As the pushback against shopping bags, drinking straws and other plastic nasties picks up pace, it’s time to cast a closer eco-eye over our beauty shelves. Thankfully, the natural beauty revolution means a growing number of cosmetic companies are turning away from harsh chemicals and embracing ingredients that are good for the globe as well as our glow.
The cost of beauty
Clean beauty is not just about the products, it’s also about the packaging – and that’s where the beauty story can turn ugly. Shockingly, more than 20 million tonnes of rubbish are sent to landfill in Australia each year, with empty and old beauty packaging among the waste polluting our environment. The cosmetics industry has traditionally been a huge user of plastic – and excessive packaging. Just think about your average moisturiser – more often than not it comes in a plastic tube, within a glossy cardboard box containing plastic or cardboard inserts, with the whole box wrapped in a film of – yes, you guessed it – plastic.
Change is in the air...
As awareness of the environmental damage caused by landfill grows, cosmetic companies have started to acknowledge the importance of a circular economy, which means not only are they looking to make their packaging from recycled waste, they’re also working to ensure their packaging is recycled again once it’s used, so it never becomes landfill.
Industry heavyweights L'Oréal and Unilever are among the names that have committed to ensuring all their plastic packaging will be reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025, and other companies are also starting to signal change. UK-based REN has set 2021 as its target date for zero waste, while colourful beauty name LUSH has taken the concept of waste reduction to a whole new level, choosing Milan as the location for its first 100% “Naked” store, stripped bare of any product packaging.
What you can do
It's not just the corporates that need to change their ways – we all need to make sure that our quest to look good doesn’t destroy Mother Nature’s beauty. Not only should we be trying to minimise our beauty waste, we need to make sure we recycle whatever waste we create. So how can you add some more green to your beauty palette?
- Firstly, when you’re buying a product, choose one with minimal packaging – and check to see if it’s made from recyclable material. Bottles from Matrix’s Biolage R.A.W. and Kérastase’s Aura Botanica lines are now made of recycled plastic, while a growing number of cosmetic brands like RMS are offering products in glass to aid recycling. Big tick!
- Cut your waste by using refills whenever you can. From Chanel to 100BON, plenty of perfume houses offer refills, which means you never have to discard your beautiful bottles. Pleasingly, more and more cosmetic brands are going down the same path: Lancôme provides foundation refills, Chantecaille’s range features a compact with refillable eye shades, Guerlain has beautiful lipstick refills while M.A.C and Anastasia Beverly Hills have fabulous palettes you can load and reload with your favourite colours. And, if you need an extra incentive to be green, just remember refills are cheaper, so they’re kind to your bank account as well as the environment.
- Buy big – instead of purchasing multiple smaller size bottles of shampoo, perfume and skincare products, buy a larger size and then use it to fill smaller reusable bottles, containers and atomisers for your handbag and travel kit.
- Did you know that tissues and cotton wool can’t be recycled (though you can compost them)? When you’re cleansing your face or removing makeup, try swapping the tissues out for some muslin cloths or cotton facecloths that you can wash and reuse.
- If you’re one of the growing converts to single-use face masks, opt for an environmentally friendly product like Innisfree’s My Real Squeeze masks which feature 100% biodegradable eucalyptus fibres.
- If you like to use a razor for hair removal, choose a metal handled one with replaceable (and recyclable) blades rather than disposable plastic models.
- Banish the bag. When you buy a beauty product, put it in your handbag or carry bag, rather than taking paper or plastic bags from the store.
- Crazy-simple as it seems, you need to remember that a recyclable product can only be recycled if you put it in your recycling waste rather than your general garbage. So when you unpack a new product, make sure you put the cardboard packaging in your household recycling bin, and when you finish a bottle or container, rinse it out, remove any unrecyclable plastics (like the cap) and put the rest in your recycling waste.
- Some beauty waste, like rigid plastics, can be harder to recycle than others, so if you’re unsure about whether your household recycling will accept items like shampoo bottles or foundation tubes, take advantage of L'Oréal Australia and TerraCycle’s landmark Beauty Product Recycling Program. Launched two years ago, the program provides a way to dispose of all your cosmetic, skincare and haircare packaging, including difficult to recycle products. Not only does L'Oréal pay for the program, it will also make a small donation to your nominated charity or school for every product you send them, while the recycled plastic will be used to create great new products like children’s playgrounds. L'Oréal reports the response to the program has exceeded expectations, with thousands of consumers signing up and more than 300,000 used beauty products collected and recycled since its launch – it’s clearly one beauty trend we should all be following!
- Reward yourself as well as the environment by taking part in retail recycling programs offered by some major brands. Drop in six primary M.A.C containers to your local M.A.C store and they’ll give you a new lipstick as part of their Back to M.A.C initiative, while Kiehl’s Recycle and be Rewarded program will give you everything from calendula seeds to product samples and cloth bags if you return your used Kiehl’s containers to them.
There’s a (landfill) mountain of ways you can reduce your beauty waste. So if you’ve got any great hacks to help keep the earth looking good, please share them with us.
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Story by Libby Moffet