The Personal Care category is founded on its accessibility to most consumers, with popular branded and own label products offering very reasonable quality at low price points. Look around the bathroom and a pack of own label shower gel costs less than £1, branded shampoo and disposable razors under £5 and own label lipstick below £10. But that could all change, if the present plastic crisis triggers a plastic packaging tax that bumps up the price of personal care items sold in one-trip, nonrefillable packs.

Two years ago the round the world sailor Dame Ellen MacArthur came up with the soundbite that there will be more plastic in the sea than fish by 2050 unless we take action now. The personal care category definitely has a part to play.

The industry has recently responded to the ban on plastic microbeads being used in cosmetics and personal care products in Britain, which came into effect in January. Thousands of tonnes of plastic microbeads from products like exfoliating face scrubs and toothpastes have been going into the sea every year. But these are only part of the huge plastic pollution problem we face in the personal care sector. The other aspect is that pretty much every personal care item comes in plastic packaging. So let’s look at where we are in dealing with the problem.

In the retail sector The Body Shop is known for its ethical stance on various fronts. It used to offer a refill service for personal care products but stopped it in 2002 because only one per cent of customers used it. Lush Ltd, the fresh handmade cosmetics retailer, has also made a public commitment to the environment.

On their website they say they do not use any plastic in their products and all their products are 100% biodegradable, even their glitter, which is synthetic mica.

On the packaging recycling front TerraCycle, the recycling company in which waste management firm Suez has a 30% stake, is involved in two initiatives focusing on the personal care category. First of all, over 2.5 tonnes of plastic have been recovered from the Humber estuary and are being used in the production of shampoo bottles by Procter and Gamble.

TerraCycle has also partnered with Garnier to create a free recycling programme for their beauty products’ packaging. The programme also offers participants the opportunity to fundraise for their favourite school or charity.

In the US L’Occitane en Provence, the high street beauty retailer, is giving consumers a free way to recycle all brands of beauty and skin care packaging, which its London flagship store staff say is on its way here. Through the L’Occitane Recycling Program, also run in partnership with TerraCycle, consumers can drop off all brands of empty personal care and cosmetics packaging at participating L’Occitane retail locations across the U.S. to divert these items from landfill and receive a 10 percent discount toward one full-size product purchased that same day.

But the longterm solution could come from The Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute, a non-profit organisation headquartered in San Francisco, with offices in Amsterdam and Venlo, the Netherlands. The Institute administers the Cradle to Cradle Certified™ Product Standard, which provides manufacturers with a trusted way to work towards chemically optimised products. We look forward to hearing about it coming to the UK.

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