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Unattainable Beauty: Can the Beauty Industry Become Sustainable?

Highlighting the environmental cost of product packaging

Woman doing her skin care routine

The UN describes unsustainable production and consumption practices as the root cause of the Triple Planetary Crisis. The triple planetary crisis is the intersection of the biggest issues facing humanity: pollution, climate change and the loss of biodiversity. Our survival hinges on acting now. It is up to businesses and consumers to be more sustainable. This is why it secures its place on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The beauty and cosmetics industry as of 2022 is worth £27 billion and is predicted to grow more and more lucrative as its popularity with consumers increases. As the industry continues to grow, it is important to understand the impact it has on the environment. The packaging and ingredients used by the cosmetics companies contributes significantly to worldwide pollution.

The packaging problem

It is no secret that plastic is severely destroying the ocean, and the cosmetic industry is not stranger to plastic. Each year the industry generates an estimate of 120 billion units of packaging. With the beauty industry being as profitable as it is, the more commercialised some products become. It is a highly competitive market so brands have to think big when it comes to attracting customers. One way of doing this is having the packaging be larger than life. Unboxing videos are popular on social media and it provides free advertising for brands. So if the packaging is fun, luxurious and visually aesthetic, it is more likely to draw in more customers.

There are three layers to packaging. These are: the outer packaging, inner packaging and the product packaging. So say for instance you order a perfume online, that will come in a shipping box (probably with stuffing to protect your goods), then the perfume box and the bottle itself. Now imagine other beauty products on the shelves and the various materials they are housed in. So it should be no shock to learn that packaging forms up to 70% of the industry's waste. Even recyclable cardboard and paper packaging comes at an environmental cost, with the loss of 18 million acres of forest each year. Whether it is glass, plastic or cardboard, a lot of beauty packaging ends up unrecyclable and in landfill due to fanciful design choices.

Taking action

As consumers, we can also take action and be more sustainable. We can do this by making informed choices about the products we buy and reducing the amount of waste we generate. With some careful research into the brands you can see the measures companies are taking to become greener. It is important to note that there are some brands that purposefully greenwash their products to deceive consumers and make a profit from fake sustainability. Dig deep and research into brands manufacturing practices or alternatively, you can also look online for lists of trusted sustainable cosmetic companies.

Luckily certain businesses are actively reviewing their own manufacturing practices. In 2021 Brands L’Oreal, Henkel, LVMH, Natura&Co, and Unilever collaborated to co-design an environmental impact assessment and scoring system. This Product Impact Labelling system will allow consumers to see the direct impact of their products. This transparency will go a long way to help consumers in choosing the best sustainable products. Other brands such as Garnier has partnered with TerraCycle on a free recycling programme that allows them to recycle what usually cannot. Achieving true sustainability will be a long and tricky road but working together with consumers the beauty industry can change.

If you are considering changing up your make-up and skin care routine, here are some more tips to make your routine green.


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