It’s no secret that plastic waste has become one of the most pressing environmental problems on the planet. Of the seven billion tonnes of plastic waste generated worldwide to date, less than ten percent has been recycled. The rest ends up in landfills and waterways, leaching harmful chemicals and microplastics into the environment and water supplies. Although many industries are responsible for the pollution onslaught, beauty in particular has been a major culprit: it generates 120 billion packaging units each year, and around 95% of these are discarded after one use.
To combat this, a new wave of cosmetics brands have stepped up to rethink the way we consume beauty products. United & Free recently launched a multipurpose balm that addresses universally shared issues like stretch marks and roughness with a formula designed to boost collagen production and hydrate dry skin. Eschewing traditional packaging, brother-sister founders Brandon and Kaleena Morrison sourced custom-made sugarcane pulp known as bagasse, a compostable by-product of the sugarcane industry.
Other independent brands such as Spectacle and Ethique have recently adopted green packaging using compostable ingredients. Mass-market stalwarts, on the other hand, have been slow to catch on, but Colgate appears to be leading the pack with high-density polyethylene toothpaste tubes that will be recycling-friendly when they drop next year. . (Still, it’s unclear if consumers will actually recycle them.)
Meanwhile, the rechargeable revolution may finally be gaining momentum. Interest in rechargeables is at an all-time high – searches for “refillable perfume” increased by 431% over the holidays according to Nielsen – but old consumer habits die hard. However, some big names in luxury are trying it: Dries Van Noten and Chanel have announced beauty lines with refillable lipsticks, perfumes and moisturizers. Marc Atlan, a packaging designer who has worked for Commes des Garçons, Helmut Lang and Prada, recently launched a body care brand called Uni whose unisex hand soaps, body serums and shampoos are packaged in 100% recyclable aluminum bottles that can be sent back and refilled.
Nick Dormon, founder of UK-based Echo Brand Design, says the rise of refillable beauty packaging goes hand-in-hand with increased demand for more personalized products, while changing the way people shop for beauty products online. “Consumers need to adapt to new beauty consumption behaviors,” he says. “Today’s consumer expects so much more in convenience, personalization and durability. A new wave of products is beginning to be launched, designed for charging. These not only avoid excessive packaging waste, but create new opportunities for a more personalized and inclusive solution. »
The beauty industry’s pivot to refillable and compostable packaging is a step in the right direction, but studies show the pandemic has actually made the single-use plastic crisis worse. In order to achieve real change, there must be bigger and more radical change. The world doesn’t need recyclable plastics, most of which will inevitably end up in landfills, it just needs less plastics.