We need to talk about the plastic problem. No, we really, really do – because while there’s been a hell of a lotta action on this front over the last few weeks, it’s not gonna be enough to change by 2025. That is, unless you want to lose customers, and lose them for good, in the meantime.
I don’t say this lightly. I have been head of my household for nigh on 20 years and, for that entire time, I have used the same laundry detergent and fabric softener. When kind friends have dropped off hand-me-downs for my daughter, I could smell their detergent a mile off and had to wash them all over again. When my daughter’s school cardigan takes a trip to someone else’s house, I can’t bear the unfamiliar scent as it makes its prodigal return. So when I say that, in the last week, I switched brand, it’s a big, big deal. And if I’m doing it – you can bet your bottom dollar that everyone else is too.
Because this week, I signed up to a new, more expensive, detergent brand whose USP is that it eschews single use plastic. Yes, you buy the product in a bottle once, and from then on in, you purchase refills online (there’s even a handy app), which plop through your letterbox and – get this – you then send the packaging back. It’s called Splosh and I am yet to judge the scent or performance (I’ll keep you posted) but I felt so strongly about the plastic issue that I was prepared to break the habit of a lifetime for it. And pay more (bear in mind that I live next door to a major discounter). Had my usual brands innovated in this space already, they’d still have me as a loyal customer. But the fact is, they didn’t. And both of them are produced by a FMCG major who loves to chat about its sustainability agenda.
About a year ago, I stopped using wipes – both make-up wipes and baby wipes. Now, trust me, I am a neat freak. If in doubt, I wipe it. I was a heavy user. I admit to not having thought about the environmental impact of that. But then I did think about it, and I bought reusable bamboo wipes online and a carry case and that was that.
Ditto my cleaning products. No more, said I, and promptly switched from my lifetime Fairy habit to Method. The hand wash in my house has had the same treatment. If it doesn’t come in a refill, it no longer gets a place in my basket – so Aesop is out (seriously, come on Aesop), and L’Occitane, Dettol and Method are in. My toothbrush was next on the agenda but Colgate has saved my custom by announcing a partnership with TerraCycle – so instead of switching to wooden, I’ve persuaded my local school to sign up as a collection point instead. We don’t use Q-tips (cottonbuds), and as and when my daughter starts menstruating, we won’t be heading to Boots to stock up on Tampax and Always (other brands are available, as the BBC always puts it); it’ll be Thinx and Mooncups all the way. And these will almost certainly be purchased online since only Tesco seems to have caught on to this movement thus far – other high street retailers are dragging their feet. Seriously, I spent half an hour in Boots looking for sustainable beauty products last week. That aisle does not exist.
Yes, now I am starting on my beauty routine. I might even ditch my beloved mascara. And you’d better be afraid. Because I am not the only one. Glamour magazine is running articles such as The 13 super easy things you can do to reduce your plastic use and I went waste-free with my beauty for a week and this is what I learnt. Brands that are already innovating in this space (Antonym, Kjear Weiss) will gain custom AT YOUR EXPENSE.
That’s right, you. Because here’s the rub. Alternatives are already out there. The fact that you, big beauty brand, major FMCG producer, haven’t come up with one yet, tells me that you don’t really care. It’s great that loads of beauty companies are pledging to change and switching to recycled and ocean plastic but I want refills so that recycled plastic bottle can then be reused. I want you to do more, so I can keep buying your products.
For the past 20 years, I have been sleepwalking. But I have now woken up. I don’t always know what the best thing is – another thing that we need to do is help consumers navigate the various sustainable options out there. Is it better to buy an Aveda-style post-consumer plastic bottle than a refill? I have no idea. I’d like someone to just tell me.
Either way, I have broken habits of a lifetime – but those Gen Z consumers out there, their eyes are wide open, their eyesight 20:20 and their brand loyalty is anyone’s still to win. I said we need to talk about the plastic problem. Scrap that, we need to act on the plastic problem. Not in seven years’ time. Now.