2019: the year the cosmetics world woke up to zero waste

2019: the year the cosmetics world woke up to zero waste

The what? It’s no surprise that Collins Dictionary announced ‘Climate Strike’ as the 2019 word of the year – the attitude of our throw-away society has been changing since that David Attenborough Blue Planet II documentary, and thanks to the likes of Greta Thunberg placing the spotlight firmly on environmental awareness in 2019, consumers have not only been taking action in terms of striking, they have ramped up their eco-focused buying. The upshot? Heightened conscience consumerism and the progression of the zero-waste movement.

The details Raphaëlle Archambeaud, Sustainable Development & Corporate Communication Director, L’Occitane Group, summed up the movement nicely, “Zero waste is when you don’t send anymore trash to landfill, burn it or put it into the ocean. If you reuse or recycle the material, that to me is zero waste, as you are always reusing existing waste as you are creating something new.” In short – a circular economy.

Indeed, 2019 was the year that cosmetics companies across the globe showed their sustainability mettle. In North America, Estee Lauder Companies pledged its commitment by becoming a member of the Circular Economy 100 program. Stating that, “Driving circularity through sustainable packaging innovation is a priority for us and we believe a collaborative cross-industry approach is key to making meaningful progress.” Meaningful progress was happening in Asia too. AmorePacific signed an MOU with TerraCycle, committing to drastic plastic reduction and recycling goals, while Kao invested in sustainable packaging with its Guhl bottles now being made up of recycled polyethylene terephthalate (rPET). And of course, if we’re looking at Europe all eyes land on Lush. Alongside the launch of its packaging-free stores, the latest being in Hong Kong, as well as a digital packaging concept. The Body Shop, having this year placed a focus on rebuilding its eco-brand ethos, has also been making moves, having launched refill stations at its Oxford Street flagship. However, as consumers continue to shift to a greener mindset, competition awaits. New Zealand-based zero waste brand Ethique launched into the UK market this year, for example, while Dove has pledged to create a packaging-free solution to its popular soap bar.  

However, the movement goes beyond end products. In the 12 months suppliers and manufacturers have invested heavily in initiatives that contribute to said circular economy. In fact, where do we start? Early in the year Procter & Gamble, Henkel and Clariant joined the new Alliance to End Plastic Waste (AEPW), while in South America Guatemalan designer Elena Amato has created alternative packaging for personal care products from bacterial cellulose. Henkel was firing on all cylinders, having debuted 100 percent recycled plastic coverings as well as a software tool to detect the recyclability of packaging, while also buying into refillable cleaning range Trumans and extending its Plastic Bank collaboration. Meanwhile L’Oréal was also shifting its focus, investing in recycling tech firm Carbios. And there were green guarantees from the multinationals too; Unilever pledged to reduce plastic waste by 2025 as well as increasing its recycling commitment in Africa, investing in Nairobi-based plastics recycling business Mr Green Africa. Dove, alongside its plastic-free bar, has committed to 100 percent recycled bottles, avoiding the use of 20,000 tonnes of virgin plastic globally per year, while Reckitt Benckiser took aim at the plasticproblem in India through a new project back in March.

The why? As you can see, 2019 was action-packed – so what next? Despite Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Accord, U.S. businesses, along with the countries still in the agreement, are increasingly focused on climate control. Indeed, the onslaught of the zero-waste movement is due to consumers, and governments, demanding more industry responsibility in the war on plastic. So how does the cosmetics world do better going into 2020? Development is not without its challenges, and its these that must now be overcome. Consumer education is one such issue; awareness of how, when and where to recycle their products is something that needs to be addressed. Brands are the obvious candidates for implementing this education through product packaging etc, however, it’s not as simple as it seems. As L’Occitane’s Archambeaud said, “We are distributed in 90 countries so we cannot put on the packaging what the customer should do as its different in every country. So, what we want to do is implement on the website so have local advice for recycling.”

Again, lack of consumer education regarding packaging labelling, such as what is ‘recycled’ or ‘recyclable’, is an issue that needs tackling. Likewise Nelson Switzer, former Chief Growth Officer of Loop Industries, Inc said “Brands must not only commit to zero waste measures, they must ensure they’re using materials that can be recycled to the same or of higher value than its original purpose. This must be done without affecting quality in order for it to be used time and time again to make the movement sustainable for future generations – upcycling in the zero-waste movement if you will.”

However, they are not insurmountable obstacles. And with companies such as Colgate Palmolive pioneering and open sourcing recycling tech for the good of worldwide sustainability goals, perhaps this open sourcing of best practices across the whole supply chain, from farming, manufacturing to marketing and retail, is the true future of a circular economy.

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