Published: 21 April 2022  (Updated: 22 April 2022)

BLOG: Sustainable Beauty Is Easier Than You Think

From refill options to take-back schemes, we can all do our bit for the planet.

By Christine Lawson Sustainability Affairs Manager, CTPA

Recycling might feel like a fairly modern-day movement but refilling and recycling are concepts that can be tracked right back to ancient times.  The first recorded instance of paper recycling was in Japan in 1031.  While in the UK, Benjamin Law invented the “Shoddy Process” in 1813 which turned old clothes and rags into wool. Fast-forward again to 1977 and the first ever bottle bank was introduced into the UK.  Today recycling is a fast-growing household habit.


What’s my motivation?

The big difference between ancient and modern-day waste is the motivation for doing something about it.  When it was much harder to make things, it made sense to make the most of them.  Now, with mass-production common-place and a surplus of man-made ‘stuff’, removing packaging, repurposing and recycling has become critical to protect our planet, helping to reduce waste and harmful emissions.

Today more than eight out of ten of us (85%) say cosmetics and personal care products play an essential part in our lives, so how we choose to dispose of those everyday essentials is more important than ever.  It’s why product makers are creating new types of products, reducing packaging, making it reusable, and increasing the ways we can recycle - all the while exploring ways to make this more rewarding for us.  Here are just some of the reasons it’s now more pleasing to be green…


Refill and reap the benefits

We’ve all heard the very sound advice: “reduce, reuse, recycle”.  Cosmetic and toiletry makers are doing all they can to reduce the amount of packaging needed to keep products safe.  They’re also working hard to help you refill your favourites, and it’s well worth trying this out because refillable options are often offered at a lower price.

For some products, you’ll take your empty container back to a store, either to be refilled or swapped for a brand-new product.  For other refill products you have the option to buy something very thinly packaged, which you can decant into your original packaging at home.

Refillable products are usually designed with several refills in mind, so you can reap the benefits multiple times.  Just make sure that when your empty container is being refilled, you feel confident that it’s being done hygienically.


Take-back rewards for recycling

Have you tried a take-back scheme yet?  A growing number of retail stores, including supermarkets, chemists and beauty brand stores are encouraging their customers that take part in them.  Take-back schemes are a big plus for the planet because they enable us to deposit cosmetic packaging that wouldn’t otherwise be recycled.

The types of items you can recycle through these schemes are usually very small or complex, which is why they can’t be handled by the machinery at standard recycling points.  They include things like make-up compacts, lipsticks, mascaras, droppers from bottles, applicator brushes, pumps from certain spray bottles, and small containers for products under 50ml.  Some take-back schemes accept product sachets too.

The Recycle Now Locator tool is a great way to check where your nearest take-back scheme is and what you can take there.  While some brands offer a send-back postal service.  If you need some help with the best way to dispose of your favourites, you can always call the Customer Care line on your pack.


Take things back to make more things happen

As well as the short-term advantage of recycling small cosmetic packaging rather than it going to landfill, increasing the take-up of take-back schemes will also bring benefits in the longer-term.  At the moment, the small items recycled through the schemes are usually made into something utilitarian with mixed materials.  For example, a playground surface or bench.  This is because you need a critical mass of similar items to be able to convert those items back into high quality, cosmetics packaging.

Currently, the quantities of items being taken back are relatively small, so those items have to be mixed with other types of recycling.  However, the more items collected, the higher quality recycled material the cosmetics and personal care industry can recover, which means even less plastic being manufactured from scratch and efficiencies that can be passed on to consumers.


Novel formats with more environmental credentials

Lastly, it’s worth taking a look at the growing number of products on the market now that have been formulated and/or packaged with a more environmental emphasis.   So, you get a product you love even more, that also loves the planet.


A last word on rewards…

As the motivation for recycling has switched from conserving man-made resources to preserving the planet at large, it’s perhaps not surprising to see a growing emphasis by everyone from product makers, to packaging companies to politicians on how to make recycling as rewarding as possible.

There’s no question that going green can, and should, reap short and long-term rewards.  But of course, the knowledge that our daily acts of self-care are taking care of the world around us too is the biggest reward of all.


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