Single-use plastic bottles have long been a staple of pharmaceutical packaging, but an increasing number of companies are making the switch to environmentally friendly alternatives.
One such company is Desert Harvest, a provider of aloe vera–based nutritional supplements and natural skincare products. In a bold move to phase out all single-use bottles, the company is introducing compostable bags for its supplements starting this spring with its flagship Super-Strength Aloe Vera capsules.
Customers will also have the option to purchase refillable, Bluetooth-connected smart bottles featuring an app that tracks pill usage, pushes refill reminders, and replenishes orders with one click. Furthermore, for every smart bottle purchased Desert Harvest will remove one ton of plastic from the ocean via an agreement with its bottle supplier, ImpacX.
Desert Harvest CEO Heather Florio answered Packaging Digest’s questions about the company’s decision to pursue greener options, its packaging material choices, and the impact of these changes on the customer as well as the environment.
Why phase out all your single-use bottles?
Florio: Sustainability and reducing our carbon footprint is important at Desert Harvest. Phasing out our single-use bottles plays a key role in furthering this mission. Currently, all of our product bottles are plastic. This represents 12 supplements.
What is the shelf life of the products sold in the plant-based compostable bags?
Florio: Our current shelf-life tests indicate that all of our Super-Strength Aloe Vera capsules and CBD capsules that contain our super-concentrated aloe vera are still bio-active five years from the manufacturing date.
What are the product counts for the bags?
Florio: The pill counts on the bottles will match the compostable bag counts. There will be no changes to the product or the price when we make the switch; just the packaging.
Who is the supplier of the compostable packaging, and what plant-based material is it made of?
Florio: We began searching for compostable options, and the one we found ended up being with our current supplier, TricorBraun. The material is made from renewable wood pulp and other sustainable materials, which are better for our planet. Its composability helps reduce waste, and it’s also printed with plant-based ink.
Why use compostable packaging at all?
Florio: Single-use plastic pill bottles contribute to plastic pollution and the associated impacts on climate change — from the greenhouse gasses emitted during manufacturing to the methane emissions from the landfills where empty bottles are discarded.
Americans filled nearly 4.7 million retail prescriptions in 2021, many of them coming in these containers. Dietary supplements added millions more to the waste stream, with 77% of American adults purchasing more than $31 billion worth of supplements annually.
Consumers also increasingly want sustainable brands and packaging. Companies can be more sustainable than ever. Everyone can benefit from making these changes.
What is the best way to dispose of these packages? Do they require a composting facility?
Florio: TricorBraun shares that the bags are most ideal for home composting. The best way to dispose of the packages is in a home-composing environment.
Are the compostable bags preformed, or is this a form-fill-seal operation?
Florio: They will be preformed, and we will just fill and seal them.
Moving from a rigid container to a flexible bag means different package filling equipment. Is Desert Harvest doing its own packaging or using a contract packager?
Florio: We will use our own production line.
What kind of an investment in new packaging equipment was required?
Florio: We didn’t have to invest in any new packaging equipment. The packaging will work with our current packaging equipment. It will reduce our production process from seven steps to three steps.
Why and how did you develop the refillable, rechargeable, Bluetooth-connected smart bottle?
Florio: We worked with ImpacX, which had developed the technology and innovation, to create our smart bottle. They had a technology for a refillable water bottle that lets you track your water intake with an app. They were able to take that same technology and adapt it to the smart bottle for us. They approached us about the opportunity, and it aligned with our goals of being more sustainable and reducing our carbon footprint.
Who is the target consumer for this optional smart bottle?
Florio: We’ve found that our smart bottle appeals to a number of consumers. It includes our customers but also elderly people who may have trouble remembering to take pills or refill their bottles, caregivers who need to help monitor adherence, those who take sustainability seriously, and those who like to adopt smart technology to simplify their lives.
Who do you think will be the largest demographic buyer and why?
Florio: Because Desert Harvest will be moving to the smart bottle for all our supplement products in the coming year, all of our supplement customers will likely purchase the bottle. The smart bottle can be purchased for supplements and medicines outside of Desert Harvest products as well. We have opened the opportunity to start taking pre-orders to ship later this year so that consumers can reserve their bottle now. Based on consumer demand, we can go into production for additional bottles that will all start shipping this year.
What is the smart bottle made of?
Florio: The smart bottle is made of stainless steel and available for $40 each. It has a lifespan of roughly five years, after which time Desert Harvest will provide a postage-paid label to return the bottle for recycling and reuse to reduce landfill waste.
How does the smart bottle work?
Florio: It connects and works with a smartphone app that monitors adherence and dosage. The material around the cap changes colors to reflect whether you’ve taken your supplement each day. The app will notify you when your bottle needs to be refilled or if you missed a dose.
How much product does the smart bottle hold?
Florio: We’ve only tested it with our largest size product, which is our 180-capsule Super-Strength Aloe Vera in size 00 capsules.
In addition to switching from rigid bottles to compostable bags and offering an optional, refillable smart bottle, Desert Harvest will also remove one ton of plastic from the ocean for every bottle purchased through an agreement with its bottle supplier. How does this work?
Florio: The supplier of our smart bottle, ImpacX, will be working with CleanHub, which leads the removal and processing of ocean waste. CleanHub has created programs and the infrastructure to facilitate the cleanup of our oceans and waterways.
How is Desert Harvest or its bottle supplier certifying that one ton of plastic will be removed from the ocean for every smart bottle purchased?
Florio: We can watch the progress through CleanHub’s tracking technology.
How are you communicating that to the consumer who buys it?
Florio: We’re connecting with our consumers who are already environmentally conscious and helping those who are new to sustainable products to realize their incredible contribution to the planet. We’ll engage with our customers through our newsletters, emails, and social media channels.