Sustainability In The Beauty Industry

Today we’re looking at how sustainable the body and hair care industry is, the effects it has on the environment, whether beauty products come in sustainable packaging or not and what to look for from the best plastic-free beauty products.

How sustainable is the beauty industry?

As things stand, the beauty industry as a whole is not a particularly sustainable one. Billions of units of beauty products do not come in sustainable packaging, i.e. packaging that can either be largely recycled or disposed of cleanly and without detrimental effect to the planet. 

That being said, in recent times there has been a shift towards sustainability from some corners of the industry, with many different brands offering what at least appear to be more sustainable options than before. It’s fair to say that there is an element of greenwashing (deceptive marketing a company employs to make themselves look more sustainable or environmentally friendly than they truly are) by some brands in a cynical attempt to cash in on this particular hot potato. 

An illuminating example of greenwashing can be seen in the case of a beauty company that was marketing a bottle for one of their products as being made of paper. However, much to their embarrassment, it transpired that underneath this fibrous paper facade was a standard plastic bottle. It’s not exactly easy to explain away this sort of deception, and while the company apologised for misleading consumers and assured them that the bottle actually used around half the amount of plastic of a regular one, there was a big question lurking in the background - how sustainable can a brand be if they’re using plastic packaging at all? 

Even without taking the bottle itself into consideration, the pump of this particular beauty product was made of plastic and coloured green. As we’ve mentioned before, coloured plastics have an even smaller chance of actually being recycled than the preferred options - transparent and white - because it’s not cost-effective to do so. 

All this goes to show that the beauty industry currently has sustainability issues and that is largely down to the sheer volume of plastic used to package products and help protect profit margins. 

How does the beauty industry affect the environment?

The beauty industry is not alone in its detrimental effect on the world around us, but it is a significant contributor to several environmental issues. 

The first problem can be found with the ingredients used to make certain products. If we look at palm oil as an example, it’s a hugely popular ingredient found in a whole host of beauty products. As it’s both cost-effective and useful, many companies use it and as a result, there’s a huge amount of demand. The issue then becomes about whether the palm oil they use is sustainable or not. Companies that want to penny-pinch at the cost of the environment are contributing towards deforestation, a major component of climate change.

The next issue is packaging. We’ve talked a lot about plastic in this and recent blogs because it remains a huge problem. A startlingly small amount of plastic is actually recycled - the rest is either incinerated, put in a landfill or tossed in the ocean. As the plastic degrades, potentially toxic microplastics are leached into the air, land and sea and start wreaking havoc on the local flora and fauna. The effects can range from dead marine and land animals who consumed too much plastic, to humans eating fruit and vegetables that absorbed microplastics from the soil they grew in. 

Finally, it’s worth considering the emissions pumped out by both the manufacturing and logistical side of the beauty industry. Sustainable packaging is great, but where are the products coming from? If they’re made far away, think about how much energy is required to get them to your door as the carbon footprint of each company can vary massively. 

How much waste does the beauty industry produce?

While it’s difficult to pinpoint an exact figure, the unfortunate truth is that we’re looking at millions of tons of plastic waste produced every year. In 2015, this figure was reported to be 146 million tonnes of plastic alone - this doesn’t take other materials into consideration that are disposed of rather than recycled.

That said, sustainability is a hot button issue right now and there are companies who care about trying to reduce the impact that the beauty industry has on the planet. The issue is that the industry is enormous, spans the globe and is currently pumping out over 120 billion units of plastic packaging every year. 

Is the beauty industry doing enough to tackle plastic pollution?

As a whole, no, not really. However, it’s a little unfair to lump all companies in together, as the beauty industry is made up of thousands of brands all competing against each other. There are no meetings where all these brands decide what to do and which direction to go in when it comes to sustainability. Some brands take it seriously and do what they can, while others seemingly ignore it. Packaging is regulated by the government guidelines of whichever region or country a brand operates in, so it makes the most sense to pressure the people who set the rules. 

Here at Nereus London, we’re happy to go on the record as saying that we hate plastic. We don’t use any of it in our packaging or containers and plan on never doing so (unless it miraculously becomes an environmentally friendly material that can be constantly and entirely recycled, of course). We decided to make our bottles from aluminium, which is an infinitely recyclable material, and our packaging is recycled corrugate, which is also recyclable. 

In addition to our own practices, we decided to partner up with the progressive company Plastic Bank to make sure that we were having a plastic-negative impact on the world. As a result, for every bottle of Nereus London sold, Plastic Bank will recover a kilogramme of ocean-bound plastic and make sure that it gets properly processed and recycled. That works out at around 50 500ml plastic bottles. 

What are the best plastic-free beauty products?

The answer here depends on your perspective. If we’re talking about the best in terms of sustainability, then products that are made from ethically sourced ingredients, packaged in recycled or recyclable containers and are manufactured locally to you, are probably ideal. This is the best way to guarantee that the impact these products have on the international and local environment is minimal, as well as making sure that their carbon footprint isn’t particularly large either. 

If we’re talking about performance, which should also play a big part in your consumer decision, then you need to look for clean beauty products that contain natural active ingredients. Not only are these ingredients better for your skin, hair and body, but they also don’t result in harsh chemicals being washed down the drain and potentially into the local environment. 

Here at Nereus London, our desire is to bring you products that truly blend sustainability with luxury and performance. We’ve won awards for some of our products, we make them in Britain and we try to implement sustainable practices at every step of the journey. Learn more about our approach or feel free to check out the Nereus London range.