Household Products

P&G's Olay skin-care brand unveils refillable packaging test to curb plastic waste

Key Points
  • Procter & Gamble's skin-care brand Olay is testing refillable moisturizers to tackle widespread plastic pollution.
  • The Olay Regenerist Whip package will sell for three months starting in October as part of the company's broader sustainability effort.
  • P&G joins 25 other companies, including PepsiCo, Unilever, Nestle and Coca-Cola, that are rolling out similar efforts this summer.
David Taylor, CEO, Procter & Gamble
Scott Mlyn | CNBC

Plastic tubes of lipstick accented in gold, medicinal looking glass bottles topped with an eyedropper or curved tubs filled with thick creams — cosmetics packaging is often used to create a brand's image.

That's still the truth, but now the cellophane wrapped around a cardboard box with a plastic container of moisturizer inside isn't seen as an exciting way to re-create the experience of unwrapping a gift. It looks like waste. This idea is particularly true for millennials, who are known for choosing products based on a company's social values and eco-consciousness.

Procter & Gamble is about to put this idea to the test.

The company announced Wednesday that its Olay Regenerist Whip moisturizer will sell in refillable containers as part of a three-month test with the goal of reducing plastic waste.

The move, which will begin in October, is part of a broader sustainability effort. P&G joins 25 other companies, including PepsiCo, Unilever, Nestle and Coca-Cola, that are making similar efforts this summer.

Roughly 40% of the over 400 million tons plastic produced each is year is from packaging, which is often used once and then thrown away, according to research from the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

If successful, P&G said, the move could substantially reduce plastic waste from single-use products. For instance, if the company can convert 5 million jars of Olay skin cream to refillable versions, it could save more than 1 million pounds of plastic.

"That's just what could be accomplished with Olay," said Anitra Marsh, associate director of brand communications for P&G skin and personal care. "If we're successful, and we can expand at scale, the impact is tremendous."

The skin-care package contains a jar of cream and one refill pod of moisturizer that can be placed inside the jar once it's emptied. The company said the package will be sold and shipped in a container made of 100% recycled paper, and would have no outer carton to cut paperboard use.

P&G said the Olay pilot in particular could be a great way to attract more millennials, whose purchases of the Olay brand grew 8% last year.

"We chose to refill this product because millennials and Gen Z consumers are especially concerned and want to be empowered to protect the planet," Marsh said.

Courtesy of P&G

Millennials, born between 1980 and 2000, are particularly important to the beauty market because they are sizable group of consumers and their spending power is on the rise. At the moment, the group spends less on personal care products and services than older generations did, according to Coresight Research. But its spending is expected to increase as younger millennials join the workforce.

P&G didn't disclose the cost of the Olay package and did not know how long an average refill pod should last.

The company's larger sustainability efforts include its involvement in recycling company TerraCycle's Loop concept. The company will sell 10 brands, including Pantene shampoo and Tide laundry detergent, in refillable containers as part of that initiative, according to TerraCycle. Consumers can sign up for a subscription-based service in which they return products to the company to be cleaned and refilled.

Olay's digital marketing for the package will focus on educating consumers about how the product works and asking them to adopt a new habit, Marsh said. Entrenched consumer behavior, she added, will be one of the pilot's biggest challenges, in addition to ensuring the refill pods are easy to use.

"This pilot is a way to learn. Even if this execution is not perfect, we're still making progress towards having more reusable and recyclable packaging," she said.

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