What’s on the outside is just as important as the inside.
That’s the message that more and more consumers are sending to the mass-market beauty industry. They applaud manufacturer efforts to clean up formulas, eliminating potentially toxic ingredients. Now the focus shifts to packaging with a clarion call for sustainability.
The personal care/beauty category is among one of the most serious packing-waste offenders, according to many industry officials. Consumers tend to recycle grocery containers, but toss shampoos and other personal care items in their garbage bins. Even if they do recycle, many of the products have decorations on them that must be scrubbed off to be accepted at recycling centers.
The industry is on a path to contribute 12 billion tons of plastic to landfills by 2050, according to the Sea Education Foundation. “Nonrecyclable packaging is the biggest issue in sustainable beauty with over 120 billion units [of] packaging produced annually on a global level,” said Stacey Levine, director of brand marketing at Brooklyn-based Eva NYC, citing information from Marketing Tech’s 2020 insights. “Plus, only 9% of plastics actually get recycled,” she said, citing additional information from Unenvironment.org.
Citing a November 2018 Futerra study, Levine noted that 88% of consumers want brands to help them be more sustainable and ethical, yet 43% said they believe brands are actually making it harder.
The situation is exacerbated by the multitude of single-use plastics in samples that have traditionally been used in beauty product trials. The usage bumped up during COVID as in-store testers were sealed up.
Mirroring the challenges of “clean” formulas, sustainable packaging faces hurdles of its own. While brands might call their containers “recyclable,” the hard facts are many people are not compliant. That is ushering a call to look at other solutions, ranging from materials made out of ingredients like mushrooms, plantable packaging, packaging that dissolves or no outside packaging at all. Reusable and refillable containers also are moving to the forefront.
Shoppers will reward the brands taking a stand. According to a survey conducted by New York-based Bazaarvoice, 84% of respondents said they believe brands have a responsibility to “protect people and the planet” by offering sustainable initiatives. While 86% indicated they would buy a product from a new brand that is sustainable over remaining loyal to their usual brand.
Further support for the movement comes from New York-based trendspotter Spate. Searches for sustainability tracked by Spate have increased 18.5% year-over-year from 2018 to now.
“Brands have been able to mostly ignore the need for more sustainable practices for years because the consumer was not demanding it,” noted Brooke Harvey-Taylor, founder of Carpinteria, Calif-based Pacifica. “However, now as the consumer becomes more invested in their own health and the practices of the brands they purchase from, companies are finally forced to make this sustainable shift. In 2021, customers do not want to purchase products from brands that don’t reflect their values.”
The pandemic hastened consumer demand for products to help them live healthier, but also more meaningful lives. “We are seeing that environmental concerns and the link between health and products applied to the skin have been increasingly top of mind for consumers. The pandemic seems to have accelerated these attitudes and are driving brand choices as more consumers shop ‘for good,’” said Allison Grossman, a cofounder of Boulder, Co.-based The Seaweed Bath Co., which recently added Rite Aid to its distribution list.
Rite Aid has been one of the mass market’s most aggressive retailers, seeking out lines with responsible formulas and eco-minded packaging. “What we are doing in beauty ties directly to our new brand mission to fuse traditional medicine and alternative remedies, providing people with products for a healthy mind, spirit and body,” said Erik Keptner, Rite Aid’s chief merchandising and marketing officer. Within that framework, the Camp Hill, Pa.-based retailer is on the hunt for clean and sustainable brands, he said.
Target, Ulta Beauty, Walmart, CVS Pharmacy and Walgreens also are among the leading retailers calling for brands to continue to tweak formulas to remove certain items while also taking a closer look at packages. Target has sustainable standards to help brands craft their formulas and packages.
There won’t be overnight solutions, but here are what some major mass-market brands are doing.
From its founding 25 years ago, Pacifica put sustainability, better ingredients, and more equitable treatment of the planet and all beings at the core of its mission.
“When Pacifica first started in the late ’90s, this was very revolutionary in the beauty industry. I am really proud to say that we have been one of the brands leading the push to make meaningful changes, whether it has been around sourcing the best, cleanest ingredients or more ecologically friendly packaging,” said founder Harvey-Taylor. She recalled when she went into a leading cosmetic component manufacturer seven years ago and asked what they offered that was recyclable or used PCR (post-consumer resin). “They put two things in front of me. One of the items was a plastic lipstick component wrapped in paper. I said this is not recyclable. Their answer was, ‘the consumer doesn’t know that.’”
A few of Pacifica’s advancements include migrating to PCR, glass, FSC paper (Forest Stewardship Council, an organization that promotes the practice of sustainable forestry) and aluminum as a way to remove thousands of pounds of virgin plastic from the waste stream.
Bondi Sands, sold at mass doors that include Rite Aid, Target, CVS Pharmacy, Ulta Beauty and Walgreens, partnered with Take 3 for the Sea to support their efforts in educating communities on the impact of plastic pollution. Bondi Sands donated $2.33 for every online order to Take 3 for the Sea in the month of April.
The brand also debuted Pure, a 100% recyclable line of self-tanning products made entirely from recycled materials.
The parent company of essence and Catrice, Cosnova, is using PCR in its cosmetics packaging. The German-based company linked up with environmental service provider Interseroh to help Cosnova reach a goal of producing at least 50% of all packaging from recycled plastics by 2025. According to the company, totally eliminating plastics isn’t always the best solution, and when kept in the cycle properly, manufacturing with plastic is still more environmentally friendly than some of the market options to replace it.
“That’s why we are focusing on recycled, reprocessed material, which, of course, has to meet our high standards for the packaging of our products at the same time. There is also a need to raise awareness of the importance of correct disposal and recycling for the environment and the climate,” said Axel Geiger, executive expert purchase and packaging at Cosnova. Efforts already have saved Cosnova around 132 metric tons of new plastic per year.
Brianne West was a student in New Zealand when she realized that up to 75% of shampoos and as high as 90% of conditioners were mostly water. “Every year we send 80 billion plastic bottles to the landfill each year just from shampoo and conditioner alone. It just seemed crazy to me. Why do we put water in our products when we have water in our shower? By removing the water, we can get rid of plastic packaging,” said West, who used that “aha” moment to launch Ethique in 2012.
Teaching herself chemistry, she researched ingredients in hair care that could be used to produce effective shampoo bars. Now the brand has a solid version for most bathroom, home and kitchen products.
U.S. shoppers are ready to accept bars, West said. “Consumers are demanding better from their brands and brands are listening — almost every large hair care brand has some version of a shampoo bar now in the market,” she said.
Her brand is a trailblazer going beyond hair with new personal care concentrates. “The fact that within less than two weeks we had sold out of our concentrate range and had over 3,000 people on the waiting list shows just how much people are willing to embrace new sustainable initiatives and products,” she said. “This isn’t a trend; this is a revolution.”
Eva NYC recently relaunched its hair care portfolio in aluminum packaging that’s 100% recyclable. “We chose aluminum as the material is 100% recyclable, forever. Unlike plastic, aluminum can continue to be recycled again and again, and be back on the shelf in as little as 60 days, ensuring Eva NYC’s products wouldn’t end up in landfill or the ocean,” Levine said.
Consumers are accepting the aluminum, Levine confirmed. “We’ve received an influx of positive feedback, praising the switch to aluminum packaging, the fun and playful new design, and the clean and sustainable product education prominently on packaging,” Levine said. The effort has resulted in double-digit year-over-year growth.
The packaging dovetails with Eva NYC’s clean formulas. The clean beauty brand always has been 100% cruelty-free (Leaping Bunny certified), and as of 2021 all of its products are also certified vegan and non-GMO, as well as are free of parabens, phthalates and sulfates.
Eva NYC is sold on its own website, as well as at Target, Ulta Beauty and Sally Beauty, along with other mass and specialty retailers.
The brand set out an actionable five-year commitment by 2024 that includes 100% recyclable aluminum packaging, recyclable and reusable tools packaging, offsetting carbon emissions, and culminating in coveted B-Corp Certification.
The Honest Company
More proof of demand for natural comes on the heels of The Honest Company’s recent initial public offering. The company announced it was aiming for a valuation of $1.5 billion.
Jessica Alba founded the Los Angeles-based company with the premise that “consumers shouldn’t have to choose between what works and what is good for you.” Honest Company brands are in more than 32,000 retail locations, including Walmart, Target, Walgreens and Pharmaca.
The world’s largest beauty company revealed bold sustainability goals last year. As far as packaging, the company said 100% of the plastics used in L’Oréal’s products’ packaging will be either from recycled or bio-based sources by 2030.
The latest example of its numerous efforts to be eco-friendlier comes from its Carol’s Daughter division and a new Black Vanilla Luscious Moisture Shampoo Bar.
Love Beauty and Planet
Love Beauty and Planet was launched by Unilever with responsible formulas and sustainable packaging baked into its DNA. All formulas are naturally derived and technologies such as fast-rinsing capabilities reduce water usage.
Most recently, the brand announced the introduction of the first aluminum refillable hair care for the mass market. Target is the first to offer new packages in store and online. Love Beauty and Planet also markets Vegan Shampoo Bars, which feature a shampoo and conditioner in one, encased in a recyclable box that is almost plastic free.
“Since our launch in 2018, we’ve been on a journey to help make you and the planet cleaner, greener and more beautiful,” said Sonika Malhotra, cofounder and global brand director at Love Beauty and Planet. “We’re focused on making thoughtfully crafted beauty accessible to everyone, but we know there is a lot more work to do.”
By 2030, 100% of its product and packaging portfolio will allow for planet-friendly disposal. The brand also will continue to invest in recycling access and collection across all markets it serves. There is a commitment to net zero emissions by 2030 from sourcing to sale.
Building upon responsible raw material choices sourced from renewable plant resources, Seaweed Bath’s bottles are made from 100% post-consumer plastic and are recyclable. The brand is debuting its first sunscreen collection with three SPF formulas, featuring such beneficial skin care ingredients as watermelon extract, aloe and green tea, as well as its hero bladderwrack seaweed. “Sun care has been our most requested product from customers since we launched,” Grossman said.
A cohort of beauty competitors bonded together for a new initiative called #WeAreAllies on a pledge to offer recyclable and refillable packaging by 2025. The brands include Biossance, Caudalie, Herbivore and Youth to the People.
Another collaboration called the Pact Collective is a nonprofit recycling program dedicated exclusively to the beauty industry. It is driven by four founding members: Credo Beauty, MOB Beauty, Hudson’s Bay and Element Packaging.