The cosmetics industry is beginning to examine its environmental impact – and enact real change.
Welcome to Sustainability Week! While Fashionista covers sustainability news and eco-friendly brands all year round, we wanted to use this time around Earth Day and the anniversary of the Rana Plaza collapse as a reminder to focus on the impact that the fashion industry has on people and the planet.
The notion that cruelty-free, sustainable cosmetics dont need to sacrifice quality would once raise a well-groomed eyebrow. But while certain niche brands have always emphasized sustainability, theres been a recent surge in mainstream beauty brands that are working to reduce their environmental impact – particularly by cutting down on packaging waste.
“This is an important trend in two ways,” explains Ashlee Piper, a sustainability expert, television personality and author of the upcoming eco-friendly living book, Give a Sh*t: Do Good. Live Better. Save the Planet. “Firstly, the obvious environmental burden of just the trash we create daily can be anecdotally attributed in some part to non-food packaging, of which cosmetic and personal care packaging is an assumed huge component. Lessening that landfill burden and showing customers they can have the same high-performing product, just with less unnecessary window dressing is an important move… Secondly, reduced packaging is just one component of being truly green, and, in my opinion, an excellent gateway drug to becoming attuned to other sustainable elements.”
Addressing one component, Piper says, is an important step forward to ultimately address many others, such as water waste and unethical sourcing. Most beauty products are comprised of 80 to 95 percent water, like shampoo and conditioner, for example. But, by 2050, 1.8 billion people will be affected by water shortage. Likewise, the beauty industry contributes to the $150-billion trafficking industry with the mining of mica. Sixty-eight percent of the 29.9 million human trafficking victims are trapped in forced labor, 26 percent of whom are children and many of whom are used to mine mica for cosmetics.
“Its critical for consumers to stay vigilant and not be green washed by lessened packaging alone,” Piper urges, noting that toxic, animal-tested formulas arent “green” just because theyre swaddled in less plastic packaging.
Of course, the packaging does play a significant role in a companys carbon footprint, or lack thereof. Most beauty products are swathed in plastic, but only 12 percent of plastic is recycled, which means that eight million tons end up in our oceans every year. By 2050, there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish, and, already, nearly 80 million tons of plastic comprise the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
Mainstream beauty brands are, however, putting forth ample efforts to stem the tides in innovative ways. Ahead, we explore some of them.
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Take, for example, Loli Beauty, which lays claim to being the first beauty brand to be “zero waste.” Loli is the first to package products – which are all waterless with up-cycled, organic, superfood ingredients, no less – in reusable, food-grade containers and compostable plastic.
The brands Plum Elixir, for example, is made using cycled plum seeds sourced from Gascony, France, which are cold pressed and enhanced with sea buckthorn fruit oil, pomegranate seed oil and the plum seed oil. Plus, the bases in products like the Plum Elixir are multi-taskers for the face, hair and body, and its mix-ins allow consumers to customize on demand.
“Big beauty is still developing, marketing and selling mostly plastic, water and chemicals to consumers,” says Loli founder Tina Hedges. “At Loli Beauty, we care about our impact on the planet and its people. So changing up how we look at packaging waste wasn’t enough, we also wanted to offer the purest, most potent products for your skin, body and hair… and have 100 percent transparency in our formulating and supply chain.”
Alima Pure is another example of a brand that claims to be completely carbon neutral. Its done so by introducing refillable compacts, which hold magnetic color pans that can easily be swapped out for refills. The boxes are crafted from 100 percent post-consumer recycled paper and printed with eco-friendly, soy-based inks; the jars are food-grade plastic; and all orders are shipped in recyclable geami paper instead of bubble wrap.
“Our commitment to the planet and the environment is in our brand DNA,” says Urmila Ratnam, Alima Pure CEO and president. “We hope that sustainability isnt a trend, but that it becomes the standard.”
Though theres a lot of work to be done, sustainability practices are certainly starting to standardize. Like Lolis mix-ins and Alima Pures refillable compacts, a wealth of brands are minimizing the beauty products consumers need so as to avoid crowding their cabinets with more inevitable waste. Iredale Mineral Cosmetics, Ltd., for one, boasts products that blur the line between skin care and makeup, without diminishing quality.
“Our outer packaging is made from recycled materials, is recyclable itself and is printed with vegetable inks, and we also take care to make the products themselves as eco as possible,” adds Jane Iredale, president and founder of Iredale Mineral Cosmetics, Ltd. “For example, rather than selling our makeup in compacts (and having them thrown away each time), we offer refillable compacts that can be used over and over again.”
The pledge to produce products that work and are responsibly made at the same time has always been at the core of Iredale Mineral Cosmetics, Ltd. The brand even sponsors a farmers market to support local farmers.
And more recently, mass brands are getting in on environmentalism as well. Love Beauty and Planet, which Unilever launched in late 2017, sources ingredients from a fragrance partner, Givaudan, which boasts a responsible sourcing program to help support the livelihoods of the farmers that grow them. For Love Beauty and Planet, packaging is a big focus as well. “Our bottles are made from 100 percent post-consumer recycled plastic packaging and are 100 percent recyclable, and we also use a special adhesive with our labels to ensure they separate from the bottle during the recycling process,” says Molly Landman, global marketing director for hair at Love Beauty and Planet.
The removal of adhesives on labels is an important factor in recycling that too many brands dont consider; its difficult to recycle bottles if theyre littered in labels. “We avoid things like un-removable stickers, which would prevent most local municipalities from easily recycling the paper products, and we use only vegetable-based paint on [them], again to ensure they can be recycled through conventional means,” says Eric Korman, CEO and co-founder of direct-to-consumer fragrance company Phlur. “Our paper packaging materials are from 100 percent post-consumer recycled materials. Similarly, our 50mL bottle uses 20 percent recycled glass, whereas the majority of the industry uses 100 percent virgin glass.”
This effort is a work in progress for the brand; right now, the brand is focused on redesigning its sample set packages to rid them of excess paper materials. “We make all of our decisions through a balanced approach, which always include the planet as a stakeholder, along with our customers, shareholders, partners and, of course, team members.”
One brand making big promises in when it comes to the environmental impact of beauty products is Ren Clean Skincare. “We recently announced our commitment to be a zero-waste company by 2021,” says Arnaud Meysselle, the companys CEO. “We are looking at every aspect of our packaging and manufacturing to find immediate and actionable ways to reduce waste. Its a real challenge that were addressing head-on.”
Currently, 76 percent of Rens packaging is recyclable and, by the end of the year, Meysselle anticipates that figure to be 90 percent. By 2019, the brand intends to have 100 percent recyclable packaging. “Our oceans and the marine life that inhabits them are suffering from the crisis that is plastic pollution,” says Meysselle. “This is a do-or-die situation.”
Beauty brand Ethique – which offers solid shampoo bars and focuses largely on packaging waste in its messaging – has also pledged some lofty ambitions. To date, it claims to have prevented more than 350,000 plastic bottles from ending up in landfills, and it expects to save one million bottles this year, exceeding its 2020 deadline. The next goal will be to save 10 million bottles.
“Ethique was founded to rid the world of plastic waste, and is driven by the hashtag #GiveuptheBottle, which is a growing movement we started on social media to spread a message that extends past cosmetics to plastics in general – particularly plastic water bottles,” says Brianne West, the companys founder, who also serves as its product formulator. “Our bars come packaged in compostable boxes, which are free from chlorine, laminates and plastic coatings and are printed with vegetable inks. We also produce in-shower containers that are made of compressed bamboo. They look like plastic, but are compostable and entirely naturally derived.”
The fact is that making the aforementioned small changes to packaging can go a long way for beauty brands, and it doesnt have to affect their products at all. “I think the stigma that typically comes around creating something environmentally conscious is that it always comes with a compromise,” says Kirsten Kjaer Weis, founder of luxe, eco-conscious cosmetics brand Kjaer Weis. “It can be difficult for people to embrace because they might think that you have to give something up in order to experience quality.”
In fact, for Kjaer Weis, her brands environmentally-conscious packaging only elevates the consumer experience. “Our products are packaged in a beautiful silver case, almost like a piece of jewelry that you keep forever,” she explains. “This system greatly minimizes waste as the refill packaging itself is housed in recycled cardboard that, of course, is recyclable, as well. The red boxes that our products come in are also meant to be a keepsake, and we often hear from our customers that they repurpose them for travel or storage, which I love.”
Ultimately, big beauty is a business, which means consumer dollars can drive significant change. As the former “trend” of sustainability becomes industry standard, perhaps consumers will realize that recycled products are indeed better in so many ways.