What Are Sub Zero Waste Beauty Products?

It’s a hot trend in beauty. But what are sub zero waste beauty products?

By Chere Di Boscio

After a recent walk on a beach in west Africa, I was astounded by the amount of plastic on the shore. Most of it was, rather predictably, plastic water bottles. But second to this, I was rather surprised to realise that the bulk of the plastic pollution I saw was from beauty products.

Shampoo bottles, toothpaste tubes, toothbrushes, and tiny packages of cosmetic pots are responsible for a heartbreaking amount of plastic waste, and this has got to change.

We’ve written before about zero waste beauty products, and this concept is familiar to most product junkies and eco-warriors alike: we’re talking about beauty products with minimal, recycled or recyclable packaging, and refillable compacts or bottles. But now that that’s becoming the ‘new normal,’ clean consumers are demanding more: sub zero waste beauty products.

According to market intelligence agency Mintel, the zero waste philosophy will gain momentum in the global beauty and personal markets in the coming years, and as consumer awareness about the environmental impact of single-use plastics grows, so does demand for sub zero waste products. If you’re not familiar with the concept, think of it as a manner of offsetting the harm a product can do with an equal (or more) measure of good.

sub zero waste beauty products

Sub Zero Waste Beauty Brands

There are already several cosmetics brands testing sub zero waste ideas such as Lush, which opened its first totally packaging free stores this year. Procter & Gamble is also in on the game, making shampoo bottles that are not only recyclable themselves, are made by recycling beach plastic.

Pacific Shaving Company packages their products so they generate less waste (for example, their Shaving Oil takes up 95% less space than normal cans of shaving cream), but they also work with Trees for the Future to plant a tree for every purchase made, thus offsetting their carbon emissions.

Another brand that we’d consider sub-zero waste is Aveda. It the first ever beauty company to use post-consumer recycled PET in their packaging, and today, over 85% of their skincare and hair styling bottles contain 100% recycled materials. The brand is now experimenting with combining recycled plastic with plant-derived ones to make their tubes even more sustainable.

sub zero waste beauty products

Moving Beyond Waste

Sub zero waste is not just a trend; it’s a movement towards a new way of doing business in the beauty and personal care industries, and if brands don’t change their approach now, it’s likely they will become insignificant in the near future – and that’s not just our opinion. According to Andrew McDougall, associate director at Mintel Beauty & Personal Care:

“We’re seeing that some indie brands have the upper hand with regard to sustainable beauty as they have built their business practices around ethics and environmentally friendly practices. Larger brands must adopt new practices in order to catch up with these smaller, more nimble competitors.

“Consumers today are paying a lot more attention to their impact on the planet and climate change calls are more drastic than ever before. A bigger-picture focus is needed throughout the beauty and personal care industry supply chain for a true zero waste mentality.”

Although it’s wonderful that beauty brands are moving towards less packaging, having zero waste in this respect simply isn’t good enough. For example, what’s the point of having recycled packaging on a product that contains microbeads or glitter particles that pollute the oceans and end up in our drinking water?

Some brands are really getting it right, though. For example, the guys behind Danish brand grums: all of their clean beauty products use only totally natural materials, such as coffee grounds reclaimed from cafes and other commercial enterprises. Grums only uses plant based packaging – namely, a special kind of green ‘plastic’ made from sugar cane. Furthermore, the brand has its very own recycling program that allows customers to return an empty grums’ product to a grums’ retailer – and then you get a sweet 10% discount on a new grums’ product!

Lush is another company moving in the right direction – the beauty store is aiming at going 100% plastic free. Product inventor Alessandro Commisso says: “When we look at the plastic waste produced by the global cosmetics industry, we know it is a problem, and we know that raising awareness is really important. But we can’t talk about ditching packaging until we have a solution – an alternative that is effective, good for skin, and good for the environment.”

Although Lush has always been dedicated to reducing packaging, many of their products were actually sold in plastic containers – it was just that the customer had to fill them up from the ‘beauty deli’ bar, so it seemed the products were ‘raw’ – but honestly, it was a bit of greenwashing.

Lush as recently remedied this by creating totally plastic-free shops.

Currently in Milan and Berlin, for example, you can find a whole host of products like solid deodorants, shampoo bars and and facial cleansers that are truly ‘naked’, and if you need something to carry them home in, you can opt for regenerative cork containers  or vibrant Knot Wraps ensure your favourite, plastic-free goodies will get home ship shape.

That’s all great, but some may argue that packaging is needed for consumers to check ingredients lists. But Lush has that issue covered with their Lush Lens, an innovative AI product recognition tool that eliminates the need for packaging. Simply scan a zero waste shampoo bar, shower gel, or any other naked goodie, and you’ll be served up all the information you need on your smartphone.

Alessandro says: “This is the last step in our twenty year development of naked products, but it’s the first step in the development of what Lush could be twenty years from now. We’ve opened this up these spaces for debate, and we’re also inviting NGOs and activist groups that work on reducing waste and reducing plastic pollution into the store, so we hope that it’ll be an education for us and for our customers.”

Berlin Store Manager Lisa adds: “The Naked Shop is the cosmetics store of the future. It shows what cosmetics can look like if there are no plastic packaging. We are very much concerned with sustainability and plastic avoidance, so we are all very excited about the project. Our customers are also very interested in unpackaged products and we will offer an even wider selection of packaging-free alternatives”

For us, grums, Aveda, and Lush are great examples of the future of what sub-zero waste beauty should truly be: sustainable inside and out.

Chere Di Boscio
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4 thoughts on “What Are Sub Zero Waste Beauty Products?”

    Trash Hero World is a nonprofit organization committed to remove existing waste and reduce future waste by inspiring long-term behavior change.

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