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Finnish startup Sulapac pioneers sustainable, biodegradable packaging for cosmetics, offering a viable alternative to traditional plastic materials.

Finnish company Sulapac is charting a new course in the world of packaging with its innovative, eco-friendly materials designed specifically for cosmetics. Founded in 2016 by biochemists Laura Tirkkonen-Rajasalo and Suvi Haimi, the startup focuses on creating packaging that aligns with the principles of a circular economy. Their journey from academia to social entrepreneurship was sparked by a desire to address the environmental impact of conventional plastic packaging commonly used in cosmetics.

Sulapac's products stand out in the industry due to their composition of bio-based materials, including recycled content and byproducts from manufacturing processes. This approach results in packaging that not only has a low carbon footprint but is also fully biodegradable. The company has developed a range of 13 materials, combining plant-based biopolymers with natural substances like wood chip. These materials can be recycled or industrially composted, and if they inadvertently end up in nature, they biodegrade at a similar rate to tree leaves or wood.

The company's client roster includes prominent beauty brands such as Chanel, Schwan Cosmetics, and Shiseido, underscoring the industry's growing commitment to reducing reliance on oil-based plastics. Sulapac's commitment to sustainability has garnered it several awards, including the top prize at the Green Alley Award in 2017.

Despite these successes, the challenge posed by plastic packaging is immense. In 2019, 460 million tonnes of plastic were produced globally, with packaging being the primary contributor. The environmental toll is significant, with creation and disposal accounting for over 3% of global emissions. The issue is compounded by the degradation of plastic in oceans into harmful microplastics, which are nearly impossible to remove from the environment.

After “a lot of trial and error” [the startup] now has a portfolio of 13 materials, all made from a combination of plant-based biopolymers and natural materials such as wood chip. The material can be recycled or industrially composted and if it accidentally ends up in nature, it will biodegrade at a similar rate to a tree leaf or piece of wood.

Tirkkonen-Rajasalo critiques the prevalent belief in recycling oil-based plastics as a panacea. The limitations of recycling capacity and the diminishing quality of plastics through successive recycling cycles highlight the need for a systemic shift. This shift involves moving away from oil dependency and embracing innovative materials like those developed by Sulapac.

The EU's Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation aims to ensure that all packaging is reusable or recyclable by 2030. However, there is concern that this regulation might inadvertently favor conventional plastics and their mechanical recycling over more innovative solutions. According to Positive.News, Sulapac's approach emphasizes not just sustainability but also customer experience. Their products, like compostable straws that withstand the "mojito test," and aesthetically pleasing cosmetic packaging, demonstrate that environmental responsibility and functionality can coexist.

The growing consumer demand for sustainable products, as evidenced by a 2019 survey, indicates a shift in public attitudes. More than half of the respondents were willing to pay more for reusable or recyclable products, with 83% emphasizing the importance of sustainability in product design.

Sulapac's journey reflects a broader movement within the cosmetics industry towards sustainability. The founders observe a growing interest in sustainable solutions, signaling a paradigm shift. Their products, which marry aesthetics with functionality, are a testament to the potential of innovation in driving environmental change without compromising on quality or customer experience.

Eunice is a sustainability writer whose passion is sharing accessible eco-friendly practices with GreenCitizen's global readership. She enjoys birdwatching during her downtime, often deriving inspiration from nature's resilience. An enthusiastic cyclist, she is also an ardent advocate of eco-friendly transport.

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