No bottle? No problem! A zero-plastic approach to cosmetics

As consumers become more aware of plastic waste and its impact on the environment, Rosie Lintott speaks to ‘zero-waste’ beauty brand Ethique to find out how companies are responding.

Some 80 million plastic bottles are disposed of around the world every year just from shampoo and conditioner alone, adding to the world's growing mountain of waste plastic.

Beauty company Ethique is working to help reduce - and hoping to ultimately stop - the need for plastic bottles in cosmetics. The brand’s products are solid - meaning they don’t need to be packaged in bottles - as well as 100% compostable and recyclable, bringing consumer waste down to zero.

Founded by British entrepreneur and biochemist Brianne West, Ethique was born out of her two passions: the environment and cosmetic chemistry.

“I did a lot of research into cosmetic ingredients and became aware of the huge impact of the waste the industry creates,” West says. “It was then I decided that I wanted to make a positive change within the beauty industry and create a business that was completely sustainable and zero waste.”

Ethique’s mission to stop plastic waste

West says tackling plastic waste has always been important to her. She explains that so far the company has 3.4 million plastic bottles from being used and disposed of, and is expected to prevent 10 million plastic bottles from being produced by 2020 by offering a bottle-free alternative.

“For a little company that started out in New Zealand, we’ve achieved a lot so far and can’t wait to take it even further,” she adds.

Packaging waste is particularly problematic in the beauty industry, as a lot of companies package their products in layers of unrecyclable, mixed material packaging. West’s aim was to create a brand that was as sustainable as possible, as well as being 100% plastic free, whilst educating consumers on the issue of plastic waste.

West’s vision is to have a solid shampoo bar in every shower instead of a bottled product.

Ethique, she says, is the only company in the world devoted solely to producing handmade solid beauty bars in place of liquid beauty products in a bid to be more sustainable.

“We strive to continue creating new, innovative and exciting beauty products that our customers around the world love whilst helping the environment,” she says. “We aim to expand even further so we can continue to raise awareness and educate the world on how easy it is to give up the bottle and swap to plastic-free alternatives.”

A lot of other brands are also taking steps towards sustainability but reducing plastic waste in the beauty sector will require a re-thinking of product formats as well as packaging - for instance developing solid instead of liquid cosmetics.

West’s vision is to have a solid shampoo bar in every shower instead of a bottled product - not necessarily her brand’s, but any brand’s product re-designed in a more environmentally friendly format.

Ethique produces solid cosmetics to reduce the use of plastic bottles.

Tackling plastic waste together

Explaining the strategy behind Ethique, West says: “I’d love to be the brand that changes the way business and consumers think. As a consumer, if we have the options to act more sustainably why would we opt-in to buying products that are damaging the planet we live on?”

By creating sustainable and recyclable products, from sourcing to packaging, businesses can make a positive contribution to the planet - but making those products equally or more appealing to consumers as the products they aim to replace is just as important.

“I think that consumers should, and usually do, feel good that they are purchasing from a brand that ticks all the ethical boxes,” West says. “Having said that, I think it’s vital that the products we are creating are as good as (if not better than) their liquid counterpart. That way consumers know they are helping with the issue but not compromising on their beauty products.”

The beauty packaging sector has a long way to go to solve its plastic problem, but with more companies dedicated to developing sustainable and zero-waste alternatives, the majors will be inclined to follow suit.

West sums up her vision for the brand and the sector: “If we’re completely zero-waste, I hope it inspires others to think about their plastic use that little bit more.”

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