When Gary Calicdan walks into a Lush Cosmetics, he is proud of how little of his work he sees on the shelves.
As the company’s buyer for packaging and print, he is in charge of making sure its packaging is as close to “naked” as possible.
“One of our key values is ‘naked’ – products without packaging,” Calicdan says. And when products require a container, he says, “we try to make sure it has the least environmental impact possible.”
Calicdan is especially proud of the company’s little black pots. Lush’s sample size black pots represent a closed-loop system. If that pot is cleaned out and put in a blue bin, it might just end up getting turned back into a Lush black pot.
This system is a perfect example of how B.C.’s North America-leading residential recycling program works. If plastics placed in blue boxes are clean and recyclable, 99% of them are recycled here in B.C.
“B.C. plays a leadership role, not only in Canada but in North America,” says George Jasper, general manager of Waste Control Services, a recycling pick-up service. “When I go to the international waste expos and they see me from Vancouver, they’re like, ‘Wow, your recycling programs are at the forefront in North America.’ They tout us as the place other places are trying to learn from.”
If the owner of the little black pot lives in the Lower Mainland, chances are it will be picked up by one of Waste Control Services’ trucks. Everything the company collects on behalf of Recycle BC, the stewardship agency responsible for residential recycling, goes to Merlin Plastics. The Lush pot would be dropped by Jasper’s truck, along with the rest of the paper and packaging recycling, onto the floor. It is then pushed into a pit conveyor. This conveyor takes the materials to a separator that divides the two-dimensional stream, such as papers, from the three-dimensional items, the containers.
“The technology takes over,” Jasper says.
Merlin has a dozen optical and polymer sorters, along with various other technologies that all work together to sort the plastics into commodity-grade product. “Imagine a red laser that is able to pick up the different types of plastic numbers. The No. 1s get pushed one way and No. 2s another way, and so on,” Jasper says.
“Lush needs food-grade raw material,” says Tony Moucachen, Merlin’s CEO. “To be safe, there is a human element to our quality control. The machines do an excellent job of identifying the polymer and the colour of the containers. People on our team then look to ensure that only food-grade items are getting through.”
That plastic is then ground up, washed and pelletized, so it can be sold to Lush as food-grade base that can be turned back into little black pots.
Plastic that isn’t food grade gets turned into items, such as flower pots, which is a fitting thing, says Moucachen, who compares recycling systems to gardening. “If you try to plant a seed, it’s got to be in the right environment for it to grow. B.C. is fertile for good environmental policy. This has always been the case.”
B.C. is the only province in Canada where industry is 100% responsible for collecting and recycling regulated materials introduced into the marketplace.
“And that matters,” Moucachen says. “Stewardship agencies like Recycle BC will reach for a high bar, but government has to set the bar.” After a brief pause, he adds, “Everyone has a role to play. For example, consumers need to rinse out their containers and put the right product in the right bin. Producers must make packaging that is recyclable within our system.”
Which brings us back to Lush. Calicdan says he works with Merlin because the two companies are willing to work together toward a goal of turning one container into another container for the benefit of the environment. “As an ethical buyer, I am responsible for making sure that whatever raw materials I purchase create the least impact. We know that using recycled plastics uses about 80% less energy than virgin plastics.”
In 2018 alone, Lush’s choice to use 100% post-consumer plastics saved 1,400,000 kWh of energy compared to using virgin materials. It has been doing this for a decade.
B.C. continues to lead the way when it comes to recycling. Feedback on the Province’s recent engagement about the CleanBC Plastics Action Plan — a plan to further reduce plastic waste and make plastics recycling better — is being compiled.
For more information about residential recycling, as well as what to recycle where, visit: https://recyclebc.ca/
To learn more about the CleanBC Plastics Action Plan, visit: cleanbc.ca/plastics