London Packaging Week: Insights from The Sustainable Beauty Coalition

London Packaging Week recently hosted a thought-provoking discussion titled “British Beauty Council in Conversation with The Sustainable Beauty Coalition: The Future of Packaging through an Environmental Lens.” The British Beauty Council, a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to addressing challenges in the beauty industry, created the Sustainable Beauty Coalition to champion eco-conscious practices across the sector. Chief Policy Officer at the British Beauty Council, Victoria Brownlie, and Sustainable Beauty Coalition Co-Chair, and co-founder of Elemis, Oriele Frank, took to the stage to shed light on the critical issue of waste within the beauty industry and the concerted efforts being made to tackle it.

“We all come from very different backgrounds, and we all have a different take on sustainability. What we found was that it was very difficult to come up with an action that everyone could be aligned on. We then decided that the biggest issue in our business is waste,” shared Oriole Frank.

Frank revealed that a staggering 120 billion units of beauty product packaging are created annually, with a shockingly low percentage being made from recycled materials or, indeed, recycled after use. The primary focus of the Sustainable Beauty Coalition became clear: waste reduction, resource management, and education.

Frank explained, “We will start with one focus. It is about waste reduction, waste resource management, and waste education. And what we’ve done is create task forces. It kicks off next week. The campaign will be about the ‘Great British Beauty Clean-Up’”, she added, “Everything should be about measuring. But if we can get everyone aligned, what could they do tomorrow to change the reduction of waste in their business?”

The campaign will include six task forces that highlight the industry’s critical role in this endeavour. Task forces 3 and 4, dedicated to professional wholesale businesses and retailers and brands, respectively, were positioned at the heart of the movement. It was noted that collaboration with beauty professionals, like hairdressers and therapists, who were already making strides in recycling, was crucial, “We’re bringing the community of hairdressers, beauty therapists, beauty salons, makeup artists into the wholesale industry piece.” The beauty industry was urged to unify its efforts to reduce waste across the board.

In addition to other vital aspects of their task force mission, there is a focus on government lobbying. Frank commended Victoria Brownlie’s role in knocking on the doors of policymakers to advocate for the industry’s sustainability goals. Legislation is viewed as a tool to drive change and align the beauty industry with environmental best practices.

Both speakers acknowledged the complexities of these challenges and the importance of staying ahead of legislation. They discussed the example of eliminating plastic sachets, an issue that has been on their radar for some time. Frank revealed an exciting R&D project using the by-product from one of Elemis’ product ingredients, starflower, to produce a bio-based sachet. This proactive stance demonstrates a commitment to anticipating and addressing environmental concerns before they become mandates, such as the inclusion of baby wipes in the ban on single-use plastics, which the industry had already anticipated and prepared for.

Plastic reduction is another significant piece of the puzzle, often vilified for its environmental impact. Frank recognised that plastic is a versatile material when used thoughtfully. However, the task force aims to determine alternative materials that can replace problematic plastic components and reduce the drain on finite fossil fuel resources.

Frank gave another example of how Elemis has quickly taken action to reduce waste by eliminating unnecessary items like plastic spatulas, “We actually went out and asked our consumers, do you use the spatulas? The majority said they use it once and then it sits on the side and gets put into the bin. So, overnight, we got rid of thousands and thousands of spatulas. And I’ve never had one complaint”. Elemis also transitioned from traditional multilingual paper leaflets to more sustainable QR codes without negatively impacting consumer satisfaction.

The task force discussion continued with the need for brands to reevaluate their packaging and the role retailers can play in supporting them to make the most suitable sustainable choices. Frank identified that the previous emphasis on large packaging for shelf presence is shifting toward smaller, more eco-conscious solutions and urged the industry to collectively reduce packaging, especially in areas such as gifting and promotional materials.

The circular economy element of the task force, another key driver within the industry, will look specifically at areas where beauty packaging can be returned, refilled, or repurposed, much like the classic milk bottle model. Industry-wide collaboration and consumer education were identified as key components in promoting these practices with recycling. Potentially controversial for some, identified as a last resort, Frank said, “What is the industry doing to help our brands to be better? Refill and reuse are a circular economy. After that is recycling, which is really the last thing we want to do.”

The conversation naturally shifted towards consumer awareness. Identifying that the industry recognises that consumers are often confused about recyclability. The Consumer Taskforce will work to improve transparency and education to help consumers make informed packaging choices.

Frank concluded by promoting the importance of measuring carbon footprint and Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) to understand where sustainable gains can be made, “We did our carbon footprinting three years ago. I had absolutely no idea where our greatest carbon footprint was”, she said then shared, “The greatest part of our carbon footprint is the actual people using our product.”

The Sustainable Beauty Coalition’s efforts to transform the beauty industry’s approach to packaging and waste reduction were clearly highlighted throughout the discussion as a vital step toward a more sustainable future. The beauty industry has come together to tackle its waste problem head-on with task forces, legislative advocacy, and a commitment to exploring environmentally responsible alternatives. The path ahead is challenging, but the commitment to change is clear. This is an industry in transition, recognising its environmental impact and working collectively to mitigate it. The beauty industry is not only striving to enhance its products but also its responsibility towards the planet.

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