Why #TrashTalk is essential for the beauty packaging industry

Beauty is a key part of our every day lives. It has the power to boost confidence, improve the health of your skin and it can be really fun to experiment with wild colours, browse the beauty counters and have makeovers with friends. But, with our cosmetics, comes the cardboard boxes, plastic pots, plastic wrapping and many more packaging materials that only get our attention when we want to throw it away. 

The Global Cosmetics industry is responsible for producing 120 billion units of packaging every year. And you know the cardboard that wraps up our skincare, makeup and general beauty products? It contributes to the loss of 18 million acres of forest each year, too, as reported by Zero Waste in September 2017.

beauty packaging problem

It comes as no surprise that the beauty industry are notoriously bad for focusing on sustainability, with excessive and non-recyclable plastic covering their products. That being said, over the last year or so, with campaigns like #passonplastic and the aftermath of Blue Planet, the beauty industry is becoming more active in addressing the problem. 

Microbeads, which were used in toothpastes, scrubs and cleansers, have been banned from the UK. Garnier have teamed up with TerraCycle to create a free recycling scheme for beauty packaging. Origins accepts packaging from any brand in its stores. Mac will give a free lipstick to anyone who hands over six MAC primary packaging containers.

It's a really positive step in the right direction that these incentives and schemes are in place. But, it seems to be a common theme that when talking about the sustainability of beauty packaging, it all comes down to recycling - not designing out the waste problem in the first place. 

The reasons for this are pretty clear: brands need their products to stand out on the shelf and packaging is the best way to do that. It's also traditional that when a product is more expensive, it involves more packaging in order to make it look "premium". 

When I've walked around a cosmetics store, or even just looked into the bathroom cabinet that my housemate and I share, I see a whole range of different materials being used to differentiate each product. I'm sure you'll find the same.

However, Garnier found that 56% of the packaging that can be recycled doesn't even end up in a recycling bin because of the inconvenience. And even when it does, Lush co-founder and product inventor, Rowena Bird, told Harper's Bazaar β€œthe recycling industry doesn’t seem to have the patience or time to actually recycle mixed component materials.” 

beauty packaging waste

It may be that you're reading this as someone who is particularly conscious about recycling, but it's the case for a lot of people that walking a mile or finding some way of getting yourself across the city to recycle a shampoo bottle in your lunch break is difficult to do - given that many beauty recycling points are sporadically placed and only open at certain times. 

And when it comes to the schemes that offer free posting (which solves the location problem): how environmentally friendly is it print out a sticker, and use additional postal packaging to send it to a recycling plant? 

Recycling is important in every industry and something we should be doing, telling people about and making time for, but isn't the better option for the planet and for our time to buy a beauty product that doesn't have such an excessive waste problem? 

As you may know, we've been running our 'Trash Talk' campaign for the last month, sponsored by Clarity Environmental, empowering consumers to design out packaging waste. We've had conversations about fruit and vegetables wrapped in plastic, the enormous amount of medical waste there is, the fact that you have to throw away more packaging than product with online orders and we've also been talking about beauty.

The more we delve into the solutions that are needed for the beauty industry to be more sustainable, the more we realise that the packaging protecting the products that are embedded in our beauty routines is in need of a radical change. 

Do we need liquid soap in dispenser bottles? Do cleansers really need to come in cardboard, too? Could toothpaste be refillable? And why is it that the heavier the moisturiser pot, the more expensive it is?  

Re-designing beauty packaging is probably a thought that's popped into everyone's mind at some point when they're incessantly unwrapping all the materials to get into a cleanser - particularly at the point when you go to squeeze it and realise you have to take the foil thing off. 

And it's likely that at the centre of that conversation is: "Is this really necessary?!" 

With Trash Talk, you can take that conversation out of your bathroom and into a space where other people are having those same thoughts. 

And, at the end of the campaign, we're going to be putting our findings together, sharing them with brands and talking to key decision makers about how our ideas could be implemented. 

Through the whole time in this campaign, we've been clear that we don't want to be brand bashing - just finding positive solutions. But it's important to celebrate that there are a number of beauty brands who are either solving or investigating the problem. 

A lot of LUSH's products are packaging-free, with the remaining packaging being reused and recycled. Dior is using wood from sustainable forests for its paper and card, as well as natural ink in their packaging cartons. There's also been talk of brands looking into using biodegradable materials made of chalk, as well as bamboo and seaweed.

We know that there are more examples of companies doing their best with beauty packaging, and we would urge everyone to share them.

It's clear that the beauty industry is at the start of a promising, eco-friendly journey, as the level of noise over sustainable beauty packaging is getting louder and louder. But let's make sure that the conversation is more focused on how they can get rid of the waste problem, rather than leaving us to deal with it.

Written by Pippa Moyle, Founder of City Girl Network


How to join Trash Talk

1. Join a group of volunteers collecting their packaging over a week.

To help visualise our everyday contribution of packaging waste.

2. Share the packaging you view as unnecessary on social media, along with how you would improve it. We'd also love to share examples of good designs so we can champion the companies who are doing it right.

You can do this in our designated Facebook Group, and/or on your preferred social media platform using the #TrashTalk hashtag.

How to make your packaging more sustainable

If you own a brand (beauty or otherwise) and feel that it's time to make your packaging more sustainable, Trash Talk sponsors, Clarity Environmental, have just launched their 'Beyond Compliance' scheme.

With this, they offer tailored workshops providing the opportunity for businesses to understand the impact of their packaging, the customer perception of their brand, and re-design concepts to green their packaging. There are a number of ways you can contact them to find out more.

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