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Johnson & Johnson's packaging changes put it on the path to a circular supply chain

Johnson & Johnson's packaging changes put it on the path to a circular supply chain

Date: 20 October 2020

Converting bottles to recycled plastic. Redesigning baby lotion bottles to ditch the pump. Swapping out the black Listerine cap for a clear resin one. Reducing the dimensions of cartons holding Carefree pads and o.b. tampons to use less paper.

These are some of the changes Johnson & Johnson will make in an effort to convert its consumer health products packaging to sustainable options.

The goal is for J&J's consumer brands to use 100% recyclable, reusable or compostable plastic packaging, and certified/post-consumer recycled paper and pulp-based packaging by 2025.

The packaging changes are part of a larger Healthy Lives Mission, in which the company will spend $800 million to make these packaging changes, along with changing sourcing for some products. That includes using home-compostable fibers in makeup wipes, and buying oats and flavor oils from environmentally-conscious farmers. The company also plans to source electricity from renewable sources. J&J declined an interview for this story.

The global company’s efforts are in line with industry goals and trends, wanting packaging to be recyclable, compostable or reusable, said Sandeep Kulkarni, president of KoolEarth Solutions, a sustainable packaging consulting company not involved in J&J’s efforts.

The planning and goal-setting process

Any company wanting to overhaul to a more sustainable model would start with a baseline assessment of current packaging. Companies may not know how much of their materials meet the standards they want to set. Companies with a broad product line or global reach may want to start with the highest volume SKUs or largest markets first, Kulkarni said.

Determining a company’s sustainability goals should not be one-size-fits-all, said Wes Carter, president of Atlantic Packaging. The company works with J&J, but Carter did not speak specifically about J&J’s projects.

With any company, it’s important to analyze where the biggest opportunities are, based on packaging material volume needed or in upgrading technology, he said. "The company’s goals should drive it all," said Carter.

These goals can sometimes conflict within the sustainability realm. The sustainability efforts should be highly coordinated with the company’s procurement department or reside inside it. Sometimes sustainable packaging options cost more. If sustainability efforts are outside the procurement department, it can conflict if procurement’s focus is low prices.

"We are trying to find sustainable solutions that are also a cost advantage for the organizations. When you can find alignment between cost savings and sustainability, those programs work really well and happen much faster," Carter said.