01 Apr Zero waste movement spills over into beauty and food brands
Many consumers, alarmed by reports of climate change and related ecological issues, are choosing to become more conscious consumers. Increasingly, people around the world are choosing lifestyles and products according to their environmental sustainability.
Switching to a ‘zero waste’ lifestyle is a solution to one of the big questions of our time – how can we impact our planet for the better? This question has spilt over into beauty and food brands’ manufacturing, marketing, and other areas of business.
What benefits of zero waste are prompting change in the beauty and food industries?
The Toronto Environmental Alliance lists several of the economic, environmental and social benefits of ‘zero waste’ policy. According to their data, reusing and recycling creates 10 times more jobs than disposal. In addition to these benefits, creating less waste conserves vital natural resources, from forests to water and raw materials such as minerals.
There are also alleged social benefits of zero waste policy. Social initiatives that redistribute leftover food, for example, have helped communities to reduce food insecurity associated with inequality, while also providing a more sensible alternative to food waste.
The positive social, economic and environmental effects of adopting zero waste policies give food and beauty brands great feel-good stories to tell. The beauty brand Lush, for example, encourages customers to return used product containers for re-use. The brand has promoted conscious consumption among its customers by offering incentives such as discounts for empty containers returned. This is one example of a global beauty brand adopting zero waste principles in a way that encourages environmental awareness and responsibility among regular customers.
How the zero waste movement is impacting food brands
Many food brands are realising that conscious consumers want transparent ingredient lists. Increasingly, consumers avoid food they know to have come from an unsustainable or socially problematic source. This is spurring food brands to innovate and deliver products that carry an in-built ethos of kindness and environmental awareness.
For example, many of the country’s successful small food brands emphasise the local sources of their ingredients or how their products bolster the local economy through job creation.
When you look over the products in your local supermarket, you’ll notice brands are working hard to communicate to consumers not merely the quality of their products but the ethical practices informing their origins, too. If you look at a product in the cold meat section, you may see a label reading ‘kinder to sows’, with a link to a page on the supermarket’s website explaining how the food merchant is ensuring responsible, ethical farming practices in its supply chain.
Branding such as this is clear indication that food brands are aware of how much conscious consumption matters to the modern, socially-aware consumer.
Zero waste and the beauty industry: ‘Green routines’ and product innovation
Due to the swing towards eco-friendly, sustainable consumption, many organic beauty blogs and even traditional publications such as Harpers Bazaar now run articles on essential products for ‘greener’ beauty routines.
One of the major concerns for conscious consumers is plastic – how much of it we’re throwing away, and what happens to it post-disposal. In 2018, record concentrations of ‘microplastics’ – tiny pieces of plastic under five millimetres long – were found in the artic. These are eaten by filter-feeding animals and passed up the food chain, having cumulative toxic effects.
Product innovation involving reducing plastic in packaging has thus been one area where big beauty brands have focused their attention. It’s now common to find products such as ‘naked’ shower gels, for example, shower soaps moulded in the shape of a bottle, that you lather in your hands rather than squeeze from a plastic bottle (which enables these to be distributed in paper packaging).
There are now entire websites devoted to zero waste initiatives in the beauty industry. Beautypackaging.com, for example, ran this piece outlining reduced waste packaging initiatives by various big-name beauty brands with the object of increasing the use of recyclable and/or reusable materials.
Zero waste’s impact on ingredient choice
A big part of the zero waste spill-over into the beauty and food industries has to do with ingredients. Rather than buy products in larger quantities that last for months, many consumers are willing to purchase smaller quantities that expire sooner, more frequently.
Beauty brands have introduced innovation such as self-preserving product formulations containing natural, organic preservatives such as honey, salt, and vinegar, offered in smaller quantities. Natural preservatives have also become key selling points of many food brands.
Zero waste: An increasing business priority in the food and beauty industries and beyond
In an article for The Guardian, Richard Barnish surveys how major car manufacturers have begun acquiring ‘zero waste’ status, having realised the tangible economic benefits. This realisation applies increasingly to beauty and food companies who have recognised how zero waste affords the ability to reduce waste disposal costs, generate revenue from reselling recyclables, and meet ‘corporate social responsibility credentials’.
It thus isn’t only the savvy, conscious, eco-friendly consumer driving change in the beauty and food industries. Businesses are adopting zero waste strategies due to economic benefits, too.
Barnish describes how businesses are applying an ‘environmental mantra: reduce, re-use, recycle, recover’. The example of Lush’s practice of encouraging customers to return empty containers is one instance of the ‘recover’ process at work.
What will it take for zero waste to spill over more into the food and beauty industries?
Barnish, in his Guardian article, outlines some of the challenges in going zero waste at a business-wide or corporate level. Strategic decisions businesses must consider include product design, choosing manufacturing processes, logistical considerations (e.g. how low or zero waste products may be transported), and supply chain decisions.
Despite the many processes and financial considerations requiring strategic consultation, many beauty and food businesses are finding audits and action plans essential to staying competitive. It’s essential to be able to compete in a market where environmental responsibility, conscious consumption and principles such as ‘beauty without cruelty’ and organic wellness are here to stay.