Ethical Consumerism: Plastics and the Cosmetics Industry

Ethical Consumerism: Plastics and the Cosmetics Industry

Recyclable plastic becoming an increasingly important factor for consumers when choosing beauty products

Consumers and businesses alike are paying increasing attention to ethics and moral values when making purchasing decisions. This translates into choices framed by concerns about the environment, sustainability, animal welfare, production and labour practices, as well as desires to positively impact communities and people.

Driven primarily by environmental shifts and pressures, population change and changing consumer values, enriched by opportunities emerging due to technological advances and shifting economic power, we are seeing the “ethicalisation” of society. Mindful consumption in beauty and personal care is emerging, replacing the conspicuous consumption of the past. This forces beauty brands to adapt to new market demand. However, the pace of the change is slow.

Innovation in plastic can help recycling but also creates challenges

Much focus is on the recycling of rigid plastic, which represents 42% of retail packaging volumes in beauty and personal care and 36% in home care. HDPE bottles are a major contributor of rigid plastic packaging in home care and personal care; yet are not recycled far and wide. They are standard in shampoos, conditioners and shower gel. They are even more important in home care, as the packaging of choice for bleach, liquid detergents, softeners and surface cleaners. In 2016, leading packaging maker Alpla Werke partnered with Henkel to produce 60,000 HDPE bottles for liquid detergent brand Perwoll; each made of 15% recycled HDPE. Alpla already uses rPET, such as through its PET recycling plants in Mexico.

The plastic packaging industry is under particularly high pressure to innovate with/towards sustainable solutions. Bio-based plastics – plastics in which carbon is partly derived from renewable feedstock – are slowly becoming more common. At the same time, ocean plastic waste repurposing is also on the agenda amid rising consumer awareness of the significance of plastic littering. Such alternatives have many benefits over non-renewable, fossil-fuel based plastics, but their wider adoption is not without challenges.

Diversity in shades of green: key ethical considerations 

However, it seems that it is not the recycling (recyclable, refillable or recycled packaging) that influences ethical purchases. Recyclability of packaging is more often one of the post-purchase rather than pre-purchase considerations.

According to the 2017 Euromonitor International Beauty Survey, when it comes to skin care (and other beauty and personal care products), consumers seem to be prioritising natural, plant-derived and organic ingredients as well as “free from” and “fragrance free” claims.

However, there are substantial regional varieties in the importance of natural as well as plant and organic ingredients. Natural ingredients in personal care products seem to be more important for consumers in emerging markets. For example, in facial moisturisers, 50.2% of respondents in South Korea selected “All natural ingredients” as a desired feature. And in Japan, only 8.1% of respondents selected it as an option.

Euromonitor International’s Beauty Survey 2017 also show that, about one quarter of respondents selected natural over efficacy for colour cosmetics, hair care and skin care, indicating majority preference for efficacy. However, there are good examples that show combining both can yield impressive results as in the case of a number of cosmetics brands such as Weleda, L’Occitane and Lush

Lush is a UK-based cosmetics retailer specialising in hand-made cosmetics. The company’s unique positioning of ‘no packing’ (hence the strong smell) and returnable/reusable containers has helped it to gain significant market share within a short period of time. Lush is the UK’s fourth leading bath and shower company, recording 36% growth in sales between 2011 and 2016.

Ethical products is set to expand

Over the next five years, the global market for ethical products is set to expand. However, the pace of growth will remain slow.

Recycling labels are most common and most trusted worldwide, however, recyclability of packaging is more often one of the post-purchase rather than pre-purchase considerations. Society is slowly “greening”. Ethical is slowly becoming integrated into the mainstream. Companies that have been reliant on their eco image will need to innovate beyond this to stay in the game.

This article was supplied by Euromonitor.

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One comment

  1. Julie F. says:

    Hi there! I am very interested in this topic, specifically- how much plastic packaging does the beauty industry produce annually?

    Could you clarify who your source is for this statement made, “Much focus is on the recycling of rigid plastic, which represents 42% of retail packaging volumes in beauty and personal care and 36% in home care. ”

    Thanks so much!

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