Green Beauty or The Unbearable Lightness of Being Green

In order to begin a discussion on Green Beauty, one can only start with plastic. This material is generally considered the starting point for any discussion on ecology, pollution, and other environmental issues our world is facing. In the United States, almost 70% of plastic waste is not recycled. Instead, according to the EPA, it ends up in landfills. The overall value of the global packaging market is estimated to be between $860 and $917 billion according to the latest Smithers study. Research from The Future of Global Packaging to 2024 shows that the demand for packaging will increase by 2.8%, and exceed a value of $1.05 trillion in 2024.

Packaging is the leading cause of plastic waste and pollution: 141 million tons per year, compared to 42 million in the textile sector.

In the beauty industry, the main material used for packaging is plastic. As demonstrated by revenue data in 2019, plastic represents about 56.3 percent of the overall market share. The cosmetic packaging market was valued at $26,29 billion in 2019 and is expected to reach $32.86 billion by 2025.

Global Cosmetics Packaging Market Revenue Share (%), By Material Type, in 2019

The most common type of plastic used for cosmetic containers is PP plastic. However, PET plastic (cheaper) or a high-end acrylic plastic which usually transparent, such as glass, is often used as well. Even though manufacturers look for options to reduce costs (via material used per product or transportation) plastic remains a lightweight and inexpensive packaging solution. Incidentally, given the increasing use of online channels for purchasing beauty products-according to data from Edison Trends, Health and Beauty was the third most purchased category on Amazon in 2018. Plastic is still preferred over other materials, e.g., glass, which breaks more easily and weighs more.

Is There Such a Thing as ‘Green Packaging’?

Green packaging exists of recycled, reusable and degradable materials. Grandview research showed that the market size for green packaging (within all sectors, not just cosmetics) was $274.2 billion in 2020, about 30 percent of the overall market value. The “recycled” segment held the largest share of approximately 61.4 percent in 2019. Plastic is still prominently used for two reasons: it is cost-efficient, and offers packaging oppertunities that materials such as paper cannot yet provide. In the green sector, plastics will also continue to grow, with the adoption of flexible bags of packaging in various sectors.

In this market, paper is the second most recycled material, as it is easily accessible as well as recognizable by consumers. The use of paper packaging is increasing due to advanced features, such as waterproofing through laminates and coatings.

Some of the leading suppliers of green packaging are Ball Corporation, Amcor, Tetra Laval, Nampak, Mondi, Be Green Packaging and Evergreen Packaging.

Is recycling plastic a solution?

Leyla Acaroglu, designer and sustainability innovator, states in her TED Talk that there is no universal consensus on “best” or “worst” materials. Materials have varying relative impacts in different environmental metrics.

Some materials release fewer greenhouse gas emissions but require more water or fertilizer. In general, plastic requires less, water and fertilizer usage than alternatives such as paper, aluminum, cotton or glass. What is damaging is to focus attention on negligible contributions – how could we forget the campaign against the use of plastic straws? – risking diverting our attention from the large-scale changes we need. For example, recycling plastic is better than incinerating it or throwing it in landfills. However, it is important to note that most plastics can only be recycled once or a few times before they end up in landfills or are incinerated. The idea that recycled plastic has no impact (and can therefore be used indefinitely) is a lie.

If effective waste management systems were put in place all across the globe, the plastic at risk of entering the ocean could decrease by more than 80 percent.

Founded in The Netherlands, the LCA Center discovered that if refillable containers were used for cosmetics, up to 70 percent of the carbon emissions associated with the beauty industry could be eliminated.

To address this emergency, some of the largest multinationals, such as Unilever and L’Oreal, have joined the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s New Plastics Economy goals. The work that still needs to be done is enormous. L’Oreal stated that they have increased the percentage of recycled plastic in their overall packaging by 19 percent in 2018 compared to the previous year.

These efforts get to see the light of day at the same time as governments and institutions are adopting various solutions from a regulatory perspective (such as banning the sale of cotton-fioc, straws, and balloon sticks).

Since 2008, Article 6 of the EU Packaging Waste Directive mandated that each country must ‘recover’ (including waste incineration) between 55 percent and 80 percent of their packaging materials. This includes rates of 60 percent for glass, paper, and cardboard; 50 percent for metals; 22.5 percent for plastics; and 15 percent for wood. In 2018, with regard to plastic, almost every European country exceeded the 22.5 percent threshold. Lithuania has the highest rate of approximately 70 percent and Italy is reaching above 40 percent.

Yet, in the period 2008-2018, packaging waste generation increased considerably. In 10 years, cardboard and plastic were the main waste materials as both increased by approximately 15 percent; glass remained stable and increased by merely 2.7 percent. In comparison to 2008, the total volume of packaging waste generated per inhabitant increased by 12.4 kg in 2018, reaching a peak of 174.0 kg per inhabitant.

Plastic Alternatives

Approximately 20 years ago at Lush Cosmetics – aware that shampoo is made mainly of water – they decided to get rid of the bottle by incorporating the main ingredients into a solid bar. “At first, people didn’t understand how to use it, or what it was,” says Brandi Halls, director of communications at Lush. “But it was really exciting to teach them to see things differently.” Today Lush is launching Cork Pot, 100% biodegradable and sustainable: a portion of the profits go to regenerating native cork oak forests in southern Portugal, and the packaging is even transported by sailboats!

Olay recently announced that it will test its Regenerist Whip moisturizer in refillable packs for three months. Anitra Marsh, Associate Director of Brand Communications for Global Skin and Personal Care Brands at Procter & Gamble, announced that if this pilot project is successful, P&G will expand it to more product categories.

In 2019, The Body Shop installed two charging stations for its products at concept stores on Bond Street in London and Pacific Center in Vancouver. Now, The Body Shop is expanding its charging and recycling program with 400 stations worldwide by the end of the year. The brand is planning to have all its stores equipped within the next five years.

Other companies are investigating ways to provide refills in strong, long-lasting containers, preferably not made of plastic. For instance, Kjaer Weiss, a Danish makeup brand, spent years developing a metal case that would transfer the sense of “luxury beauty” while being refillable. Lipstick or foundation trays are interchangeable and are sold in biodegradable packaging. And the refillable trays are packaged with biodegradable materials “to create something lasting and sublime, without feeding the buy-and-discard mentality,” in the founder’s words.

The ‘Green’ Beauty Within The Package

According to recent research, perfumes, hairsprays and deodorants pollute the environment as much as car emissions. The British Beauty Council’s report, Courage to Change 2020, is unequivocal: “The industry must play its part in bringing about bold and urgent change. Consumers expect this to happen.” 

Globally, the value of the natural cosmetics market was $34.5 billion in 2018, with an estimate projected to increase to about $54.5 billion by the year 2027 (nearly doubling), reflecting the growing importance of the green beauty market.

In order to be considered natural, the product must meet non-toxicity standards in its ingredients and processing. Because there is no strict regulation in the field of green beauty, the disparity between private standards and administrative interpretations leaves a potentially dangerous loophole open for consumers.

But there are ingredients that with absolute certainty are not natural. Ever heard of micro-plastics?

Since their appearance in cosmetics 50 years ago, plastics have spread widely in cosmetic formulations and replaced natural options. Their use goes far beyond scrubs: they are found in toothpastes, deodorants, shampoos, conditioners, shower gels, hair coloring, shaving creams, sunscreens, baby care products, etc. Microbeads are present in various percentages, ranging from 1 percent to more than 90 percent in some cases, and after use cannot be collected and recycled or decompose in wastewater treatment systems.

Researchers investigate the impact of micro-plastics on the marine environment and their effect on health through the food chain, including the consumption of seafood.

Per far fronte a questa emergenza nel 2012 North Sea Foundation e Plastic Soup Foundation hanno lanciato l’app Beat the Microbead che, oggi disponibile in 7 lingue, permette ai consumatori di verificare se i prodotti per la cura della persona contengono micro plastiche scansionando il codice a barre dei prodotti.  Negli Stati Uniti, l’Illinois è diventato il primo stato ad emanare una legge che vieta la produzione e la vendita di prodotti contenenti micro plastiche. Paesi Bassi, Austria, Lussemburgo, Belgio e Svezia hanno lanciato un appello congiunto per vietare le microplastiche utilizzate nei prodotti per la cura della persona. Alcune grandi multinazionali come Unilever, Johnson & Johnson e The Body Shop hanno annunciato che smetteranno di usare le micro-plastiche.

To address this emergency in 2012, North Sea Foundation and Plastic Soup Foundation launched the Beat the Microbead app, which, now available in 7 languages, allows consumers to have a check on whether personal care products contain micro plastics by scanning the products’ barcode. In the United States, Illinois became the first state to enact a law banning the manufacture and sale of products containing micro plastics. The Netherlands, Austria, Luxembourg, Belgium and Sweden have launched a joint call to ban microplastics used in personal care products. Some large multinational companies such as Unilever, Johnson & Johnson, and The Body Shop have announced that they will stop using micro-plastics.

Not Just Naturally, But Socially Responsible

There are several problems facing the industry, including social issues.

According to recent investigations, cosmetics may contain minerals from uncontrolled supply chains, where child labor is often exploited, as the Guardian reported in an investigation of children working in mica mines in Madagascar. “What is Mica?” is the name given to a group of silicate minerals – there are more than 37 types of mica, used in many industries, such as automotive, electronics, and plastics. In the beauty industry, mica is used as a base for powder formulations to achieve the glitter effect. These minerals are mined through various methods, often in illegal mines and often through forced labor. 

Beauty Counter has pledged to address this issue “We have seen continuous reports about these serious human rights violations and, unfortunately, there has been no substantial progress. So, we have inspected our supply chain and, together with our suppliers, we are supporting the ‘responsible’ part of our supply chain.” Their website reads. “We cannot do this alone. So, we have established global partnerships for mica supply.”

Are we able to give up glittering our eyelids? Maybe we are. We could certainly give up palm oil.

Palm oil is found in everything from chips, to pills, to pet food, and has even ended up in beauty and personal care products, replacing petroleum-based or animal-derived ingredients, because of its foaming and moisturizing properties. Intensive palm cultivation has negative effects on biodiversity and the wildlife ecosystem. But there is another dark side. The Associated Press conducted an investigation to have a look at the working conditions of women in palm oil production in Indonesia and Malaysia, which are the main exporters of this food. According to the AP, women in Indonesia are often “casual” workers, hired on a daily basis, with their jobs and pay not guaranteed. But even worse, many are victims of brutal treatment, from verbal harassment to threats of sexual assault.

The Struggle for Inclusion Also Passes Through Beauty

The aforementioned The Body Shop was founded in 1976 at the initiative of Anita Lucia Roddick, a human rights activist and environmental advocate. During her leadership, the company was one of the first to ban the use of animal-tested ingredients and to promote fair trade with developing countries. The Body Shop pioneered CSR in the UK, creating a viral marketing strategy that relied on consumers to spread the word.

Primo AD CSR di Body Shop Tre spazzole per capelli come alberi

Great Britain’s corporate outreach has been passing through the hands (mouths) of consumers for centuries: in 1790, the East India Company was hit by the first consumer boycott over sugar harvested from slaves, forcing it to switch to sources of free labor supply. In addition, famous British companies such as Barclays and Cadbury were founded on Quaker principles of socially responsible businesses.

The term CSR was coined in 1953 by U.S. economist Howard Bowen in his book Social Responsbility Of The Businessman. In the United States, Ben & Jerry’s, whose advertising campaigns supported gay rights and anti-capitalism demonstrations, took CSR into new territory in 1989 when the company commissioned a “social auditor” to interview everyone in the company and publish his findings.

The Body Shop lost many of their consumers following its sale to L’Oréal in 2006. Natura purchased the brand in 2017 with a promise to return The Body Shop to its “activist roots.” In its reborn format, The Body Shop together with Natura created the “MoreThanYouSee” movement on behalf of people in the LGBTQIA+ community. Its launch came during the airing of the first virtual LGBTQIA + Pride Parade in São Paulo, in collaboration with Natura’s LGBTQIA + collective known as “Natura in Colors.” The film, aired in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Equador, Mexico and Peru, is narrated by singer Liniker, a Brazilian artist of color and transgender.

Brands Need to Communicate With Integrity

In order to win the competition in the crowded beauty and personal care market, there is no doubt that natural and organic will be buzzwords. But when it comes to decoding what all these words mean, 1 in 5 people do not know how to check a product’s sustainability credentials. Consumers are demanding more information about the ingredients and the supply chain. More than 90 percent of UK customers think that beauty companies should include clearer language on their packaging. 

For example, what does the word ‘organic’ mean? Unfortunately, regulations in the U.S. admit that merely 10% of the ingredients need to be organic for the product to be claimed as “made with organic ingredients.”   

The common biological standard COSMOS Organic, sets this threshold at 95 percent.

Also read: The green essence of Herbal Essences marketing.

Today, governments are beginning to regulate the sector. In November, the Competition and Markets Authority identified the beauty sector as a strategic target in the global fight against greenwashing. The regulator warned that it would recall any “use of complex or slang language” and any “exaggeration of the positive environmental impact of a product or service.”

For companies in the industry, it is an opportunity to be able to show that the ingredients used are safe and effective for the user, to demonstrate the positive social impact on the supply chain, as well as the effect on customer and employee empowerment, as Jessi Baker notes in Forbes.

It will not be easy, but there seems to be no alternative.

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