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Recycling take-back schemes for cosmetics and personal care products are a vital shared step on the path to NET positive

By Emma Meredith

Whether you were overwhelmed or underwhelmed by the recent COP26 event in Glasgow, one thing we can all agree on is its central rallying cry: we all now need to take urgent action to help protect our world.

The path to a sustainable future will be a monumental shared effort. A point really reinforced by the latest COP.  It will be catalysed by policymaker commitments; conceived and created by the companies and institutions that will empower us to go about our everyday lives in more sustainable ways; and it will be underpinned by us, as consumers, whose different, daily actions will all add up to meaningful change.

The UK cosmetics and personal care industry takes its part in leading that change extremely seriously. We have the unique privilege of being a part of the fabric of peoples’ daily self-care, from oral care to personal hygiene, from make-up to sun protection. It is a privilege that offers us a unique opportunity: we have the chance to help people to take care of our planet as they take care of themselves. To create positive change, every single day.

It was, therefore, very inspiring last week to be able to convene a ground-breaking roundtable on cosmetic packaging take-back schemes, in order to progress exactly the kind of joined-up thinking and action on sustainability that COP26 called for.

Our industry is already innovating to reduce or remove unnecessary packaging, and enable reuse and refill models where appropriate, but alongside this, the challenge of certain types of cosmetic packaging not being recycled must also be addressed. This is because some packaging is too small or too difficult to recycle with our usual recycling at home, for example some make-up packaging or small cosmetic bottles. As you would expect, many CTPA members have, or are considering, take-back schemes, where consumers return packaging to dedicated collection points. But with a more collaborative approach, the awareness of such schemes and the quantity of packaging recovered can be increased, and maximum value added to the material recovered.

One of the ways CTPA is helping to expedite this change is by working with the Recycle Now team at WRAP to add cosmetic packaging terms onto its Recycling Locator tool. The aim is to increase the number of cosmetic brands that are highlighting this opportunity to their consumers and encourage this form of recycling for currently unrecycled cosmetics packaging.  The Recycling Locator Tool is already up and running with brands adding the locations for their schemes, and we are looking forward to making more gains in the months ahead.  You can enter the items you want to recycle by packaging type and the Recycling Locator Tool will let you know the collection points nearest to you.  These tend to be in retail outlets, meaning you can take the packaging along when you are next making a visit there. 

WRAP’s Recycling Locator Tool is a simple idea that has incredible convening power. By design, it brings together diverse stakeholders who can each play a clear role towards a common aim. From the organisations designing and operating the scheme, to the companies and brands promoting it to their customers; to consumers who make small changes to their habits, and a big difference to the planet.

The same collaborative spirit behind the Tool played out at the roundtable last week. The Resources and Waste Minister at Defra, Jo Churchill MP, Defra officials, representatives from WRAP UK, OPRL, Flexible Plastic Fund and Terracycle - as well as industry representatives and other cross-sector organisations representing cosmetic and toiletry brands and retailers, all came together to review the progress made on take-back schemes, and map out ways to build on this, together.

As we turn all of last week’s ideas into tomorrow’s actions, CTPA takes another important step forward with its Sustainability Strategy, Driving Towards a Net Positive Cosmetics Industry’. Importantly, moving forward with others means we can go even faster, on take-back schemes, and beyond.

Read the press release about the roundtable event here.