The Beauty Industry : Vanity Wrapped in Plastic

Outside looking in, the beauty industry held its glamorous front. With the current rise in awareness of climate change and the well being of the planet, the issue of sustainability has been in the centre of attention. Many areas of our lives have continued to evolve into a more sustainable practice from energy resourcing, sustainable infrastructure and also the little things like products packaging and sustainable utensils. We are beginning to see what a more sustainable lifestyle would look like; we are starting to be more conscious of where products came from and to where it ends. Purging our pantry to our bathrooms, and medicine cabinets from any practice that could damage our earth. 

But what about the beauty industry?

For a long time, The beauty industry is known for its negative impact on the environment. The cosmetics industry contributes to pollution in ways such as excessive non-recyclable packaging.  As a self-proclaimed beauty junkie, I had my fair share of binge shopping for cosmetics and beauty products.  I have collected nearly more than a dozen used lipstick, make-up compacts and palettes, that I have no idea how to discard. And now, what’s left of the product is the remaining of the beautiful yet excessive packaging. The beauty industry revolves around aesthetic and vanity – and what I realized, they are not only selling the products itself but also how their product would look when displayed on your vanity, how it stands out on store shelves, and how the products would look editorially to grab the attention of online consumers. And I say this with shame; it preys on people like me who is a sucker for good-looking packaging. 

“Cute” packaging?

What seems to be the problems is, these “cute” and  “aesthetic” packaging came with the price our mother-earth has to pay. Not too long ago, personal care products did not require that much plastic packaging. Soaps take the form of a bar and perfumes as luxury goods, sold in lavish glass bottles. Hair-care products were powders or gels sold in tins or jars. But nowadays, to make these products more accessible and affordable products were packaged with plastic materials. To add to the problem, these beauty products itself need to be wrapped in containers made up of a variety of materials, including plastic, glass, recycled plastic and aluminium to maintain the quality inside.  The use of mixed materials for a single attribute makes recycling difficult, and despite our attempts to recycle them, most of these materials still end up in landfills. A data found in an article I read from Glamour Magazine,

“Statistics report that 120 billion units of packaging are produced every year by the global cosmetics industry, bulked out by the use of complex lids, multi-layered boxes and cellophane, much of which is superfluous, non-recyclable and ends up in our landfills and our oceans. As statistics currently stand, eight million tonnes of plastic is predicted to be making its way into our oceans each year. A trend, which if continued, will mean we’ll have more plastic in our oceans than fish by 2050, according to the United Nations.”

As a beauty enthusiast, this effect of the industry concerns me and made me reflect the choices I made and how I’ve been senselessly throwing up my used products without thinking of where it will end up in. And as I moved past my realisation, I think to myself; it is time for me to change my behaviour. I now started looking for alternatives, researching for sustainability initiatives that are done by beauty brands.

The Body Shop – a success story?

One of a beauty brand that stands out for its’ initiatives is The Body Shop. Their long-term goals for sustainable packaging is something other brands can take note of. The brand’s focus is on using fewer plastic materials where possible; using more plant-based and recycled plastic (rather than oil-based plastics) and helping people around the world to reuse, repurpose and recycle. In 2019 The Body Shop launched Return.Recycle.Repeat scheme. This lets you return all your empty tubs, tubes, jars and pots in store for us to recycle and repurpose. With their recycling partners, TerraCycle® that collects and replace those packages with a new one. The empty packaging gets sorted by TerraCycle® before being repurposed and recycled into raw materials for new products. This initiative reflects on how responsible the brand is in ensuring their packaging end up as sustainable as possible, and I as a customer felt this initiative give a more efficient way for consumers to become more conscious with their waste.

Going naked

The brand Lush also did a similar initiative. All of their PP (polypropylene plastic) product pots are made from 100% recycled materials to minimise their packaging footprint. They also work with TerraCycle® for their return the bottle initiative. But what’s interesting from this brand is Lush’s  “naked” products in which the products such as body care and hair care completely package-free in the form of solid bars. Lush’s Cosmetic scientist and product inventor Daniel Campbell said in a Lush featured article,

“Going naked is cheaper, meaning more money can be spent on beautiful ingredients rather than packaging. It’s no surprise that 40-50% of the cost of a product goes on its packaging. Daniel says:  Taking away the packaging gives you room to put more nice things in.”

Now that’s the kind of nudity we stan for!

Other brands like Kjair Weis makeup takes on a unique approach of a refillable system for their make-up line. Each one of their makeup products is packaged in a durable yet sophisticated metal case which can be refilled when finished. Though this brand is more on the higher-end side of the scale, you can think of it as an investment, and as you buy the refills, it justifies the high-price since the refills will not be as expensive as the first product you buy with the packaging. I think it can also be a sneaky way for them to maintain customer loyalty.

Nevertheless, the step towards sustainability is a step we as the consumers and brands need to take together. We all play a big role in the efforts towards change. In the future, I hope to see more beauty brands implements initiatives on these sustainability practices or even innovate new ones to end plastic packaging once and for all. And no matter how significant the change is, change is change, and without alterations, the earth as we know it won’t change for the better.