How the beauty industry can benefit by reducing their carbon footprint

P: Tosha Blackburn Do your part, leave less behind.

The beauty industry would benefit from becoming zero waste and leaving less of a carbon footprint. With less waste ending up in the landfill, brands can build eco cred… but also, spending less on their packaging means less money coming out of their overhead. As with most industry decisions, the final word lies with the consumer. How can you do your part, you ask? Read on to find out more!

Less is more

Ways that the beauty industry could contribute to zero waste practices is by utilizing refillable packaging as an alternative to the single-use plastic that is piling up in the landfills and is still commonly found in the cosmetic industry today. The cosmetic industry uses excessive unnecessary single-use packaging that cosmetics are branded with which takes hundreds of years to break down in the soil, not to mention contaminating nearby waterways to marine life and drinking water.

If you buy a refill instead of a completely new product, you save 70% on CO2, 65% on energy, and 45% on water, according to research conducted by The LCA Centre. You can contribute to zero waste by eliminating or replacing products that use single-use packaging with leading brands such as humankind, Kjaer Weis, (& more are joining) are allowing consumers to refill their original purchase. This keeps waste out of the landfill and helps our earth by polluting it less with single-use packaging.

The best way to dispose of cosmetics is by recycling. TerraCycle offers free recycling programs funded by brands, manufacturers, and retailers around the world to help consumers collect and recycle hard-to-recycle waste. Companies could make this easier on the consumer by packaging in biodegradable materials from the start before going on the shelves to customers (hint, hint).

I recently spoke with Denise Adamic with the EPA, and she stated EPA defines containers and packaging as products that are assumed to be discarded the same year the products they contain are purchased. Unfortunately, the EPA doesn’t list current up to date facts and figures on their websites, however, it was noted on their website that containers and packaging make up a major portion of municipal solid waste (MSW), amounting to 80.1 million tons of generation in 2017 (29.9 percent of total generation). The packaging is the product used to wrap or protect goods, including food, beverages, medications, and cosmetic products. Containers and packaging are used in the shipping, storage, and protection of products. According to the EPA How to recycle your products if they aren’t reusable  It is best to check with your local recycling center to determine which types of containers they will allow as each state differs. EPA also has a free voluntary partnership that includes an annual awards program for businesses and organizations interested in reducing waste called WasteWise.

Denise also stated that the best materials that cosmetic packaging could be made from should be certified biodegradable in water. Please remember that “biodegradable” is a very ambiguous term. Almost everything is biodegradable depending on the conditions. A material that might biodegrade in the soil is not necessarily biodegradable in freshwater or in a marine environment. While for the cosmetic ingredients biodegradability is a very important issue especially when it comes to rinsing of products such as shampoo and soap, it is not a sustainable end-of-life option for packaging at all.

“biodegradability is a very important issue especially when it comes to rinsing of products such as shampoo and soap, it is not a sustainable end-of-life option for packaging at all.”

The circular economy consists of two circles – the biological loop and the technological loop. The biological loop is all that nature makes, the technological loop is all that we make. Both loops work best when they are separated and one of the basic rules is that you want to keep the product and when that is no longer possible the material for as long as possible at the highest possible level within the loop. When it comes to packaging – a typical example of a product from the technological loop, the first objective should be to avoid it when possible, when the function of the packaging cannot be avoided, then we should look at adopting a reusable/refillable packaging and in all cases the packaging should be recyclable in order to recover the material. The efficient use of resources means that we want the material to be used over and over again instead of this material disappearing.

Also, I interviewed Agnieszka van Batavia Packaging Sustainability and Regulatory Advisor with THE LCA CENTRE and she had some wonderful insight into the packaging and the future it may hopefully hold.

Packaging exists because it serves an important function. Packaging protects our products, makes it possible to transport, preserve and use them. It functions as an important carrier of (often legally mandatory)  product information. There is no (international) trade without packaging. Unfortunately, it is also often abused for marketing purposes. I believe that moving forward we will become more aware of the function of packaging. Every company bringing product on the market should ask the question:  what function of the packaging do I need for the intended use of my product and can I redesign my product in such a way that the retail packaging is no longer required?  There will still be a need for transport packaging such as boxes and crates of course.

“what function of the packaging do I need for the intended use of my product and can I redesign my product in such a way that the retail packaging is no longer required?”

We need to tackle the packaging waste problem through clever product innovations, better recyclability, and smart reusable packaging systems, that still offer us the convenience of use but also provide an efficient infrastructure for collection, sanitation, and refill of packaging on an industrial scale.

There is a difference between us being engaged citizens finding recycling important and posting comments on social media and us being consumers looking for the best buy. Although I hope that the new generation of consumers – the Millennials and the even younger generation is more receptive to the sustainability aspects such as recyclable packaging.

Companies could make recycling easier for the consumer by focusing on making their packaging truly recyclable by using only recyclable materials and making it easy to separate different packaging components. The companies should be also more involved in the proper communication about the materials their packaging is made of and the best ways to recycle the packaging. It can involve disassembly instruction videos and comprehensive information on the pack. I also believe that companies should take full responsibility for their packaging by setting up bring banks, or organizing collection of their packaging – like Nespresso does it in Europe with their aluminum coffee capsules.

Consumers should consider their choices when purchasing cosmetics as we are standing on the verge of a radical system change. The circular transition requires everybody to chip in. This means that consumers have also a role to play. We can make this change if everyone gets on board with this much-needed change in today’s beauty industry.

So, with that in mind, my question to you is what will you do today to leave less of a carbon footprint behind? I look forward to seeing your responses in the comments section!

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