‘Naked’ soap, refillable lipstick: to use less plastic, the beauty industry pivots to recycling and refill options
- L’Occitane has launched recycling and refill options, Dior has a refillable bottle for one of its fragrances, and Lush sells wrapper-free soaps and shampoo bars
- Major beauty companies are responding to growing customer awareness of the importance of environmental and ethical issues
As plastics horror stories pile up, consumers across the world are turning away from the modern convenience of plastic packaging – or at least trying to avoid single-use plastic as much as they can.
British brand The Body Shop has declared it wants refillable bottles and containers to become mainstream, and began introducing filler stations in its shops worldwide in April 2021. Six are planned for Hong Kong this year.
These companies are in tune with many consumers’ sentiments. For her part, marketing and public relations professional Jaclyn Tsang is horrified by the amount of plastic waste produced every day. The Hong Kong resident buys products that are as sustainable as possible – preferably those with refill options.
“I stopped using mascara for a while because I couldn’t find anything on the market,” she says. Lipsticks were a problem for her for a long time and, rather than throwing her nearly finished lipsticks away, Tsang kept them.
“I’ve become the ultimate trash lady,” she says. “I’ve kept a stack, waiting for the day when someone will recycle them. It keeps me a lot more conscious about what I’m using from day to day.”
“I think people are becoming more aware; people do ask,” she says, when they see her using sustainable products. “It gets people to rethink.”
Jane Zhang, an analyst at market research provider Euromonitor International, sees the evolution of refillable packaging as a consequence of the growing awareness of the importance of environmental and ethical issues.
“This has prompted industry players to take action,” she adds, noting that some consumers preferred recyclable to refillable options, perhaps because some refillable packaging options are also made of plastic.
In early 2021, L’Occitane opened a Mega Sustainability Concept Store in Hong Kong’s Pacific Place shopping centre, an outlet that markets wrapper-free soap and accepts plastic containers (from L’Occitane and other brands) for recycling. The company has announced that, by 2025, all its bottles will be made of recycled plastic and since March 2020, 92 per cent of its packaging material has been recyclable.
It can be difficult for consumers to understand the sustainability of, and relative worth of, various green options. This company uses refillable glass containers, but how does the energy cost of shipping heavier glass factor in? That company offers refill sachets made of plastic, but it is recycled.
“Greenwashing” – when companies promote so-called environmentally sound policies or packaging – has also emerged in the beauty market. In April 2021, Korean beauty brand Innisfree acknowledged the words “Hello I’m paper” on a plastic container could be misleading. “We used the term ‘paper bottle’ to explain the role of the paper label surrounding the bottle,” Innisfree told The Korea Herald.
Aesop also sells screw-top versions of its pump bottle hand and body cleansing products – each pump, the firm says, is made of 12 grams (0.4 ounces) of plastic. “Our packaging team,” Aesop says, “is continuing to research refill and circular solutions that demonstrate a tangible environmental benefit while also maintaining product quality.”