PEI·Waves of Change

Plastic-free soap, shampoo and makeup: how 2 P.E.I. businesses are making changes

Two P.E.I. businesses are making choices about packaging to move away from single-use plastic.

'What I think is right for my business going forward is to be a little more green'

Stephen and Molly McGrath say they made a conscious effort to eliminate as much plastic packaging as possible as they open their new retail location in Crapaud, P.E.I., this spring. (Nancy Russell/CBC)

Waves of Change is a CBC series exploring the single-use plastic we're discarding and why we need to clean up our act. You can be part of the community discussion by joining our Facebook group.

Two P.E.I. businesses are making choices about packaging to move away from single-use plastic.

Molly and Stephen McGrath have operated South Shore Soaps out of their farm on the Old Tryon Road in DeSable since 2016.

When they made the decision to open a retail operation this spring in nearby Crapaud, they also decided to make a conscious effort to eliminate as much plastic packaging as possible.  

'Significant' price difference

One of the biggest challenges was how to package lip balm, which was sold in plastic tubes.

The McGraths have tried to eliminate plastic packaging on as many products as they can including lip balm. (Randy McAndrew/CBC)

"The lip balm was a huge concern for me because there's so many of these little tubes that just get thrown out," said Molly McGrath. 

"Switching to tin or paper board would allow me to refill or have one product be recyclable."

I may lose some people because of the cost, but at the same time I'm doing the right thing.— Molly McGrath

But she soon learned that trying to replace her plastic packaging was, in some cases, going to cost more.

"The plastic lip balm tubes for example being 25 cents, to the paper boards being over two dollars each," McGrath said. "So it's significant."

McGrath was looking for a plastic-free way to package lip balm, which was being sold in plastic tubes. These reusable metal tins are one option. (Randy McAndrew/CBC)

She's hoping her customers will be willing to pay more for the greener packaging.

"I may lose some people because of the cost, but at the same time I'm doing the right thing," McGrath said.

"Every little bit matters. What I think is right for my business going forward is to be a little more green."

No more shrink wrap

McGrath has also made changes to the way she packages her goat milk soap, some of which is custom-made for tourism accommodations.

McGrath says these paper wrappers called cigar bands protect the soap without using plastic. (Randy McAndrew/CBC)

"Last year we did do many places in a plastic shrink wrap that they wanted and were willing to pay the little bit extra for," McGrath said. 

"But we do not offer that any longer because we are stepping away from any plastic."

Instead, the soap will now be packaged with a piece of paper and a paper band. For stores that want the product covered, she has a local company making a line of kraft boxes from card stock.

'Feedback was fantastic'

Unlike the lip balm, she said the pricing for the soap packaging is fairly low and is proving popular.

McGrath says it's ironic that the plastic-free options they're looking at for the lip balm are shipped to them in plastic. (Randy McAndrew/CBC)

"If you're at a market and you have all open soap — and we've done it that way for years — you get a lot of hands on it," McGrath said.

"We tried an individual paper wrapping around it and the feedback was fantastic because they're fully packaged and there's not plastic waste."

McGrath admits South Shore Soaps hasn't been able to eliminate plastic entirely.

'Doing a better thing'

They still have to use plastic when they ship liquid soap products across Canada or to the U.S. because she says shipping glass isn't safe, she said.

McGrath says these shampoo bars are another way to reduce plastic packaging. (Randy McAndrew/CBC)

But she hopes to continue to eliminate as much plastic as possible.

"I'm hoping that it's going to become the normal," McGrath said.

"I'm hoping it's going to be just what everybody goes for. The cost is what it is, and we're doing a better thing by eliminating the plastic."

Plantable packaging

Luxe Beauty Bar in downtown Charlottetown is also trying to move away from plastic packaging.

The makeup is in tin pans that can then be inserted into bamboo compacts. The tins come in this paper packaging with seeds in them, that can then be planted. (Randy McAndrew/CBC)
Refillable jars wherever you can really makes a huge difference.— Jenna  Thompson

The store carries a line of cosmetics called Elate, produced in Victoria, B.C., that is packaged in bamboo and glass.

The makeup is in tin pans that can be inserted into the bamboo compacts.

The tins come in paper packaging with seeds in it, that can then be planted.

Refillable jars of soap

Store owner Jenna Thompson said the price of the cosmetics are "pretty comparable" to drugstore products, but without the plastic packaging and waste.

Elate cosmetics are from Vancouver and use primarily bamboo and glass for packaging. (Randy McAndrew/CBC)

There is also a line of liquid hair-care products from Ontario company Graydon.

"You come in, you bring in your old shampoo or conditioner bottle and we can refill it, weigh it by the ounce and charge by the ounce," Thompson said. "Or you can come in and we can supply you with a mason jar."

The price is comparable to professional products from a hair salon, she said.

Planning to expand with more products

"The benefit of it is you're not dealing with the packaging that you're throwing out at the end of the month or two months and it's all green beauty, it's not toxic which is an added bonus," Thompson said.

Jenna Thompson fills a mason jar with shampoo at Luxe Beauty Bar in Charlottetown. (Randy McAndrew/CBC)

Thompson said the beauty industry around the world creates a large amount of plastic waste and so she wants to continue to make changes.

"Refillable jars wherever you can really makes a huge difference, using towels instead of paper," Thompson said.

"We started with this and we're moving into bringing more products in refillable options." 


Nancy Russell has been a reporter with CBC since 1987, in Whitehorse, Winnipeg, Toronto and Charlottetown. When not on the job, she spends her time on the water or in the gym rowing, or walking her dog.


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