Circular and Zero Waste Beauty
Last week on the blog we started a new series called Green Beauty Conversations, and our first topic was Sustainable Beauty. We chatted about sustainability being an environmental and social issue, and how we need to take the entire supply chain into account when looking for sustainable solutions in an otherwise rather unsustainable industry.
These big questions require big, innovative answers. This week we're exploring two trends that intersect both the beauty and sustainability topics, circular beauty and zero waste beauty.
Circular beauty employs a closed loop system where resources stay in circulation and are kept in a loop to prevent waste.
We are in a linear economy of take, make, waste: natural resources> creating goods and services> disposal. The aim of most companies is to create products that need to be replaced frequently to generate more income.
Circular beauty aims to cut out the disposal part, with waste not being thrown away but continuously cycled into something else. It means reduce, reuse, recycle and regenerate. You can close the product loop by using by-products to regenerate other products. Let's break this down a bit more.
Probably the number one way to be more sustainable is simply to use less. Unfortunately this goes against the pervading culture of consumerism though.
Keep resources in use as much as possible to reduce the amount that needs to be replaced. Some ways to do this include upcycling, recycling, reusing, and using refillable products and packaging. Avoid and minimise waste wherever possible. An emphasis has been placed on single-use plastic waste, but any single-use waste is problematic.
Eco-designed formulations: multipurpose products to minimise consumption and packaging, and minimise single use packaging.
Product types: waterless products, solid products, multipurpose products.
Packaging: refilling, reusing, return packaging for reuse (requires sterilising), upcycled products. Brands should encourage their customers to reuse their glass and aluminium packaging, even above recycling it.
In production processes: using by-products in ingredients to create new products. The food industry has a lot of waste, some of which can be upcycled into beauty products and innovative ingredients.
Fruit waste from juices and smoothies, used tea leaves, coffee grinds from coffee shops and roasteries, even veggies that are a little past their sell by date are still fine to use. 'Imperfect' produce is often thrown away as not sellable, but it can be used!
Materials recycling: check your local municipal recycling centres. There are also private companies that recycle. Here are some websites which have helpful informational on how and where to recycle various materials:
If packaging and various materials can't be reused, then the next best would be to recycle them.
Regenerate natural capital: replant/reforest harvested areas, encourage biodiversity.
Carbon sequestering, planting trees, purchasing carbon credits.
Composting: food waste in particular can be composted to regenerate nutrients and soil quality. Look for other compostable items such as certain kinds of packaging.
Supporting initiatives that support environmental and social causes.
A circular beauty industry aims for eco-design, net environmental gain and a zero waste hierarchy.
Eco design: formulations can be used in lower quantities, use and contain less water, are smarter, contain biodegradable ingredients, use smart manufacturing.
Net environmental gain: not everyone can use by-products to generate electricity (how amazing would this be!); but they can use by-products for fertiliser, uplift communities by getting involved with social and educational initiatives, plant trees and purchase carbon credits.
Zero waste hierarchy: always aiming for a zero waste lifecycle, and where something isn’t zero waste, it becomes unacceptable. More on this below.
Zero Waste Beauty
Another potential solution in moving towards a sustainable beauty industry is zero waste beauty. It is quite a radical movement and not always 100% possible, but more of a goal which you can work towards.
Like circular beauty, zero waste beauty aims to eliminate waste. However to have no waste whatsoever is quite the task for anyone!
In current zero waste movements there is a large focus on cutting out packaging, but this isn't the only issue at stake.
A brand needs to know the provenance of their ingredients and understand their supply chain, in addition to dealing with the product's packaging.
Unfortunately many regions of the world don’t have the capacity to deal with waste beauty care products. So if you are the end user, try to use up your products completely and simplify them. Use multipurpose products, and products with fewer ingredients and less packaging.These simple actions really help reduce your usage and waste on so many levels of the supply chain!
If you are the producer, try to use packaging that is readily reusable (or even better, no packaging at all which is truly zero waste), and encourage your customers to reuse or return their packaging. Have a waste management system as part of your GMP, then turn it into a visible goal that you are working towards, eg 75% waste free/ recycled. Inspire your customers!
Producers should also try to formulate their products with the environment in mind. Besides using non toxic and biodegradable ingredients, they can eco-design their formulations to be multipurpose products, or even solid products which require minimal packaging.
The Zero Waste Hierarchy
The zero waste hierarchy is a pyramid of behaviors that help govern the zero waste movement:
It's a useful table to see where areas of improvement lie.
Note On The Use Of Oils In The Green Beauty Industry
Plant oils are very popular base ingredients in the natural beauty industry. They have amazing skin benefits, are readily available and come in at affordable price points.
Plant oils can be ethically farmed and support communities, and are generally sustainable ingredients which is great, however their end use/disposal isn’t amazing.
Oils are not great at degrading because they aren’t water soluble or soil soluble. They can clog drains, cause scum, and are not great for waste disposal facilities either.
Look to the zero waste hierarchy mentioned above to see areas of improvement. Oils can be minimised in use where possible, and residuals management can be improved, such as cleaning leftover oil properly by dissolving it with a biodegradable surfactant and water. It will go into the waste water system to be treated before being discharged back into the environment or used as recycled water. Alternatively, use a tissue to soak up any oil residue or waste and send it to the landfill, rather than letting it go into water systems.
A lot of food waste can be composted. But some food waste can also be harvested and reused/upcycled into unique ingredients for use in beauty care products. As mentioned in the circular beauty model, tea and coffee waste, fruit and veg waste, as well as imperfect produce waste can all be used. Even if it is just used in an extra step in the chain, that's one less step that a new product has to fulfill (so one product saved).
Moving Towards A More Sustainable Beauty Industry
As a formulator, there are plenty of ways to move towards a circular, zero waste (or less waste) and more sustainable practice. Upcycling food waste is easily done, and just think of all the cool extracts you can make! Fruit enzymes, physical exfoliants and nutritional properties found in foods can all be utilised in skincare.
At the end of the day a lot of waste rests with the end user, and brands don't always have control over what happens to their products once they leave the shelf. If you are a brand, we would encourage you to set up a customer-driven recycling system where users either recycle or return their packaging for store credit or a free item or even points. This gets the message out there that your brand is aiming for a lower-waste packaging system, and also gives the user an incentive to recycle/reuse.
Support carbon initiatives such as purchasing carbon credits and joining in tree-planting and re-harvesting operations.
Formulate innovative and multipurpose products that cut out the need for many products. Selling less product is actually the easiest way to be more sustainable.
Support educational initiatives which spread the word about sustainability, wasting less and reusing, upcycling and recycling.
What We're Doing At EN
At Essentially Natural, all of our liquid ingredients and oils come in amber glass bottles. We really encourage you to clean your bottles with hot soapy water once you are finished with the product inside, and reuse them! Bottles can be used as containers for skincare products you make, can be gifted, used as little flower holders, toothbrush holders, etc. We urge you to keep your glass bottles in circulation and not just throw them away. Otherwise please do recycle them.
Our plastic buckets for bulk products are PET plastic and readily recycled. But they're also pretty useful as reusable storage containers, plant holders or even as a DIY bird feeder, so please do make use of them if you can.
We also have a blog on Innovative Ways To Recycle Your EN Packaging - do check it out for fun and creative ways to keep your packaging in a loop.
We are working towards a zero carbon footprint by tracking and offsetting carbon emissions for deliveries, and our team regularly joins in tree planting and environmental cleanup missions.
Sustainability is a really complex and often difficult issue to tackle. There is no single right way to be more sustainable so conversations around sustainability can often feel pointless or circular because no one can come up with an amazing solution that checks all the boxes. Which is why we believe sustainability is a direction of travel. If we all just try to be a little bit better, it does add up in the end.
We're engaging with these kinds of conversations to encourage others to also take a more sustainable approach - because it won't matter if only a few of us do this; we all need to start making bigger efforts.
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