How Lush Continues to Innovate in the Realm of Anti-Packaging

In the fight against packaging that just ends up in the landfill, Lush is doing so much more than just shampoo bars. They constantly strive to improve their methods and materials, reducing their environmental impact. Take, for instance, their new cork dishes, made from pesticide-free Portuguese wood (don’t worry, only the bark is harvested, and there are regulations in place as to how often it can happen). Or their new bath bomb trays made from recycled paper. And of course, they’ve now got bath oil boxes made from 100% recycled takeaway coffee cups.

Giles Verdon, of the Earth Care Team at Lush explained, “The value of our product is inside the pot and not the pot itself.” But packaging is the easiest way to store, ship, and sell products, which is why we’ve come to rely on it. But Verdon and the rest of the Lush team believe that designing beyond first-use is good for everyone. We spoke with Giles to learn more about his role and innovation of package-less packaging design.

Tell us a little bit about the newest things to hit Lush, like the cork dishes, the bath bomb trays, and the bath oil boxes. What was the process like to develop each?

Giles Verdon: We are constantly looking for the next technology or material that will get us to a point where we no longer need packaging. On this journey we are always trying to improve the packaging we currently use to reduce its impact while maintaining its performance.  

Cork dishes

As well as storing your naked shampoo (a shampoo bar saves the use of nearly 6 million plastic bottles a year) these little guys are made from pesticide-free Portuguese trees.

The cork dishes came from a visit to Portugal’s Alentejo to see the not-for-profit group Eco Interventions, who are teaching locals how to regenerate the native forests in the region. While visiting, our team struck upon the idea of these cork dishes as a replacement for our aluminium shampoo bar tins. Tom Chambers, from the Lush Regeneration & Sustainability Circle, explains: “Cork is harvested no more often than every nine years (that’s a legal limit to prevent stressing the trees). People may be confused and think we are harvesting the trees. Of course not!  It is the fact that we can harvest the bark every 9 or 10 years or more that keeps these trees in the landscape.”  What’s more, at the end of its life, your cork case can return to the earth to nourish the soil without leaving any toxic residue.

Eco Interventions got to work and quickly made a prototype shampoo bar case using an ingenuitive self-built machine. The cork-tainers looked great, so the baton was passed my way to apply my engineering skills in tweaking the production process and making it more efficient.  In November 2017, the first batch was ready for Lush customers.

Bath bomb trays

Constructed by mixing recycled paper into a pulp, adding water and leaving the mixture to dry into a mould, these trays will perform the very important role of protecting Lush's famous fragrant bath bombs.

Bath oil boxes

Made from one hundred percent recycled takeaway coffee cups, grab one of these boxes and select up to 4 bath oils to fit inside. Then choose a Knot Wrap of your choice and turn it into a beautiful, customised gift for someone special. Made from recycled materials and completely biodegradable, use and reuse as many times as you like!

What kind of an impact do the Naked products have on the environment?

Giles Verdon: No one really wants packaging—all people really want is a convenient way of getting a product home and then storing it until it is used up. Take packaging out of this equation and the legacy impact of the product is zero. The positive impact on the environment could be huge. For example, one of our naked shower gels (250g) is the equivalent of two-250g packaged ones...how amazing is that?!

What about the other products you sell packaged in 100 percent post-consumer recycled plastic bottles and pots and biodegradable bags?

Giles Verdon: By selecting recycled or recyclable materials for our packaging we reduce the initial impact and improve the opportunity that the packaging will be recycled at end of life. Also by keeping to relatively simple designs and not mixing materials within our packaging, we ensure that recycling is as simple as possible. Plus, it can be fed back into a closed loop system, meaning it gets turned back into a new packaging item we use.

Our focus on re-usability extends to our gifts: we use 100% recycled wrapping paper and have increased the number of reusable boxes and tins we offer. We also use Knot Wraps, inspired by a traditional Japanese wrapping cloth called furoshiki. These fabric wraps are made from recycled plastic bottles, organic cotton or recycled vintage scarves and have replaced cardboard boxes and wrapping paper for our in-store gift wraps. These wraps are not only beautiful but can be used time and time again.  

There are more and more companies making a commitment to zero waste, which is great. How can other brands and businesses make a plan to reduce or eliminate waste?

Giles Verdon: My view is that all companies should avoid making the waste in the first place. If packaging is unavoidable, select material with the least impact and then design beyond first-use. Questions such as, do we need to package, could we use something less impacting, could we make it lighter, how will we recycle—these should be asked at the beginning of the process.

How is Lush constantly innovating and coming up with new, fresh ideas to carry out its mission and values?

Giles Verdon: Our innovation is driven by our business structure and by not being content with what packaging is currently available.