circuit breaker measures currently in force in Singapore.

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