The circular economy shot to the front of political, business and consumer agendas recently after the European Commission (EC) declared its goal of climate neutrality by 2050. Part of its European Green Deal, president of the EC Ursula von der Leyen said the region would do “whatever it takes” to unlock the investment, innovation and creativity needed to achieve this goal. And a big part of this, she said, would be achieved by shifting towards circular business models and clean technologies.
So, what did this circular model shift look like for beauty? How could circularity be defined and shaped in beauty and personal care supply chains?
A ‘reuse-based circular economy’ will be key for beauty
“The key to circular economy is that it’s about honouring the molecules that make up a product and having those molecules have the longest life that is absolutely possible, whether through recycling or through reuse,” said Tom Szaky, founder and CEO of TerraCycle.
Speaking at CosmeticsDesign’s Circular beauty - Sustainable sourcing | Green chemistry | Eco-design webinar last week (now available to watch on-demand), Szaky said that, for beauty, a “reuse-based circular economy” was key – “making fewer steps so packaging can just be cleaned and refilled and go round again”.
“…I’m incredibly excited about the reuse movement and where it’s going to go and how it’s going to develop, because it’s going to unlock some incredible new things; not just in circularity but product innovation.”
And Szaky said there had already been plenty of progress made by beauty players worldwide, in terms of engagement in reuse programs and innovative packaging designs. Many beauty brands, for example, were working with TerraCycle’s global reuse platform Loop, including L’Oréal’s Garnier brand and Beauty Kitchen – both also expert guests on CosmeticsDesign’s Circular Beauty webinar. Many brands had also signed up last year to Loop’s UK pilot e-commerce retail platform in partnership with Tesco.
Referencing the plethora of 2025 and 2030 sustainability pledges made by the global beauty industry, Szaky said brands were now “waking up” to the realisation that these goals were fast approaching on the horizon.
“Consumers sincerely care about these goals, as do other stakeholders, law makers and the media. And it’s going to be challenging. And I think that pressure is actually bringing about incredible innovation,” Szaky said.
In particular, the pressure had “galvanised the incredible growth in the reuse movement”, he said.
Consumer shift – ‘the most circular-designed product with a linear consumer will become linear’
However, to make circularity a mainstream reality – in beauty or any other industry – end consumers had to be highly engaged, Szaky said. “If the consumer doesn’t participate, it cannot become circular (…) The most circular-designed product with a linear consumer will become linear.”
And, unfortunately for industries worldwide, he said there remained large swathes of consumers who did not recycle simply because of apathy. So, the goal for brands and retailers had to be to make the recycling process as simple as possible, ideally mimicking the long-entrenched disposability culture – the overall goal behind TerraCycle’s Loop program, he said.
“What we’ve learned from Loop is that, in fact, firstly consumers want convenience. Then they want the product to be jam-packed with features and benefits – sustainability is a feature and benefit – and then they want that to be achieved at the right value. And so, in thinking about that for reuse, the way we’ve gone about approaching it, and this has been somewhat of the secret sauce of Loop, is to try and make it feel as disposable as absolutely possible.
“For a consumer, they can simply buy their favourite product at their favourite retailer in a reusable container and then drop it off like waste and get a deposit back; effectively mimicking that disposable experience which is an incredibly convenient experience.”
It was important industries, including beauty, avoided sustainability goals that were “utopian and aspirational but not actionable”, Szaky said.
“Instead, we need to meet consumers where they are and allow them to have the same experience in a significantly more circular or sustainable way. And frankly, that also goes for not just consumers but retailers and brands; the more it can feel like the least amount of change, the faster something can be implemented and scaled.”
“…My stern recommendation for practitioners is to look at tomorrow and not assume our behaviours will be better, but instead assume they will be the same or potentially worse, and design into that. They you get real breakthroughs that can bring about scalable change, quickly,” he said.
Circular Beauty expert brainstorm with TerraCycle, Garnier, Beauty Kitchen, Cradle to Cradle and The Green Chemist Consultancy
Interested in hearing more of Szaky’s thoughts on the future of circular beauty? Want to know more about specific packaging materials and critical challenges in global recycling frameworks? You can register to watch the full Circular beauty - Sustainable sourcing | Green chemistry | Eco-design expert webinar on-demand now. If you haven't already registered, just fill out the form and the player will launch automatically.