The cosmetics swap shop – how this recycling trend has stood the test of time

The cosmetics swap shop – how this recycling trend has stood the test of time

My name’s Louise, and I’m a recycling maniac – isn’t everyone nowadays? Another interesting (or not-so interesting) fact about me is that, for a beauty journalist, I don’t actually purchase a lot of make-up. My day-to-day routine requires minimal effort – the school run doesn’t warrant the effort of a made-up face – and I don’t actually go out all that often. So it wasn’t until more recently, when I ramped up my environmentally-conscious lifestyle, that I questioned not only where I should be sending my empties, but what I should be buying in the first place. Beauty swap schemes (and refillable make-up) is quite the trend so it would seem, and it’s one that is steadily growing.
Of course, said beauty swap schemes have been prevalent in the market for years. British retailer Superdrug kicked off its Superdrug Swap Shop scheme in 2005, however, rather than placing a focus on recycling, the company created the scheme as a way for consumers to save money, encouraging them to bring in branded beauty items and exchange them for Superdrug alternatives as a way to cost save.
But as the world has taken notice of climate change and global warming, it quite rightly has turned its attention to the cosmetics and personal care industry with an eagle eye placed firmly on the sheer volume of throw-away plastics it creates.
And, as the industry started to take notice its environmental footprint, the trend for swapping beauty products began to take shape. Origins, for example, has been lauded for launching one of the industry’s first recycle initiatives, while perhaps the most well-known swap shop has to be M.A.C. and its Back To Mac scheme. Having been around for some years, the cult beauty brand offers a free lipstick to any consumer that brings in six pieces of primary packaging (lipstick case, yes, cardboard outer box, no), giving a whole load more incentive for make-up junkies to get recycling. Lush, a brand known for its give-back credentials, offers free face masks to those returning five empty pots, while Kiehls not only offers a free product for every 10 full size empties returned via its Recycle and be Rewarded program, it also upped the recycle incentive game on Earth Day some years ago, offering to donate $1 dollar to Recycle Across America for every item recycled, while if consumers snapped a pic of their empties and hashtagged #KiehlsEarthDay they would donate up to $10,000 for every post. Now that’s what you call firing from all cylinders.
But is the trend waning? Like so many well-meaning initiatives that spark a flurry of activity in the market, have the beauty giants kept up with the clearly fashionable swap shop idea to help offset its environmental footprint? In short, no. M.A.C’s scheme is as popular as ever while Clarins has recently ended its three-week The Beauty Swap campaign in collaboration with the recycling company Terracycle that offered consumers a free mini make-up item with any product recycled. OK, so it could have lasted longer (or, like, forever) but it’s definitely a sign that the trend for beauty swaps to help recycling campaigns is still going strong. And talking of Terracycle, this is one company definitely helping drive the movement. Joining forces with the likes of Marks & Spencer to install a collection point for packaging that isn’t eligible for domestic waste collections, as well as working with brands such as Procter & Gamble, Beiersdorf, Unilever, The Clorox Company, The Body Shop and BIC on its new reusables service, Loop, Terracyle is a pioneer of this trend. And with the collaboration potential with charities and environmental groups broader than ever, we wouldn’t be surprised if more companies made this practice standard within their day-to-day CSR strategies.

Editor note: If you want to hear more about the zero waste movement as a whole, check out the GCN Zero Waste podcast here.  Raphaëlle Archambeaud, Sustainable Development & Corporate Communication Director at the L’Occitane Group gives a great insight into how each country has it’s own rules for recycling, and talks about L’Occitane’s global collection scheme across all its stores.