The beauty industry is growing rapidly, and stores filled with cosmetic and skincare goods are available on every street corner.
Beautiful packaging winks at us, and this is why thousands of products are sold daily all over the world. Being more precise, the British Beauty Council reported UK consumers spent a total £3.2 billion on cosmetics in 2018.
And yet, the legacy that beauty packaging leaves behind is far from pretty. Quite the opposite. We are facing a bigger problem: wasteful plastic packaging.
The damaging effect of single-use plastic on the environment is no secret, and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation predicts our oceans will contain more plastic than fish by 2050. A House of Commons report on plastic waste revealed five million tonnes of plastic is used in the UK every year, and nearly half of this is from packaging. Seeing hundreds of rows of beauty products in stores wrapped in plastic leads us to question whether the industry is doing more harm than good.
But how did we come to this point?
In the not-too-distant past, personal care items did not involve plastic packaging. For examples, perfumes, a symbol of luxury, were packaged in elaborate glass containers, and hair-care products were powders or pomades packaged in tins or jars.
The United States emerged as the most prolific producer and consumer of personal care and beauty products during the last century, to the point that by the mid-1920s, a whole industry of “personal care” popped up in America.
The market for face creams, cosmetics, and other personal care products marketed to women exploded, in tandem with the rise of Hollywood movies and the invention of American glamour and beauty standards.
Therefore, the need to find a cheap and versatile new package to be produced in high quantity and shipped all around the world.
Plastics resulted to be the solution, because it could be molded into a light, flexible and sturdy package.
This is the reason why plastic-personal-care-products fill entire aisles of grocery stores.
Needless to say, the consequences of plastic pollution are detrimental. And the beauty industry has a long way to go – although hope is in sight.
It is true to say that, in recent years, the industry has indeed become more conscious of its environmental impact. Brands are using more natural ingredients, and the sale of products containing microbeads, which are harmful to marine life, was banned in 2018.
According to recent research by Mintel, 66% of UK female beauty buyers aged 16-24 want more information about which products are environmentally friendly, and this helps the industry to get back on track.
So, even if single-use plastic is still a large problem for the industry, multiple brands are leading the way towards creating a more sustainable future.