Sea Me has been working on expanding its reusable system for cosmetics packaging since 2021. The company’s proprietary products are packaged in reusable glass bottles. (Image: Sea Me)
Deposit systems for cosmetics packaging?
In Germany, deposit systems for beverage bottles have been around for some time now: once a bottle is empty, it is taken to the local supermarket, where it is inserted into a reverse vending machine and returned to the cycle. This system is just one of the reasons why Germany is considered a pioneer when it comes to recycling. Again and again, discussions arise on how we can use deposit systems to ensure other products and packaging stay in the cycle longer. A Berlin start-up has taken up this idea, initially implementing it in a pilot project: Circleback, a deposit system for cosmetics packaging.
With this scheme, the founding trio is also tackling the shortage of high-quality recycled materials – a growing problem. More and more companies would like to use recycled materials to manufacture their packaging, but in the food and cosmetics sectors in particular, they find themselves facing high requirements for packaging. Circleback could solve this problem, as a share of recycled materials are returned to its partner brands. During the pilot phase, these include Catrice, essence, Dr. Bronner’s, i+m and Kneipp; all of these companies see the benefits of a deposit system.
„t is becoming more and more challenging to source sufficient recycled materials for our packaging. The yellow binbag recycling system currently used in Germany doesn’t provide enough high-quality recycled materials to manufacture packaging for the entire personal care sector. That’s why we are actively supporting Circleback in establishing a deposit system exclusively for toiletries and were in fact one of the very first cooperation partners. Taking structures that have already been tried and tested in the beverage industry and transferring them to personal care products is a fantastic concept and could act as a decisive signal for our industry as a whole.“
Philipp Keil, Head of Packaging Materials Management at Kneipp
Circleback’s founding team (from left to right): Brett Dickey, Doris Schoger, Kimani Michalke. (Image: Circleback)
Reusable packaging as an alternative to deposit systems
Another concept that helps extend the lives of packaging and materials originated with Sea Me. The Hamburg-based company developed the zerooo reusable system for its own product packaging. This packaging can be returned at more than 900 shops in Germany and Austria, where they are collected and sent to Sea Me to be cleaned and refilled. Sea Me aims to reduce its waste to zero; to achieve that goal, the system needs to be expanded to include more categories and brands as well as collection and return points.
In this respect, both approaches face a similar challenge: in order for both the deposit system and the reusable system to work, the companies depend on retail partners and consumers alike.
„As a young start-up, we can’t really make that much of a difference in the fight against waste with our own brand and a market share of merely a few percentage points. But if we can succeed in getting established cosmetics brands with high market shares involved in our reusable system, we can ensure that a large part of toiletries are free from single-use waste! With our proprietary Sea Me brand, we have developed a reusable infrastructure in cooperation with our partners. Now, we are opening up the zerooo reusable system to any brand that can show a genuine, long-term sustainability strategy for its own orientation. And we are very proud to be running pilot projects with the first renowned brands. “
Lars Buck, founder, Sea Me
The Circleback reverse vending machine is currently situated at Edeka Monch at the ALEXA shopping centre in Berlin. (Image: Circleback)
Good for retail, consumers and the environment
These sustainable solutions already offer true benefits for retail, consumers and the environment. If packaging is returned and seen as a renewable resource, it doesn’t wind up in the environment but remains in the cycle instead and can be used in place of primary raw materials. And if a large number of shops accept packaging returns, consumers will find it a lot less difficult to take part. Via the Circleback app, customers also receive 20 cents for each item of plastic packaging they return at reverse vending machines, while partner brands get their “own” recycled materials back. Some supermarkets and chemists have already indicated interest in this concept and zerooo is also welcoming more and more shops willing to accept packaging returns. In other words, things are in motion in the field of deposit systems and reusable systems – including in the cosmetics sector!