The Global Packaging Dilemma: Moving Towards Sustainable Packaging for the Beauty Industry
It is no secret that the beauty industry creates a lot of waste. In fact, the global cosmetics industry produces 120 billion units of packaging every year - and that number is only expected to rise in the coming years. Most of this waste is plastic, and the next statistic we're about to drop is sure to leave you flawed. Only 9% of all plastic waste is actually recycled. This, according to Allure, is because of two reasons: (a) it's almost impossible to dispose of waste correctly without contamination, and (b) it's just not profitable enough for anyone to want to take on this waste. So, off it goes to the landfill where it can take centuries to decompose. Greenpeace USA also dropped a bombshell in 2020 by explaining that most of those plastics you're putting in the blue bins simply go to landfills anyway. (We know, right?!) There are, in fact, seven different types of plastic - and only two of those types are actually recyclable: PET (polyethylene terephthalate) and HDPE (high-density polyethylene). The other five? They're not recyclable, which means they'll just sit in a landfill for years and years to come.
Let's Take a Closer Look at Landfills
We're sure you've heard about the dreaded landfills being bad for the environment, but many people still aren't sure why this is. The major reasons can be summed up in three short words that have a long... long... lasting effect on our planet. Toxins, leachate, and greenhouse gases. Toxins are harmful chemicals that can be released when plastic breaks down. These toxins can then contaminate the soil and water near the landfill which, in turn, can lead to health problems for people and animals who come into contact with these contaminated materials. Leachate is basically what happens when rainwater washes through a landfill. Not Pretty. This water becomes contaminated with all the garbage and toxins in the landfill and can pollute the groundwater near the site. Finally, greenhouse gasses are emitted when organic waste like food scraps decomposes in a landfill. These gasses contribute to climate change and can have harmful effects on our health.
Going Beyond the Environment
Non-Recyclable Packaging also creates a financial burden for beauty companies who must pay to dispose of their waste. This cost is then passed on to the consumer in the form of higher prices for beauty products. NielsenIQ Omnishopper Panel notes that across in-store and online, beauty price per unit changes increased by 17% this past year. Of this, facial and skincare products saw the biggest change with a 31% price increase. While we’re not saying that the cost of disposing of packaging is the sole reason for this increase, we’re definitely saying that we’re not ready to give up our night cream or favorite face mask, so anything that pushes the price up even further is a major no-no in our books!
R's to the Rescue?
One of the most popular ways to combat waste has been the push towards the Reduce, Reuse, Recycle philosophy. And, while we think this is a step in the right direction, we also think there’s more to be done. For starters, let’s take a closer look at that whole 'recycle' part. As we mentioned before, only 9% of all plastic waste is actually recycled. And, of that 9%, only a fraction of that is turned into new products. The rest is downcycled, which means it’s turned into something of lower quality that can only be used once before being disposed of. So, even if you are recycling your beauty packaging, there’s a good chance that it’s not actually going to be recycled into new packaging. In fact, according to National Geographic, “recycled plastic can only be used up to seven times before it becomes too degraded to use again.” This is where the 'reduce' and 'reuse' parts come in. If we want to make a real difference, we need to be using less plastic and finding creative ways to reuse the plastic that we do have. ZerowasteXchange speaks about introducing two more 'R's' to the commonly known phrase. The two new 'R's stand for Refuse and Rot. Refuse: This is the simplest way to reduce waste. Just say no to anything that you don't need or can't recycle. For example, those little plastic bags they put your new makeup in at the store? Just say no thanks! By refusing to take them, you're already reducing the amount of waste you're creating. Rot: This 'R' is all about composting. Composting is a great way to reduce your food waste (which makes up a huge portion of landfill waste) and create nutrient-rich soil for your plants. If you're not sure how to compost, there are plenty of resources available online to help get you started. The problem with this philosophy is that it requires a lot of individual effort and knowledge. It's not always easy to refuse something when you're not sure what else to do with it. And, let's be honest, most of us don't have the time or energy to research the best way to compost our foundation packaging. While there is a lot to be said for individual responsibility, we also need to see some change from the beauty industry as a whole if we are ever going to see tangible change in our lifetimes.
What's the deal with Bioplastics?
If you love your beauty products as much as we do, you're sure to have seen the myriad of adverts pop up on your newsfeed about another beauty brand that's adopted the use of bioplastics for their packaging. But what actually are bioplastics? Bioplastics are plastics that are engineered to fail (break down) at some point. They are made from resources such as corn starch, sugarcane, or even algae. These materials can be used to create packaging that is compostable or even recyclable. So, why aren't all brands using bioplastics? Well, it turns out that bioplastics aren't always the most sustainable option. While they may be made from renewable resources, the process of creating them can actually have some pretty gnarly effects. A study from the University of Pittsburgh found that while Bioplastics do produce fewer greenhouse gasses over their lifetime, they also produce a greater amount of pollutants due to fertilizers and pesticides used to grow crops, and chemicals needed to make plastic out of organic material. The study went on to show that Bioplastics contribute to more ozone depletion than traditional plastics and that B-PET had the highest potential for toxic effects on ecosystems.
So, what's the solution?
At this point, you might be feeling a little disheartened. We feel you. It seems like every time we take a step in the right direction, we find out that there's another potential issue to worry about. But don't despair! There are beauty companies out there who are working hard to create sustainable packaging that doesn't come with a whole host of problems.
What does the new buzzword really mean?
You've probably heard a lot of talk about 'sustainable packaging' before reading this article, but what does that really mean? Well, the answer is pretty simple. Sustainable packaging is any type of packaging that can be reused, recycled, or composted without causing harm to the environment. The definition of sustainability is: "the ability to exist constantly." If we're being honest, it sounds a lot more like a yoga mantra than it does about packaging. But what this really refers to is being able to meet our current needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. The fashion industry has championed the new phrase Working Towards a Circular Future. What this means is that instead of the traditional linear model of make-use-dispose, we move to a circular model where waste is designed out, products and materials are kept in use, and natural systems regenerate. In practical terms, this could look like using recycled materials to create new products or using packaging that can be returned and refilled rather than thrown away.
What will it take for the beauty industry to embrace sustainability?
The answer to this question is both simple and complicated. It will take a lot of time and even more work. We need to see a change in the way that beauty products are designed, manufactured, and packaged, paying attention not just to what's inside the box but considering the box itself. We must see a change in the way that consumers view and purchase beauty products. Moving away from the disposable culture that we currently live in and towards a culture where we demand more from our favorite brands is essential to putting pressure on leading brands to adopt change. We need to stop buying products just because they're cheap or because we're curious about what they might do for us and start thinking about the long-term effects of our actions. Beauty brands need to start thinking creatively about how they can package their products and find innovative solutions that don't come at the expense of the planet.
Introducing Low Beauty
At Low Beauty, we've designed the first green beauty, water-soluble, hydrogel mask, which simply dissolves in boiling water when you're done using it. Our mission is to create highperforming products that are gentle on both the environment and your skin. Who says you can't have your cake and eat it too?!
We believe that beauty should be sustainable, affordable, and accessible to everyone.
Going beyond creating a completely water-soluble mask, we've also come up with a way to ensure that our packaging can be returned and recycled without you having to travel miles to return it or paying for postage to send the packaging back. Each Low Beauty low waste sheet mask comes in its own prepaid envelope so you can mail your mask's satchel and wrappings back to us for easy recycling.
Some Myth-Busting Before We Go:
Before we sign off, we wanted to clear up a few misconceptions about sustainable packaging that we've seen floating around.
Myth 1: Sustainable Packaging is More Expensive
This one isn't entirely true. There are plenty of sustainable packaging options that are just as cost-effective as their counterparts. For example, using recycled materials to create packaging costs the same as using virgin materials. And in some cases, sustainable packaging can actually be cheaper in the long run.
Myth 2: Sustainable Packaging is Less Durable
Again, not true! There are plenty of sustainable materials that are just as strong (if not stronger) than traditional packaging materials. For example, innovative mushroom packaging has been shown to be stronger than Styrofoam.
Myth 3: Sustainable Packaging Isn't as Pretty
We're happy to report that this one is 100% false. Sustainable packaging can be just as beautiful (if not more so) than traditional packaging. And since sustainable packaging often uses recycled materials, you never know what unique and beautiful designs you'll find.
Our Final Thoughts
There's no time to waste when it comes to sustainability. The beauty industry needs to start making changes now if we want to see a difference in the long run. At Low Beauty, we're doing our part to lead the charge in sustainable packaging and products. Our hydrogel mask is just the first step in our mission to create a more sustainable beauty industry. We hope that you'll join us on this journey!
The information in this article is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read in this article