British Beauty Council CEO: Industry must ‘take responsibility’ in ‘enormous’ plastics challenge

By Lynda Searby

- Last updated on GMT

It's time the beauty industry takes responsibility and continues its push forward with packaging innovation to succeed in the wider sustainability drive [Getty Images]
It's time the beauty industry takes responsibility and continues its push forward with packaging innovation to succeed in the wider sustainability drive [Getty Images]

Related tags: British Beauty Council, Plastic packaging, sustainable beauty, Sustainable packaging, zero waste, Bioplastics, circular beauty


The beauty industry needs to shun consumerism, stop confusing consumers and invest in infrastructure, packaging technology and manufacturing if it is to begin to address the enormous plastic challenge, says the CEO of the British Beauty Council.

Speaking at the recent Plastic Free Beauty webinar hosted by the British Beauty Council, the association’s CEO Millie Kendall MBE underlined the need for immediate, collective action by the beauty industry.

“To wait for the government to introduce initiatives will take too long. Take the Paris Agreement - we aren’t any further on. We can’t wait for someone to tell us what to do. We know what to do. We just need to have the courage to make changes,” ​Kendall said during the panel discussion.

In a follow-up interview, Cosmetics-DesignEurope delved deeper into the points Kendall raised during the webinar, to find out what actions she believes are necessary for positive change on the industry’s use of plastic.

Kicking the consumerism habit

Millie Kendall MBE, CEO of The British Beauty Council
Millie Kendall MBE, CEO of The British Beauty Council

The heart of the problem, in Kendall’s view, is the consumerism that is inherent with beauty products.

“People use our products and chuck away the packaging; 56% of consumers don’t recycle their bathroom plastic,”​ she said. And one of the reasons consumers don’t always recycle, she said, is because so many products come in multi-component packs, which consumers don’t know how to recycle.

“Saying packaging is recyclable is great, but it shifts the onus onto the consumer. Also, it’s the tubes, the actuators - it’s difficult to know what to do with those. We are confusing the consumer and we need to take responsibility for that. We need to reinvent our industry to be more responsible,” ​said Kendall.

Whilst ‘taking ownership’ on recycling is a step in the right direction, she also stressed the need to challenge certain accepted ‘norms’, such as the pressure to continuously bring out new products and the expectation that all personal care products are in a 250ml format.

“It is about the retailer not asking brands to deliver ‘new new new’ (…) And I don’t see why everything has to be in 250ml format when super-sizing could reduce waste. What is it that prevents brands from producing in bigger sizes? Are they bound by the size of their machinery? Is it to do with the size of retailer shelves? It is something we should be discussing. We created the standard, we can uncreate it. It just needs unravelling,”​ said Kendall. 

Investment in education

Bioplastics are often touted as a solution to the plastics problem, but panelists on the webinar cautioned against blanket acceptance of bioplastics as sustainable, on the basis that their carbon footprint can sometimes be worse than that of conventional plastics.

“I don’t know enough about bioplastics but during the webinar there was a lot of talk about carbon emissions being very high, so they might not be the solution. That is why we need to invest in education,” ​Kendall said.

Investment in innovation, manufacturing and education – all of which go hand in hand – are certainly a priority, she said.

“We need to look at research grants and government funding to support UK manufacturing. We are a nation of innovators, but in order for sustainable production to be more affordable, funding needs to be available to home-grown manufacturers. Equally, we need to be investing in education or we will never find a replacement for plastic.” 

Open sourcing supply chains

Open source supply chains will be key to adoption of sustainable technologies, according to Kendall. She said there is some evidence of this already happening in the beauty sector, citing the example of Beauty Kitchen. 

Beauty Kitchen recently worked closely with Unilever in the UK on some refill programmes in-store [Image: Unilever]
Beauty Kitchen recently worked closely with Unilever in the UK on some refill programmes in-store [Image: Unilever]

“This is interesting because they have shared their technology with a larger company​, so it might be that innovation is bottom up. We all know it is a lot easier to be innovative and nimble when you are a small company. But it does require muscle and money, so I am hoping we can find a balance between the two.”

Another way in which the industry is confusing consumers is through on-pack certification badges, terminology and classifications, said Kendall. 

Clearer communication with consumers

“There needs to be some sort of unification of standards across the sector. Consumers want clearer information on ingredients and supply chains, and we are not communicating that clearly enough. It’s about establishing industry-wide standards and ensuring only meaningful certification schemes are used,”​ she said.

This is one of the initiatives being pushed by the Sustainable Beauty Coalition, which was formed last year​ with the mandate of creating a framework for action to help the collective British beauty industry advance its sustainability goals.

Kendall said she recognised the scale of the plastics challenge facing the industry, but added she is confident that the coalition’s steering committee will identify solutions to move forward. 

“You couldn’t ask for a finer group of brains that operate in this area,”​ she said.

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