On the trail of the circular economy | rethinking.economy
If you look at the history of packaging design at Saint Charles, and with it the preoccupation with waste avoidance, you have to look deep into the company's DNA. This starts with the magisterial preparation. Everyone knows the individual formulas that are produced by pharmacies on the basis of doctors' prescriptions. Whether they are soothing and healing ointments or special tinctures. If these are products that are repeatedly prescribed by doctors, it is common practice for these products to be pre-produced in stock. The way to the shelf is then not far away.
This is also the reason why pharmacies sell their own specialities without an over-the-counter box, often in high-quality brown or violet glass containers. The latter are especially important for natural products without artificial preservatives, as these are sensitive to light and temperature. Furthermore, glass has a very high recycling content. This is also one reason why we are asked about the few products in our range that are filled in PET bottles. In the shower or bathroom area, glass is prohibited by law. For this understandable reason, we went in search of already recycled material for shower gel, hair shampoo & Co and can point to around 70 percent recycled-PET.
If one starts to send the products or distribute them to resellers, practical product cartons come into play. In addition to more space for descriptions, a dozen should be placed in the package and then on a pallet by means of overcartons. The logistics are happy. To stay true to our DNA, however, we at Saint Charles have taken a different fork in the road right here, also to stay true to the zero-waste idea. With almost 400 products, around 380 of which are in glass, we still do without product boxes today. Because these also have to be produced and cause CO2 emissions. Does that make things easier? No, definitely not. Not only do we have to display all the relevant information for our customers on the label, but we also had to come up with a solution for shipping. Started in 2016 with a lot of plastic to protect the glass bottles in shipping, we had a solution ready in 2019 after 4 years of trying, fiddling and testing.
The result was a smart "one size fits all" solution with variable insert compartments that covers almost 400 products with a wide range of volumes and dimensions. Since 2019, we have not only been shipping 100% plastic-free, but also using the highest possible proportion of recycled paper. We were even able to convince our suppliers to do without plastic as a filling material. 5 years ago we were still piling up mountains of plastic - today we produce no more plastic than a normal household. In addition, we have recently started using reusable boxes for internal deliveries in Vienna to the pharmacy or the store in the city centre.
Is 50 tonnes of plastic reduction possible? We don't know how much plastic and other waste we could reduce with the measures described. Some things simply cannot be recalculated. The situation is quite different with our partners, the hotel businesses. After we repeatedly rejected requests for disposable room cosmetics such as shower gel or soap for reasons of sustainability, we designed a refill solution with partners that is now used in almost 50 premium hotels. The fact that a medium-sized hotel with 100 guest rooms uses about a tonne less plastic surprised us. But the calculation stands up to scrutiny. And with 50 hotel partners who care as much about sustainability as we do, 50 tonnes is only a rough estimate. But one thing is certain: every kilogram of less waste and recycling saves energy, CO2 and, of course, waste. That's why it will continue to be important for us to take forks in the road in the future, where the focus is not on cost or marketing aspects, but on making an actual contribution.
economy.rethink | A blog series by Richard König
Picture: Refugium Prigglitz 2019, Alexander Ehrmann (l), Richard König (r), © rkmedia.at