It’s 2022 and given all the environmental challenges we’re facing, we all need to face the facts. And the beauty biz is no exception. According to Zero Waste Week, more than 120 billion units of cosmetic packaging are produced every year and 79% of it winds up in landfills. That’s 95 billion units in landfills each year. It’s egregious and irresponsible, but thankfully, due to new refillable packaging options, almost completely avoidable. While many indie brands like Hear Me Raw, Beast and Mob Beauty have come to market with refillable packaging, many of which were specifically created to address this issue, larger brands and companies have been slow to adapt to address this important issue. So, it’s now in the hands of us, purchasers of cosmetics, to help lead the change. To switch to refillable brands and force larger companies and brands to finally comply.
Why refillable packaging is best
Carefully engineered refillable packaging fully follow the 3 R’s of sustainability in order of positive impact to the environment: Reduce, Reuse and Recycle.
Refillable packaging reduces because refills don’t use the jars, lids, bottles, caps, discs and other packaging components for that first time product. That means fewer resources taken from the ground, less energy to turn those resources into jars and lids, and a lower footprint and less pollution to create them. When you think about all the skin care, hair care, body care, cosmetics, and fragrances you buy in one year, imagine all the packaging components that, if you used refills, wouldn’t need to be remanufactured.
HEAR ME RAW
Refillable packaging is based on the second R, reusing. Jars and bottles need to have a certain shape and weight to properly dispense product. But the formulas don’t have to be shipped in those same packages. Refills, even with the same volume or weight as the original product, can be significantly lighter and smaller than the jars and bottles they’re originally sold in. Hear Me Raw uses refill pods that fit into any Hear Me Raw jar. Despite both holding 2.5 oz., the refill pod is 66% lighter and 66% smaller than the jar because the heavy glass jar and lid are being reused. The result is needing 66% fewer planes, boats and trucks and reduction in carbon footprint, resources like gas and oil, pollution, and more. And that’s the same for when you buy online.
The third R, recycling, is simply a must. Sadly, an overwhelming majority of brands don’t use packaging that is even recyclable. Even many of the larger ‘clean’ brands don’t. Even worse, most people assume a clean brand’s packaging is, by definition, “sustainable” and put it in the recycling bin. Those get taken out at recycling centers and are sent to landfills. Unfortunately, it’s hard to tell if a package is recyclable or not. Often, the carton a product comes in uses recycled symbols but that’s only for the material of the carton, not the bottle or jar inside. So how do you know? Well, a good rule of thumb is that if it’s glass or uncoated metal it’s recyclable. The same is true for plastic packaging like those numbered 1 (PET), 2 (HDPE) and 5 (PP), which are the most likely to be recyclable in curbside collection programs. (By the way, always empty your packaging before you recycle!)
Packaging to Avoid
In the meantime, packages to avoid include anything that uses multiple materials because they cannot be separated. They include:
- Double-walled caps: Metal or plastic “shells” over a plastic lid. If you turn the lid upside-down and see two different materials, it’s not recyclable
- Double-walled jars: Unless it’s part of a refill system, If you have a glass or plastic jar with an inner plastic wall is almost always non-recyclable
- Airless pumps: These are typically cylindrical containers that pump out formulas like skincare moisturizers
- Droppers: They combine glass or plastic droppers, plastic heads and rubber depressors
- Pumps: They mix metal springs, different plastics and sometimes metal overshells
- Spatulas: Sometimes attached to the discs, they too are almost always non-recyclable
- Discs: Plastic discs that go between jars and lids that are typically thrown out when a jar is first open is almost always non-recyclable
The Raw Truth
In the end, refillable packaging is best for people and the planet. Ask your brands to use refillable packaging. If they won’t, maybe it’s time to move on.
If you have any thoughts or suggestions, please share them in the comments below. In the meantime, let's think planet first.