Sustainability Over Beauty: How Beauty Brands Are Cutting Down on Product Waste This Year

Most often, product and packaging waste go hand-in-hand. Just think about the countless times you’ve either thrown away a tube that still had some product in it, you’ve cut open a tube to get to that precious last bit of product, or you’ve thrown out unnecessary ornate packaging that’s not quite justified by the size of the product itself.

Thankfully, some of the world’s favorite beauty brands have turned to an eco-friendly and sustainable approach to their products and put a lot of effort into cutting down on packaging waste this year. A growing number of sustainable and zero-waste skincare brands are stepping up and doing something about the industry’s waste problem. Whether they’re tackling product-related wastage or creating sustainable packaging, they’re showing other brands how easy it can be to make a difference while empowering their eco-conscious customers to do the same.

The packaging problem

The personal care and beauty industry generates more than 120 billion packaging units annually, and most are not recyclable. To put this into greater perspective, the U.S. generates more than 35 million tons of plastic waste every year. Of that, only 3 million tons (8.7%) get recycled. Single-use plastics are one of the most significant contributors to the massive amount of plastic waste. And, yes, you guessed it, most cosmetic packaging is single-use. The good news is that more beauty brands have started to minimize their contribution to the mess. Find out who they are and what they’re doing to make more sustainable choices.

Brands supporting recycling

More and more beauty brands have committed themselves to making recycling product packaging easier for their customers. Ilia, one of the most reputable organic and natural makeup brands, helps customers recycle their empties through a partnership with Pact Collective — a nonprofit organization that aids in ending packaging waste in the beauty and wellness industries. Ilia’s customers can mail back up to ten empty containers per month by filling out a form and printing a prepaid shipping label. Even better, the customers can include non-Ilia empties.

Kiehl’s, a personal care brand powered by nature and science, also implemented a rewards program that offers customers points for returning the brand’s empties to its stores for recycling. Customers receive 10 points per used container and can redeem their points for more products, services, and other rewards. Like Kiehl’s, MAC Cosmetics has a reward program that gives a free tube of lipstick to customers who return six empty MAC products by returning them to a participating store or by filling out an online form and mailing the empties back to the brand. If you’re a MAC loyalist and return six empties, you can choose between lipstick, a small eye shadow, or lip gloss as a free reward.

Lush is famous for bath products that are as fragrant as they are colorful. The brand’s popular products are packaged in signature black pots made from 100% recycled plastic that customers can recycle or reuse at home. Alternatively, customers can return the empty pots to Lush stores for recycling. To sweeten the deal, the brand gives a free face mask to customers who return five empties to one of its stores.

Farmacy also made recycling easier for its customers by creating a guide on how to recycle each product through municipal systems or recycling platform partner TerraCycle, using a prepaid label provided by the brand. More than that, Farmacy combines equitable agriculture practices and cutting-edge science to formulate clean products that are not only safe for the environment but for the skin too. The next year will see Farmacy move toward 100% waste-free packaging made from completely recycled materials. One of the brand’s most recent launches, 10% Waterless Vitamin C Serum, already uses packaging made from mono-material polypropylene, which is fully recyclable as it’s not made from mixed materials.

Innovative packaging

Other beauty brands have introduced innovative packaging to help cut down product waste. Noble Panacea uses a unique packaging system that’s plastic-free. The reusable starch-based case contains 30 daily doses packaged in 100% recyclable FSC-certified paper. Customers can store their empty dose packaging in the envelope received from the store and then mail them back to the brand before filling up their case with another set of 30 daily doses. Noble Panacea covers the postage cost.

La Bouche Rouge is another beauty brand that uses packaging with a difference. The French brand’s leather compact and lipstick cases are made from upcycled leather sourced from Les Tanneries du Puy. The cases are 100% plastic-free, recyclable, and refillable. The refill product is packaged in metal and recyclable paper.

Refillable packaging

Like La Bouche Rouge, other beauty brands have focused on reusable packaging to reduce product waste. Kjaer Weis, an organic luxury makeup brand, gives customers the option of two refillable packages for products such as blush, eye shadow, and foundation. The case options include the Iconic Edition infinitely refillable metallic case and the Red Edition case, made from recyclable and compostable paper that looks like leather.

In addition to its smaller eye serums and eye creams, Kiehl’s also offers several body and hair care products in 1-liter refill pouches that customers can use to refill their standard Kiehl’s bottles at home. 

Plaine Products has a circular refill program through which customers let them know when it’s almost time for a refill. They will send customers a new bottle of product, and those customers then mail their empty bottle back to the brand, which will sanitize and refill the bottle for resale. The brand also uses recyclable aluminum bottles.

One of our favorite brands, Exponent, also meets the highest environmental performance standards and commits itself to delivering sustainable skincare products. The brand puts a lot of effort into reducing its carbon footprint and minimizing waste in its production process. All products come in glass jars and aluminum caps that are made with infinitely recyclable materials.

Reimagining products

Some beauty brands have taken to reformulating and reimagining products in a bid to become more sustainable. Axiology uses recyclable packaging made from 100% recyclable paper for its products. More than that, the brand substitutes more sustainable sunflower wax and plum oil for ingredients such as beeswax and palm oil, and it uses child-labor-free, earth-derived pigments such as micas and iron oxides.

Ethique and Lush both produce shampoo bars instead of traditional liquid shampoo. Ethique’s plastic-free bars are made with non-toxic ingredients and according to sustainable practices. The brand claims that one of its shampoo bars is equivalent to three 350-milliliter bottles of liquid shampoo. On the other hand, one of Lush’s bars is equivalent to three 250-milliliter bottles of liquid shampoo.

How to find genuinely sustainable and zero-waste beauty brands

Sustainable skincare is not all about the product itself but also the way it is made, and the way it is used by the customer. The more you know about the brand, the more you can trust that the product is truly sustainable.

  • Look for eco-friendly packaging: Most sustainable skincare brands use packaging made from recycled materials or materials that can be easily recycled, like plastic, biodegradable materials, paper, glass, or aluminum. Some also use minimal packaging to reduce waste.
  • Check the ingredients: Look out for products made with ingredients that are grown without harmful pesticides or chemicals that can harm the environment.
  • Look for certifications: Brands are certified as organic or eco-friendly by organizations such as B-Corp, USDA, and Ecocert. These certifications can help you identify products that have been vetted for their sustainable practices.
  • Research the brand: Look into the brand’s mission and values to see if they prioritize sustainability. Most brands are transparent about their production processes and will have information about sustainable practices on their website.
  • Consider the entire product life-cycle: Sustainability is not only about the ingredients and packaging, but also about fair labor practices and reducing carbon footprint during the production process.

The bottom line

With dedication and innovation, these beauty brands are striving toward greater sustainability. Given that consumers are more conscious of their purchasing decisions and what they use in their skincare routines, other brands are likely to follow in their footsteps soon.

Who wrote this?
Ana Vasilescu
Ana Vasilescu
Ana Vasilescu is the founder and editor-in-chief of Women's Concepts. She has over 5 years of experience working in the beauty editorial industry and dermatological research and was an acne sufferer for over a decade. Ana is now an IAO and CPD-accredited skincare consultant keen to teach others about the importance of a consistent routine. She covers a wide range of topics in skincare—from buzzy ingredients to anti-aging and acne advice. She holds a BA in Sociology and Political Sciences from the National School of Political and Administrative Studies. Find her on LinkedIn or Instagram.
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