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Natural beauty: Personal care need not cost the earth

Ellie Mitchell
Nov 18, 2019

 

Over recent years, consumers have become more aware of the impact plastic and packaging in general can have on the environment - if its design means it isn’t easy to recycle it’s likely to end up in landfill, or if it’s littered it will find its way into water courses or hedgerows etc as pollution. With this increase in awareness, many are now looking to producers and brands to offer eco-friendly or easy to recycle product and packaging alternatives in a bid to lead more sustainable lives.

The cosmetics industry is currently a key focus area, as many of the products used in daily skincare and beauty regimes are contained in difficult to recycle packaging.

Unfortunately, a lot of packaging associated with beauty products (excluding most plastic bottles) is notoriously hard to recycle, as it is often composed of a variety of materials, such as mirrored glass and expanded plastic foam. It is difficult for reprocessors to separate the materials for recycling; therefore, most Council kerbside recycling systems will not accept the packaging and consumers don’t know what to do with it, meaning it often gets thrown in the bin.

An element of consumer education is also required, as people often associate recycling with packaging that’s discarded of in the kitchen, usually forgetting about packaging present in bathrooms and bedrooms. For example, aluminium aerosols, many shampoo bottles and other cosmetic packaging items can be recycled if people remember to sort the packaging and place recyclable items in their kerbside recycling containers.

This is a concern, as Zero Waste Europe estimates that the cosmetics industry produces approximately 120 billion units of packaging globally each year!

Addressing the issues

Due to today’s “call out culture”, brands and retailers are now more than ever keen to address the impact their products and associated packaging has on the environment, as ignoring consumer wishes could damage both brand reputation and customer base. Plus, many, through the implementation of CSR objectives, simply wish to do the right thing.

In the past, we have seen the cosmetics industry rise to the challenge when tackling testing on animals and animal products. When consumers voiced their concerns, several brands stopped testing on animals, labelled products accordingly and some completely removed animal products from their stock.

The Body Shop is one such brand that has based its whole selling ethos on free from animal cruelty and environmentally friendly cosmetics, and there are many groups within the cosmetics industry that are taking strides to reduce their environmental impact and promote sustainability. Some examples are as follows:

Refillable packaging

Certain brands, for example, Hourglass Cosmetics, Surratt Beauty and Tropic, have gone down the replenishment route and are offering refills at reduced prices. In addition, L’Occitane has introduced 500ml hair and body care refill pouches, reducing the packaging weight by 90 per cent!

Many stores quickly realised that in-store refill stations would be both messy and unappealing, so to counteract this By Kilian, the Estée Lauder Companies-owned fragrance brand, has introduced a four-piece refill kit, which include a pipette and funnel. In addition, some high-end brands are introducing packaging that’s designed to be a keepsake i.e. not thrown away.

It’s also interesting to note that in March 2020, Terracycle, an innovative recycling company renowned for offering recycling solutions for typically hard-to-recycle waste, are bringing Loop Store to the UK. This interesting concept allows consumers to purchase products from leading brands contained in reusable packaging.

Post-consumer recycled (PCR) plastics

Although previously unappealing due to discolouration, we’re now seeing some brands using PCR plastic packaging. Aveda is one such company that’s now using PCR plastic, with more than 85 per cent of its skincare and hair styling PET (polyethylene terephthalate) bottles and jars containing 100 per cent PCR materials.

The company wishes to eliminate the use of virgin plastic and is exploring alternative packaging materials, such as seaweed and cow waste.

In addition, natural and organic make-up brand Antonym use sustainable bamboo in their compacts and their boxes are made from Forest Stewardship Council-certified paper.

It’s also been reported that some brands are looking at non-plastic options, such as bioplastics, sugar-cane derivatives, aluminium and glass.

Minimal packaging

Lush offer minimal-to-zero packaging options and others are starting to follow suit, with Dior removing cellophane packaging and excessive product leaflets and direct-to-consumer brand Glossier pledging to introduce a limited packaging option for online orders, as a result of customer backlash.

Recycling schemes and return systems

Terracycle has introduced a Personal Care and Beauty Waste - Zero Waste Box™ and Burt’s Bees is one of the companies that has joined forces with this recycling company to introduce a Personal Care Recycling Programme.

H&M’s sister brand has offered beauty recycling in its UK stores since 2015. If consumers return one or more empty containers to any branch, they are rewarded with a 10% off voucher to be used in H&M stores.

Most Neal’s Yard Remedies packaging can be recycled through local council schemes, as the company predominantly uses glass containers. They also offer refills for certain products in certain stores. In addition, consumers can take hard-to-recycle empties from any brand – such as face wipe packets, atomisers and pumps to a Neal’s Yard store and they will make sure the packaging is recycled.

In June this year, John Lewis launched a beauty recycling trial for loyalty programme members in a bid to increase sustainability credentials. Consumers could recycle empty make-up and skincare beauty products from any brand in exchange for a £5 off voucher for any in-store beauty purchase.

Way back in 1976, L’Occitane introduced a return system for its glass bottles! 40 years later and consumers can now take empty beauty, skincare and hair care packaging into L’Occitane boutiques for recycling and as a thank you receive 10% off their next full-size item purchase.  

The Body Shop has always supported sustainability and has recently joined forces with anti-plastic pollution organisation “Plastics for Change”. This means that consumers can recycle any empty bottles, jars, tubes and pots in The Body Shop stores. Members of the brand’s loyalty programme, Love Your Body™ Club, will receive a voucher for £5 off next purchase if they bring five clean bits of The Body Shop packaging to one of their stores for recycling.

Environmental legislation

As outlined above, brands and producers are starting to respond to consumer demands for sustainable products and packaging; however, with potential new legislation on the horizon, we may start to see more businesses following suit.

Circular economy experts at the Ellen MacArthur Foundation have introduced the ‘New Plastics Economy Global Commitment’, which aims to eliminate ‘problematic or unnecessary plastic packaging and move from single-use to reuse packaging models’, as well as to ‘ensure 100 per cent of plastic packaging can be easily and safely reused, recycled or composted by 2025’.

In addition, the UK Plastics Tax will affect the manufacture and import of plastic packaging containing less than 30 per cent recycled plastic. However, many have called for more solid commitments in the Government’s Resources and Waste Strategy, if we are to achieve the goal of reaching zero avoidable plastic waste by 2042.

It is believed that Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) is one mechanism that could encourage more circular thinking and potentially influence sustainable production, as producers are given significant responsibility for the treatment or disposal of post-consumer products.

How Valpak can help

We understand that consumer and government demand for sustainable products and packaging is increasing and we are passionate about making sure companies have the right data, at the right time, to help them make the right choices.

Are you looking to review or change the packaging your business uses, but not sure where to start? Our Insight Platform enables users to assess the packaging used within the business, look at recyclability and quickly make informed decisions.

If your business is looking to offer a take back service or recycling system for beauty packaging, we can help with this too by providing consultancy advice for scheme design and implementation, a waste material tracking service via our Waste Tracker portal, scheme administration and help with marketing and promotion.

If you are interested in finding out more about how we can help your business to achieve sustainability targets, please do not hesitate to get in touch:

03450 682 572

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this weblog represent those of the individual authors and not those of Valpak Limited or any other organisation.