Pushed by the public and the problems of plastic waste in the oceans, Japanese private and public sectors are gearing up to reduce waste and soften their environmental footprint.
Competition has intensified particularly among manufacturers developing high-quality containers for cosmetics and other products. This is because their client cosmetics manufacturers are increasingly shifting to recycled products.
The push for technological innovation is on, even as trial and error continues in the field.
A Growing Need for Recycling Plastic
At the Daiichi Kako Co Ltd factory in Nara City, a plastic container company with 64 years of history, machines are lined up to create containers of various sizes and shapes. Employees sit silently in a dust-free space, inspecting the finished receptacles.
The company uses about 200 tons of raw materials every month to manufacture containers that are used for everyday beverages, seasonings, and cosmetics.
“Demand has been growing In the industry in the last two years for recycling and containers made from special biomass materials derived from plants,” said Atsunori Konishi, the company’s managing director.
There are hurdles, however. In addition to problems of quality and cost, there are technical difficulties in using biomass materials for some purposes. Plastic containers must not only look attractive, but also be capable of storing products without affecting their contents. As Konishi points out, “there have been problems of containers becoming yellow when they were recycled, so they couldn’t be used, particularly in cosmetics.”
In fact, according to the Plastic Waste Management Institute, only an estimated 1 million of the 8.5 million tons of plastic waste was reused in 2019 in Japan. Many of the products are civil engineering or construction materials, or pallets for carrying luggage, which don’t require precision of storage.
Push from the Cosmetics Industry
Now the cosmetics industry, which has been particularly strict about the clarity of containers, is shifting course in line with environmental concerns. Daiichi Kako, in turn, has taken on the challenge of manufacturing better recycled vessels.
The road has not been easy. It took the company two months to make fine adjustments to its production process to complete a suitable lotion bottle.
Recently, the company has also been experimenting with containers made of starch. If successful, such a container would degrade as household garbage. Although not there yet, Konishi remains positive. “I think we might be able to make a container which can be crushed and thrown away really easily”, he said smiling, showing his determination to succeed.
At least five new products are in the works. Containers using limestone powder, and a new material called “green nano”, which emits little carbon dioxide during combustion, are also being tested.
In October 2020, the company decided to promote environmentally friendly packaging as a management policy toward achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Currently, sales of recycling and biomass plastic containers are about 1% of the total. Until 10 years ago, the company was handling only four such products, but in 2020 alone, it increased to more than 20 products. The first goal is to achieve 3%, and to then keep expanding.
Companies at the Forefront
Japanese cosmetic companies are increasing environmental awareness and working to reduce plastic waste.
Among them, leading cosmetics manufacturer Shiseido Co., Ltd is particularly active. It has been using recycled raw materials in its bottles since 2015. The company aims to further reduce plastic waste by utilizing single materials that are easy to recycle, as well as by collecting and reusing containers from its own products.
“We have set a goal of 100% sustainable plastic containers and packaging by 2025,” said Shiseido’s spokesperson.“We are making a variety of environmentally friendly products to achieve this.”
Another company, Rohto Pharmaceutical Co. Ltd., one of the first companies in Japan to start selling refillable cosmetics more than 10 years ago, has begun using biomass containers from plant-derived raw materials for its popular cosmetics brand “Hifu rabo” (skin lab).
In addition in 2020, in collaboration with drugstore chain operator Matsumotokiyoshi Holdings Co. Ltd, the Rohto began a program called “Increase the greenery of the earth”.
Empty used cosmetics containers are collected and eventually processed into flowerpots. The company spokesperson turned to the company’s philosophy, saying, “We will continue to think about the global environment and develop our products.”
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(Read the Sankei Shimbun story on which this report is based, in Japanese, at this link.)
Author: Hiroto Kuwajima