As the fires in Australia rage on – albeit the media attention has passed – and the Indonesian floods gradually subside, leaving untold damage and devastation in their wake, global attention is once again fully focused on the industries contributing to climate change, and those that have a huge part to play in these environmental disasters. Fossil fuel and animal agriculture industries are, quite rightly, feeling the heat, while the fashion world is taking a long hard look at itself and the implications that fast fashion has on the environment. But what about us? While in comparison to the catastrophic consequences of the burning of fossil fuels, or the mass deforestation caused by animal agriculture, we might not be culprit number one, or even two, but boy, do we contribute. The amount of beauty waste produced is eye-watering. Indeed, a study by Zero Waste Europe found that the use of beauty and personal care products produced 142 billion units of packaging in 2018. That is a lot of single-use packaging headed to landfill.
Like the fashion world, the beauty industry is guilty of promoting fast beauty. While clothing sites such as In The Style are getting hauled over hot coals for its approach to consumerism – with the endless cut-price deals, dirt cheap garments and promotions seemingly never ending – make no mistake, we have failed in our approach to cosmetics and personal care too. The promotion of monthly-subscription boxes of miniature products, 10-step beauty routines, mascaras for day, night and everything in between have catastrophic environmental consequences; the very core model of our industry is based on excess. And while it may look pretty having a dresser beholden with all the latest must-have buys, what does this ‘please sir, can I have some more’ attitude create? More, and more, and morepackaging, aka, waste. And that’s just the waste side, where do we even begin on the environmental impact of the use of microbeads, palm oil, crop growth to harvest ingredients, VOCs, and energy used to ship, move and transport ingredients and finished products. I could go on.
Of course, there are those that are trying – the likes of Lush and The Body Shop, are well known for their progressive sustainability actions. Many brands are moving to PCR (post-consumer recycled) packaging, Terracycle has teamed up with beauty companies to create recycling schemes and consumers are increasingly backlashing against excess such as face wipes (single use sheet masks still seemingly a big draw.) But it still doesn’t really feel like it’s enough, and a growing amount of consumers are increasingly looking to smaller indie brands that have better fundamental environmental policies, greener formulations and better recycling options (according to analytics firm Future Market Insights, the global organic beauty market will reach $54 billion by 2027.) Indeed, Beiersdorf is said to be losing market share on its hero brands Nivea and La Prairie because of this shift.
The reality is, we should be trying harder. The big guns should be doing more. Sustainability agendas should be given precedence, recycling schemes should be prioritised in order to foster a circular economy, and we should, as an industry, be promoting how to buy better. There’s no denying it, it’s not without its difficulties, there are myriad obstacles to overcome at every level; transportation, sustainable production, consumer education on why and how to recycle are just some examples, and talked about on the GCN Zero Waste podcast (listen here).
And it goes beyond packaging – education on new initiatives regarding formula is also vital. When discussing the environmental benefits of upcycling beauty on the GCN podcast, Dr Meryem Benohoud talked about the logistical problems of creating green formulations at mass scale (listen here). However, they are not insurmountable and Tina Hedges, Founder /CEO LOLI Beauty, highlighted that while brands can be hit with uncertainty when trying out new schemes such as using food waste in beauty, it is consumer education and good marketing that allows this education and understanding to take place. And let’s face it, education and understanding are imperative in helping to foster change, and it is up to us all to make changes at every level if we are to alter our legacy on the environment from one of needless waste to one of positive impact and change.