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Above & Beyond Pursues ‘Refillable Universe,’ Starting with Lip Balm

U.K. brand above & beyond begins its journey to eliminate single-use packaging by introducing a lip balm in a reusable aluminum case, with refills in a bio-based, compostable pack.

A refillable/reusable lip-balm packaging system from above & beyond includes a metallic, dome-shaped case and product refills packaged in bio-based material.
A refillable/reusable lip-balm packaging system from above & beyond includes a metallic, dome-shaped case and product refills packaged in bio-based material.

One of the categories that has made the early plunge into Refill-at-home packaging systems is personal care, with most offerings coming from direct-to-consumer (D2C) and a recent spate of new products showing up on retail shelves as well. Currently, one of the more unique e-commerce-only personal care products on the market is a reusable lip-balm system from above & beyond (a&b), an Integro Innovations Ltd. brand. On a broader scale, a&b says it’s on a journey to turn people’s homes into a lifetime-use, refillable universe, while eliminating single-use plastic.

“Our single-use mentality with daily products is killing the planet,” says a&b co-founder Bryn Walbrook. “Unless we all want to move to Mars with Elon Musk, we will need to treat the earth much better.”

Why did a&b decide to begin its journey with lip balm? Says messaging on the company’s cheeky website, “OK, so single-use lip balms probably aren’t the main problem keeping Attenborough up at night. But hundreds of millions of them are tossed into landfill every year. And given the choice between a lip balm that kills the planet a bit and one that doesn’t kill it at all … well, we know what we’d pick.”

Providing more insight into the decision, Walbrook shares that a&b had both a deodorant and a lip balm ready to ship when it elected to focus on the latter. “We opted for lip balms as there were no eco-alternatives to mainstream, plastic-abundant lip care,” he says. “Rather than cannibalize our eco-system in deodorant and other categories in beauty, we pursued lip balm to create a new standard in the category. The rest will come.”


   Read this story on Grove Collaborative’s plastic-free deodorant and body care refill system.


The reusable element of the system is an aluminum case designed in-house. The container features a tactile, dome-shaped, screw-on lid and a base with a smooth finish, printed with the a&b logo and a QR code that allows consumers to reorder product via their smartphone. The case comes in a choice of four metallic colors: Volcanic Pink, Earth Metal, Desert Gold, and Autumn Blossom.

According to Walbrook, a&b studied a variety of structures and designs before deciding on the aluminum case. “The hardest compromise was balancing design with optimal eco-credentials,” he says. “Why create something beautiful if it destroys the planet? Equally, why create an optimal environmental product that no one buys? One alternative we explored was paper. This turned out to be structurally weak and damaged the performance and quality of the product. So we binned [recycled] it. We needed to create something beautiful that worked well—hence aluminum.

“Aluminum is known as the green metal for a reason. Infinitely recyclable, with almost all aluminum ever produced still in use today! We love our bioplastic alternative [the refill pack is made from a bio-based material], but aluminum has become part of the fabric of the brand and identity. Aluminum is built to last, and we wanted to create a product that reflected the resilience and power of this material. However, this does increase costs and asks our audience to pay a small premium. The next product launch will be an affordable alternative that maintains the beauty and design, while challenging existing brands to do better.”

The lip-balm refill is also dome-shaped and can be easily slotted in and out of the base. To create the refill packaging, a&b worked with bio-based packaging supplier Sulapac. Recalls Andy Hill, director and co-founder of Integro Innovations, a&b approached Sulapac in late 2019 about developing a bioplastic refill pack after having run some trials with other suppliers without success.

Above & beyond lip balms are available online only, in a starter set with one reusable case and three refills.Above & beyond lip balms are available online only, in a starter set with one reusable case and three refills.Shares Sulapac Sales Manager Miranda Sutton, among the requirements given to Sulapac for the packaging were that it needed to be processable with existing machinery and a prototype mold, compatible with hot-filling the cosmetic formulation, and truly sustainable, with the scientific background to prove it.

Elaborates Hill, the packaging also had to use the minimum amount of material possible, with the least processing possible, in a simple construct using few parts, aiming always for simplicity. “It also needed to be attractive and intuitive to the consumer, as well as interesting and perhaps unexpected. Very importantly, at the end of its useful life, it needed to be able to quickly return to nature, never to become an environmental pollutant, whether its disposal was thoughtful and responsible or thoughtless and irresponsible,” he adds.

The resulting packaging is a biocomposite made of wood from industrial side streams and plant-based binders that biodegrades without leaving toxic substances or permanent microplastics behind. The material is 100% bio-based, certified according to ASTM D6866, is industrially compostable, tested according to EN 13432/ASTM D6400, and is certified by the Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI). “Sulapac is safe for people, animals, and the planet,” Sutton confirms. “Naturally occurring microorganisms can digest it.”

“Sulapac’s material offers many of the benefits of oil-derived plastics, but with none of the downsides,” says Hill. “Going with Sulapac has allowed us to create attractive and very functional packaging that is very strong and durable, even with thinner-wall sections. This allows us both to keep the material usage low, while the thin walls aid the speed of decomposition at the end of life.”

The bio-based refill pack is injection-molded and comprises three parts: a dome lid, a circular body/collar, and a thin disc base, all of which connect with a simple interference fit. Explains Hill, “The refill is bottom-filled into the dome lid, which is attached to the body/collar. After cooling, the base is applied to keep the product clean.”

To use the refill, the consumer inserts the three-part package into the base of the reusable container. The container base is refitted, and then the domed refill cap is removed for recycling, after which the product is ready to use. “It’s very possible to use the refill by itself without the reusable container, and although that was a consideration of the design, it was not the intention,” Hill adds.

Regarding the environmental impact of the reusable lip-balm system versus a traditional single-use lip-balm package, Walbrook says it depends on the behavior of the individual consumer. “The QR code [on the base of the reusable container] will eventually allow each user to access the a&b platform and monitor their waste and reduction,” he explains. “At the moment, that is an expensive task, and so it’s taken secondary precedent.”

Lip balm refills are available in shipments of three.Lip balm refills are available in shipments of three.At press time, the lip balm is available only through a&b’s website and only in the U.K., although Walbrook says the company will be launching a product in the U.S. in 2023 through an exclusive brand partnership. The product is sold in a variety of combinations of cases and refill counts, with the refills offered in four varieties, and can be purchased on a subscription basis for a reduced price or on a one-off basis.

Says Walbrook, the response from consumers since the lip-balm system was introduced in April of 2021—more specifically, on World Earth Day—has been overwhelmingly positive. “Those who have one, love it,” he says. “Once our audience learns more about the product and brand—the QR code, the mission, etc.—the appeal and resonance of our brand grows and encourages the lifetime-use behavior of our product. We’ve been collating the feedback from our users from our first year, and we have an exciting launch incoming to reflect this.”

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