Meet Leigh Ann Pena, FIDM Grad and Beauty Marketing & Product Development instructor of Packaging Development and Production. FIDM Fashion Club met with Leigh Ann to get an inside scoop on recycling, thinking “green,” and how the beauty industry is adopting sustainable product packaging.
As a packaging developer, Leigh Ann is an expert at helping clients achieve sustainability. This means that she educates clients on the carbon impact of a material and its recyclability. For example, Leigh Ann explained that one of the most common misconceptions about glass is that it is 100 percent sustainable. Although it may be infinitely recyclable, like aluminum, the amount of energy used to produce a glass bottle greatly exceeds that of producing a plastic bottle. In fact, by recycling one glass bottle, you can save enough energy to power a computer for half an hour.
However, Leigh Ann explained that “glass is still a great material to utilize, even though it may have a carbon footprint.” Unlike plastic, glass can be reintroduced into the environment without producing microplastics or other harmful materials.
PCR, or post-consumer recycled plastics, is another example of a material that beauty brands can use in their packaging to practice sustainability. It is made from plastics 1 and 2, as seen inside a triangle on the bottom of a recyclable container. A 1 indicates that the plastic is polyethylene terephthalate (PET), and is normally found on the bottles of soft drinks, water, salad dressing, peanut butter, vegetable oil, and mouthwash. A 2 indicates that the plastic is high-density polyethylene (HDPE), and is normally found on milk jugs, laundry detergents, and shampoos.
According to Leigh Ann, “As you continue to go higher on the recycled number, say 6 or 7, these are plastics that if you threw it in the landfill they’d never break down, such as computers, TV’s, or very, very hard plastic.” Leigh Ann explained that this is because our biggest challenge worldwide is our ability to collect, accurately sort, and reutilize at a city level. Recycling programs in the United States are privately held, so she tells her students at FIDM to talk to the decision makers in their city and ask how they can collectively make a difference.
For conscious consumers, Leigh Ann recommends finding ways to reduce consumption by looking to beauty brands that offer products packaged with less plastic or more recyclable material. These include larger refillable containers and vertical form fill pouches made of paper. She also explained the best way to recycle is to clean and separate your recyclables, by removing all caps, pumps, and sprayers, washing your containers thoroughly, and removing all stickers and labels.
FIDM prepared Leigh Ann for a career in sustainable design and beauty packaging. “Sustainability is a hot topic, so of course FIDM is going to be involved,” she explained. “All the best brands that are out there are going in this direction. FIDM is a unique opportunity to really have a pulse on everything that is out there. It really laser beams your focus on what you want to do.”