Just like cleanwashing, there are brands who believe strongly in sustainability, who make every decision with the planet in mind, and there are those who see a ‘trend’ and try to capitalize without carrying those claims through to their products.
While we’re all for brands wholeheartedly and truthfully embracing sustainability, it needs to be in action, not just in claims. It means choosing the most sustainable materials, asking more from our packaging manufacturers, and working to keep our products out of landfills. And this can happen one change (and even one product) at a time. Steady progress over unattainable perfection!
In today’s blog, we’re helping you decipher the truth from the claims when it comes to sustainability. Keep reading for:
- The current packaging situation in beauty
- Terracycle: the end-all solution or a band-aid?
- Why we use Terracycle
- Why recycling began in the first place
- How we do sustainability
- The never-recyclable packaging elements to watch out for
The current packaging situation in beauty
The ever-wasteful beauty industry makes up 1/3 of all global landfill space, producing over 120 billion units of packaging every single year. That means at this rate, we’ll produce 1.2 trillion pieces of single-use packaging in the next 10 years – most of which is completely unrecyclable and will end up in our landfills or oceans.
Just think about your average lipstick, mascara, or eyeshadow for example. Each one is encased in an unrecyclable mixed plastic case and another trash-bound outer box or plastic sleeve. That’s a minimum 2 items headed to the landfill for every beauty product you buy (multiplied by the 40+ products you buy regularly). And when shipped, they’re then nestled into a larger box filled with tissue paper, plastic, or pieces of cardboard.
That is a staggeringly insane amount of waste.
Recent packaging backlash
As awareness (and concern) over packaging waste rises, some of the most overpackaged beauty products are receiving some very public backlash. People are starting to question brands with reckless overuse of sequins, plastic confetti, and layers upon layers of unnecessary, thoughtless packaging waste. The truth is though, these publicized offenders are just one of countless brands who are ignoring their packaging’s impact on the planet. Who are choosing the easiest packaging materials - whatever looks the most appealing/shiny/luxe without concern of where it will end up.
Terracycle: the end-all solution or a band-aid?
You may have heard of Terracycle - a recycling company that specializes in difficult-to-recycle items that would otherwise be landfilled. While we’re so grateful that companies like Terracycle are helping to address the waste and recycling crisis, they need to not become a permission slip or a band-aid for brands to recklessly, wastefully, and negligently package their products.
Spending billions of dollars trying to find ways to recycle incredibly difficult-to-repurpose, unnecessary one-time-use packaging items is not the answer. The answer is better packaging! It’s change at the manufacturing level.
The answer is not wrapping our products in virgin plastic, unrecyclable black plastic, or layers upon layer of disposable packaging. It means not using mirrors we don’t actually need or magnets that are totally unnecessary and devastating to the environment.
To truly reduce waste and be sustainable, we are brands need to take responsibility from the get-go – to choose better materials right from the start. To not create more unnecessary waste that is either landfilled or sent to an incredibly complex, expensive system to deal with.
Why we use Terracycle at ĀTHR Beauty
Our recent partnership with Terracycle is a response to the closure of 300 recycling plants in the US this year. We want to ensure that even areas without access to recycling facilities can still recycle our products. And for everyone else with recycling facilities nearby, our products have been specifically and meticulously designed to be easily recyclable in any standard recycling bin.
We do not use Terracycle as a band-aid for unsustainable products. It’s a contingency plan to ensure that every ĀTHR Beauty product stays out of the landfill - in every situation, in every area, despite any potential limitations.
Our planet is screaming at us to stop the destruction, to put in even the tiniest bit of effort to turn around our wasteful, damaging ways. And while it’s beautiful to see the consumers’ effort to recycle their beauty buys, the responsibility needs to be put on brands to permanently and drastically change their packaging.
Why modern-day ‘recycling’ began
It all began with a super-successful advertising campaign funded by the American Can Company in the 1970s:
“The companies behind the campaign successfully framed waste as a problem for consumers rather than one for the companies that manufactured the items being wasted.” - Bartow J. Elmore, Environmental Historian
And this perspective still holds true today. Companies produce unrecyclable, environmentally-damaging packaging and make it the consumers' problem to deal with. An incredibly backward system when you look at it - if we never put wasteful packaging into the world, we wouldn’t have to create complex systems to deal with it. We as consumers need to put the onus back on brands and manufacturers to take responsibility for what they’re putting into the world.
What Sustainability means to us
Why ĀTHR Beauty was founded: Our Founder Tiila Abbitt, a Lead Product Developer at Sephora, was tired of the negligent formulation and packaging standards in the beauty industry. She became Head of Research and Development for Sustainability at Sephora and educated herself tirelessly on packaging, recycling practices, new and innovative materials, and worked to spread this knowledge throughout the beauty world.
After traveling worldwide to learn about packaging options and innovations, visiting countless recycling plants to learn the whole lifecycle of a piece of packaging, and learning from experienced packaging engineers about what is truly recyclable, she decided to take sustainability into her own hands with the creation of ĀTHR Beauty.
All ĀTHR Beauty packaging is completely recyclable and made from recycled materials wherever possible. We either find a sustainable way to package a product, or we don’t make it.
Take makeup brushes for example, there isn’t a recyclable way to create a makeup brush as of yet. So, though makeup brushes would be a beautiful complement to our shadows and highlighters, we won’t bring more waste onto this planet. If we find a recyclable, sustainable way to create them, of course we will, but until that time, we will absolutely not create more waste.
How we do sustainability at ĀTHR Beauty
100% RECYCLABLE PACKAGING MADE FROM RECYCLED MATERIALS WHENEVER POSSIBLE
Our eyeshadow palettes and highlighters are made of 100% recyclable FSC certified paper, recyclable aluminum pans, and water-based soy inks. All components can be recycled in your standard recycling bin.
Our Radiant Ruby Lip Crème is the first 100% recycled plastic liquid lip component that's also 100% recyclable. By using 100% PCR recycled plastic, we create 25% less carbon emissions than virgin plastic. The outer box is made from FSC certified paper and water-based soy inks that are completely recyclable.
Our packaging materials are also chosen with sustainability in mind:
- FSC Certified cardboard box - fully recyclable
- Sugar-based sticker -biodegradable
For instructions on how to recycle every ĀTHR Beauty product, read our blog.
TERRACYCLE FOR AREAS WITHOUT ACCESS TO RECYCLING
We’ve partnered with Terracycle as a solution to the 300 recycling plants that have closed in the US this year. We want to ensure that every one of our products stays out of the landfill, even in areas without regular access to recycling facilities.
SUSTAINABLY SOURCED INGREDIENTS
Every ingredient we use is sustainably sourced from start to finish. It means zero harm to the planet or the people producing it, no cutting corners by damaging the land, exploiting local communities, or otherwise destructive practices.
For about $0.28 (depending on weight) you can purchase carbon-neutral shipping on our site. This extra fee goes towards offsetting the carbon emissions from shipping that item. Our partner, Cloverly calculates the carbon impact of that order and offsets exactly that amount with green energy credit purchases.
GIVING BACK TO SUSTAINABLE INITIATIVES
We donate 1% of all sales to 1% For The Planet. This organization works with non-profits in areas of climate, food, land, pollution, water, and wildlife. So far, this organization has helped direct $200 million to environmental non-profits around the world.
What to watch out for when looking for truly sustainable brands
To sift through the claims and get to the truth of sustainability, there are a few things to know:
THE TERM SUSTAINABLE IS ENTIRELY UNREGULATED
Just like the term ‘clean’, any brand can call themselves ‘sustainable’ or ‘eco-conscious’ without any truth to the claims. And truthfully, many brands just haven’t done the research to know how unsustainable their packaging truly is. The fact is though, changing this wastefulness needs to begin at the brand level. And the good news: there are more sustainable packaging options than ever for brands to work with.
MAGNETS ARE NEVER RECYCLABLE AND SEVERELY IMPACT THE EARTH AND PEOPLE
Magnets are made from ‘Rare Earth’ elements, and their processing involves huge amounts of carcinogenic toxins. These toxins are pumped into bodies of water, often near city centers or local communities. In Baotou alone, 10 million tons of toxic waste are produced every year from rare earth processing. They’re an entirely unnecessary (and hazardous) convenience, and an easy first component to eliminate on the road to sustainability.
We forego mirrors and magnets for full recyclability.
BLACK PLASTIC IS NEVER RECYCLABLE
Because the conveyor belts in recycling facilities are black, the sensors can’t read black plastic. So, all these pieces end up in the landfill. Any product made with black plastic is not sustainable.
PUMPS ARE RARELY RECYCLABLE
The vast majority of pumps in the industry are unrecyclable. They’re made up of multiple plastic materials, and unless you painstakingly take the pumps apart section by section (which is nearly impossible), they wind up in the landfill.
MIRRORS ARE NOT RECYCLABLE
Mirrors are made by applying a reflective coating to glass. That coating makes the glass nearly impossible to recycle. And honestly, we so rarely use the tiny mirrors in our compacts and palettes – they’re a needless addition that just creates more waste.
Most applicators are made of various tiny parts with multiple kinds of plastic. This mixed plastic situation renders the whole component unrecyclable. Our applicator is 100% recyclable once you snip off and discard the small end tip.
SOFT-TOUCH IS HAZARDOUS TO WORKERS
That velvety, super soft texture you feel on some packaging is known as ‘soft touch’. It’s a coating applied to many packages and is incredibly hazardous to workers and the environment.
ZAMAC IS UNRECYCLABLE
A blend of different metal alloys, Zamac is used in some heavy metal compacts that are common with refillable cosmetics. Zamac is entirely unrecyclable, and while the refillable idea is definitely progress, it’ll still end up in the landfill even if you truly keep that compact forever.
What can be done
The truth is: overhauling an entire line of cosmetics can be difficult for brands to do all at once - it's expensive and definitely a major undertaking. What we can all do as brands though: focus on incremental changes - using recyclable components for the next product launch, incorporating more recycled materials in the next production run, and really just taking achievable steps in the right direction. And the biggest promise we can all make: to be totally transparent and align all our claims with genuine action.
We hope you found this blog helpful in sifting through sustainability claims. We’re always here to be the truth-teller so you can make the most informed, aligned choices for you.
- ĀTHR Beauty xo