The beauty industry is embracing innovative solutions for tackling waste–and winning more customer loyalty in the process.
There’s no doubt that the beauty industry does a lot of good, from enhancing personal hygiene and contributing to self-esteem, to giving back through charitable causes. There is also no way to ignore the environmental impact packaging from such a massive business has on the Earth. With plastic taking some 400 years to degrade and filling what’s believed to be more than 70 percent of landfills, the prediction that there’ll be more plastic in the ocean than fish by the year 2050 seems devastatingly plausible.
According to TerraCycle, a company that helps brands and individuals recycle and upcycle to reduce the level of unnecessary landfill waste, the global cosmetics industry produces 120 billion units of packaging annually, contributing to the loss of 18 million acres of forest each year.
Motivating consumers to recycle personal care items has challenges. For one, it takes extra effort since these products are often housed in bathrooms, away from the standard kitchen recycle bin. TerraCycle reports that 50 percent of people don’t recycle bathroom waste including shampoo and shower gel bottles because they feel it is inconvenient. That said, the industry has taken responsibility in the past and made an impact. “While statistics are dire, the beauty industry has had success stories with the banning of plastic microbeads in the U.S., U.K. and Canada but has plenty of room for improvement to become environmentally friendly,” says Alex Payne, a spokesperson for TerraCycle
While swapping plastic for eco-friendly packaging may increase manufacturing costs initially, the increase can likely be offset with potential government subsidies and more customers who prefer sustainable packaging. In fact, the decision to "go green" in formulation, manufacturing practices and packaging could pay off big. Fifty-five percent of people polled in a recent report by J. Walter Thompson Intelligence titled The New Sustainability: Regeneration stated they are more likely to buy beauty products if the company claims to be sustainable. Interestingly, the same report found that 77 percent of people think products with a negative environmental impact should cost more.
Recycling and Reusing
A handful of beauty brands including Burt’s Bees, Eos Products, LimeLife by Alcone and L’Occitane have teamed up with TerraCycle to offer consum- ers easy and free options for recycling. Customers can access a prepaid shipping label from TerraCycle’s website, fill any box with the brand’s cleaned waste and ship it out to be remolded into new products. Herbal Essences, Josie Maran, Garnier, Tom’s of Maine and Weleda are also part of TerraCycle’s free recycling solution. For a fee, TerraCycle offers an option for other cosmetic brands in the form of their zero-waste box. Empty eye shadow palettes, lipstick tubes, makeup brushes and deodorant sticks can be shipped to the company, and thus saved from the landfill.
Just this year, TerraCycle launched an intiative called Loop to introduce a new circular shopping system in Paris and select states within the U.S. designed to eliminate plastic packaging. “The world is in a waste crisis and we can’t recycle our way out of it. We must attack the issue at the root cause, which is single-use packaging,” explains Eric Rosen, spokesperson for Loop. The concept of Loop is like a modern-day milkman delivery system, rebooted with loads of items from personal care to household. Consumers go online and choose the products they’d like to order, which arrive in durable, reusable containers inside Loop’s exclusively designed reusable tote. “Consumers will no longer own the packaging, only the product,” Rosen explains. Beauty brands with products available from Loop include Soapply, Herbal Essences, The Body Shop, Love Beauty and Planet, Ren Clean Skincare and Pantene.
After use, consumers schedule a pickup time and send Loop’s containers to be cleaned, sanitized and reused again and again, removing plastic and shipping cardboard from the equation completely. Loop is currently available in select states and planning on expanding to new cities in 2020. Loop is made possible with the help of partner retailers like Walgreens and Kroger in each market launched. There is no membership or subscription fee; the only cost a consumer incurs is for the product and a refundable deposit for containers, tote and shipping.
Brands Making a Difference
Brands big and small are stepping up and making commitments to change. Both Unilever and L’Oréal have promised by the year 2025 to convert plastic packaging to reusable, recyclable or compostable. Estée Lauder Companies are on board too, aiming to have 75 to 100 percent of packaging recyclable, reusable or refillable by 2025 and increasing postconsumer recycled material in packaging by up to 50 percent.
Procter & Gamble (P&G) plans to offer 100 percent recyclable packaging by 2030 and has partnered with Loop to offer refillable options. Just this year, P&G’s brand Pantene launched an aluminum bottle for shampoo and conditioner through the service.
Green Materials and Rethinking Plastic
Alternative material options are gaining popularity in the beauty packaging world as brands shift into a “greener” mindset. Bamboo, for example, is biodegradable, compostable and one of the fastest-growing plants in the world. Cosmetic companies like Antonym are using bamboo for eyeshadow and blush palettes and as the base for makeup brushes. Reusable and refillable, glass is an ideal alternative for companies looking to stay clean and minimal, such as RMS Beauty. Like glass, metal is another smart option. Kjaer Weis uses quality metal in makeup palettes meant to be kept and reused as part of the company’s refill system. Already recycled solutions such as paperboard made from recycled paper pulp and recycled plastic are widely used alternatives. Garnier Fructis has adapted this practice for its shampoo and conditioner bottles, with 50 percent of the material coming from postconsumer recycled plastic.
Since plastic isn’t going away overnight, savvy solutions for repurposing are key. The Body Shop recently launched Community Trade recycled plastic from Bengaluru, India, an initiative in partnership with Plastics for Change: “We don’t think plastic–as a material–is bad. In fact, it’s one of the most versatile materials ever made and, if used responsibly, can be sustainable. The problem is when we don’t value plastic and see it as trash, rather than something we can recycle and reuse,” says Lee Mann, global community trade manager for The Body Shop.
With this initiative, The Body Shop also recognizes the human side of the plastic story. The program helps to empower the marginalized waste pickers in Bengaluru, who can receive a fair price for their work, predictable income and access to better working conditions. By the end of the year, The Body Shop will have purchased 250 tons of Community Trade recycled plastic to use in the brand’s 250 milliliter haircare bottles, with plans to scale up purchasing to 900 tons within three years. The bottles created contain 100 percent recycled plastic (excluding the bottle caps) with 15 percent derived from Community Trade recycled plastic. “Brands are starting to be more sustainable and aware of their plastic use. We absolutely want to encourage other brands to start using recycled plastic picked by waste pickers,” Mann says.
It appears that all generations, not just millennials and Generation Z, are taking a stand on sustainability. According to J. Walter Thompson Intelligence’s recent sustainability study, 90 percent of adult consumers think companies and brands have a responsibility to take care of the planet and its people. The same report concluded 91 percent of adults think companies and brands that pollute the environment should be fined.
We have officially entered the age of “less is more.” Retailers must factor sustainability into the brands they work with–and they may even want to go a step further and green their own business. Manufacturers and retailers alike will win by delivering big on product, but light on packaging.