A Green Future for the Beauty Industry

The beauty industry is following consumer cues to take responsibility for packaging waste and invest in a better-looking future. It’s long been said that beauty is as beauty does. But the old adage has never been truer than now as beauty brands realise that planet-friendly practices are a very good look. By Jody Scott

As eco-conscious consumers become increasingly aware of the impact of their choices on the environment, there is growing pressure on companies to come up with innovative solutions to reduce waste.

The new breed of beauty consumer is not only seeking full transparency about the ingredients in their self-care products but also taking note of the packaging materials and supply chains. Plus, they are able to perform in-depth due diligence both online and on social media before they buy, and then use digital platforms to share and comment on their purchases. 

It’s a perfect storm making sustainability a non-negotiable priority for the beauty industry. But the good news is many brands are rising to the challenge and beauty’s clean, green makeover has well and truly begun.

Beauty industry makeover

Estee Lauder has already achieved Net Zero carbon emissions and sourced 100 per cent renewable electricity for its global operations. Meanwhile, L’Oreal has announced that by 2025, its global operations will achieve carbon neutrality, run on 100 per cent renewables and 100 per cent of its plastic packaging will be refillable, reusable, recyclable or compostable. As part of Maybelline’s Greener Together mission, it launched a free national recycling program in any Priceline store in Australia to recycle any brand of used makeup packaging.

And there are plenty of other inspiring stories emerging. At the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, the medal winners’ podiums were made of recycled plastic reclaimed from Proctor & Gamble beauty waste. Last year in Sydney, French-owned beauty brand L’Occitane opened its first global “Green Store” that included benchtops and a sink made from glass collected by their in-store TerraCycle program. The store also has a Refill Fountain that allows consumers to refill selected products in ‘forever bottles’ made from 100 per cent recycled aluminium.

And in 2019, Australia’s first children’s playground made using recycled beauty products opened on the Gold Coast. Park Lake State School won the Garnier Recycled Playground Competition in which schools around the country recycled 145,000 beauty care products otherwise destined for landfill. The competition was run by Garnier and TerraCycle.

The industry-wide shift away from single-use plastics to refillable options is also inspiring new business models led by agile indie brands and small start-ups with hard-line zero waste philosophies.

But widespread change takes time and tackling beauty waste is not easy. It is estimated that globally the beauty and personal care industry produce about 120 billion packaging units annually and almost 91 per cent of it is never recycled. Yet.

Where it gets tricky

Beauty products are often made from several different materials including plastic, glass and metal, making them difficult to recycle and unsuitable for regular kerbside recycling programs due to the cost of labour required to identify, separate, clean and sort the components.

For example, a foundation compact might consist of an outer plastic case, foam inserts, a metal tray and a glass mirror inside. Other products can include metal caps and spring-loaded pumps. And products such as mascara and lipstick are too small to be processed by industrial recycling machines.

Basically, the more complex the combination of materials, the harder and more expensive they are to recycle and the less chance they have of being accepted by kerbside recycling.

What can we do?

As consumers, we have the power to drive change by choosing to buy products that are refillable, reusable or at the very least, recyclable. When it comes to the latter, more and more brands are providing solutions for their customers.

TerraCycle has partnered with some of the biggest brands in Australia to save hard-to-recycle beauty waste from landfill, by providing free recycling programs for beauty products.

It’s all about changing consumer behaviours by making it easy to recycle any brand of beauty empties by dropping them to in-store collection boxes – currently provided David Jones and Mecca, and Priceline (sponsored by Maybelline). Or you can simply post them back to TerraCycle directly.

Jurlique’s Sustainability & Social Impact Lead Kristina Banfield says sustainability is an important part of the brand’s DNA.

“Ever since our biodynamic beginnings as a small business in 1985, our mission has been to inspire human well-being and connection by working in sustainable collaboration with nature,” Banfield says. “As we’ve grown as a business, so have our sustainability commitments and our partnership with TerraCycle very much speaks to that continued commitment.”

What happens to my beauty empties?

When your old products arrive at TerraCycle they are weighed, visually inspected, sorted into material types such as plastics categories, glass and metals then consolidated into bulk bags for processing. Next, the waste is cleaned and converted into new usable commodity materials such as plastic pellets and regrind, paper pulp and metal alloys.

The new materials are used to make new products such as outdoor furniture and decking, community garden beds, farm fencing, shipping pallets, watering cans, storage containers and bins and much more.

It’s quite clear that going forward, clean and green will be more than mere beauty buzzwords or passing trends. Brand leadership, transparency and transformational change will create a better-looking future.

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