THE PLASTIC PROBLEM: SPECIAL REPORT by Fiona Klonarides - The Beauty Shortlist

Evian’s Wimbledon “campaign” (its plastic bottles strategically swivelled towards the BBC cameras to show the “RECYCLE” strip during each player’s press interview) made me seethe.

It takes 450 years for a plastic bottle to decompose. The recycle message is all very well but most don’t get recycled. Instead, 80% end up in landfills (or the ocean), choking the ocean and damaging our planet.

For the beauty industry, plastic is a serious, highly insidious problem that won’t go away until we grab it by the horns and tackle it with our entire might – like our lives and children depend on it. And they do.

In my view, like most people’s, we’re very (alarmingly) late in the game here. It feels like we’re closing the stable door after the horse has bolted.

Clearly, the beauty industry (not forgetting food and fashion) has an enormous amount of emergency catch-up to do – collectively – to minimise its impact on the ecology and implement viable solutions.

Plastic is the devil of the beauty industry. We *must* make it go away. And earth-friendly brands will be the sure-fire winners as public sentiment continues to veer towards green brands and a cleaner lifestyle.

Single-use plastic (all those cups, straws, cutlery, etc) as we well know is the worst offender (water bottles are, too).

One positive example in the supermarket sector is Marks & Spencer who replaced all plastic take-out cutlery with wooden utensils last year.

As for babies’ plastic nappies – gah! 450 years? It is sheer insanity. We managed OK before plastic nappies hit the scene, so bravo to all the mums – including green blogger Ana at Ana Goes Green – who only buy reusable eco nappies for their little ones.

And all hail Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Anita Rani’s #WaronPlastic and #OurPlasticFeedback campaign, encouraging us to take back all the plastic wrapping and bags suffocating our fruit & veg…right back to where it came from – your local supermarket.

To spotlight the plastic problem, French endurance swimmer and ocean pollution activist Ben Lecomte (@BenLecomte – Twitter) is currently swimming his way through the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (hashtag #TheVortexSwim) to raise awareness and it isn’t just floating plastic bottles that are the problem, it’s the amount of microplastics he’s finding which is so shocking and saddening.


The question always comes up… “But will the consumer pay extra for earth-friendly products??”

I think lots of us already do. Maybe not 5 years ago, but today plastic is fast becoming the leper of beauty packaging. Damaging to the ecology, and infernally eternal, plastic is “cheap”.

But it’s everywhere. So until it isn’t, which won’t be in our lifetime (if ever?) it has to be RECYCLE, REUSE, etc. And focus on alternatives. Sadly there is no overnight solution to banish plastic from our lives, so we must do what we can while we can, and do it consistently.

Zero waste brands are already scoring big emotional points with consumers and again this applies to the food industry, too (shrink-wrapped coconuts, fruit and veg? Why?)

And in answer to “But aren’t eco-packaged & organic products more expensive?” I’d argue, yes OK possibly and probably, but why not use a brilliant multipurpose product instead – NYR’s Wild Rose Beauty Balm for example springs to mind. I don’t think it’s a huge deal to whittle your skincare stash down to just 3 (even if they’re more expensive?) earth-friendly products instead of 6 or 7 cheaper, “conventional” ones?

Buying natural/ eco-friendly items is not just a mark of self-respect for ourselves, it protects and respects this extraordinary planet we all inhabit.

Plastic has really been a thorn in my side lately, so I asked some people within the industry for their take on this issue…


NYR: Flying the flag for glass since Day 1

We already know and love the brands avoiding plastic altogether, using glass or bamboo (Dr Jackson’s, AMLY Botanicals, Inlight Beauty and original sustainable pioneer Neal’s Yard Remedies) while Weleda and REN Skincare for example are championing Terracycle (Weleda) or have promised to go #zerowaste by 2021 (REN).

The Body Shop founder Anita Roddick’s intentions were right (and ahead of her time) back in the day, when she encouraged customers to refill their bottle –  except that the bottles were plastic, not glass.


Then there’s “naked” beauty in the shape of unwrapped products like shampoo bars. And on the makeup side Kjaer Weiss’s chic silver metal refill cases are the brand’s original USP, a clever marketing move.

Bryanna Martonis, founder of eco lifestyle blog The EcoLogical and Beauty Shortlist Awards judge encourages way more use of natural plastic alternatives like glass versus Recycle/Reuse plastic packaged products.

Below: Less packaging, more shampoo: Cornish brand Beauty Kubes

“It’s been shown time and time again that recycling just isn’t working any more due to the sheer amount of products produced,” she says. “I approach “biodegradable” plastics with caution as they haven’t earned my trust as of yet.”

“Instead of plastic, I opt for glass, metal and sustainable wood based options – or even better yet, “naked” products! Solid bars or powders in minimal packaging are increasing in numbers for shampoos, moisturisers and conditioners – just look at the likes of Beauty Kubes and Sknfed!”


Bryanna adds that materials like award-winning Finnish innovation Sulapac – it’s upcyclable, made from wood and natural binders and used by the Happi Body Co for example – are also presenting new answers to the plastic problem.”

One of Beauty Shortlist Awards winner Dr Jackson’s points of difference, aside from its good formulas (it also sells lovely wellbeing teas),  is its distinctive amber glass bottles coupled with gift sets enrobed in ultra-minimalist, plain brown carton packaging. (I’m not joking when I say I think egg carton style boxes will be the new chic “wrap”…things are already veering that way!)

As Mauro Durant, Dr Jackson’s Creative Director points out:

“It is an expensive exercise to do environmentally friendly packaging today due to the lack of the demand from the cosmetics, food and many other industries.

It is cheaper to produce boxes in the plastic coated, glossy foil printed paper board, than in the 100% compostable or recycled paper that we use at Dr Jackson’s, and needless to say plastic containers are much cheaper than glass. But we prefer to subsidise part of the costs of our packaging and avoid as much as this industry allows, to cause any harm to the environment.”


A question I’d like to put out there is…could beauty adapt to the Weigh-Fill-Pay health food wholesaler system? It’s not as simple as scooping a heap of nut granola into a container, but will we one day see a Weigh-Fill-Pay beauty store…of sorts?


TerraCycle® & Weleda recently joined forces to ensure that any Weleda packaging that isn’t recyclable in the UK via local kerbside systems can be recycled another way – through Terracycle. And TerraCycle points earned through public drop-off locations supported by Weleda Wellbeing Advisors will go towards the Global Penguin Society conservation charity.

Also, even if there isn’t a drop-off location close to you, you can create your own – more info here:


Pinks Boutique founders Kirstie and Luke Sherriff (who’ve also created new men’s brand Proverb Skincare) are currently crowdfunding for the world’s kindest, refillable, totally natural deodorant.


Refills are a pivotal part of the big picture solution, so you have to ask…why aren’t there more in the beauty market?

As a general rule, we’re mostly seeing the indie, more activist brands leading the plastic-free way.  They’re lighter and quicker on their feet, arguably more closely connected to nature and just naturally more sustainable and eco-centric. They’re also more vocal when it comes to broadcasting the message loud and clear (especially Cornish, Californian and Aussie Byron Bay-based brands, if I really had to narrow it down geographically).

By comparison, big players move at an elephant’s pace, with shareholders to think of – the very people in fact who should be pushing for change – and there are huge costs involved in switching from plastic to natural alternatives, often across multiple territories, not to mention all the ad and marketing costs involved in getting their new “more eco” message to consumers.

Indie earth-friendly brands are already connecting effectively with consumers, bloggers and retailers, so bravo “them” for continually pushing the “protect our fragile planet” message.

The Natural Deodorant’s Orange + Bergamot Balm

Glass jar deodorants (are a trend)

On the subject of refills, The EcoLogical founder Bryanna adds: “I’m also really excited by the growing number of refill programmes, like the Zero Waste 500 Club by Awake Organics – what better way to conserve resources than to close the loop and use the same materials over and over again!”


SIPP COFFEE’s packaging by Australian brand PA Packaging

Innovative Aussie brand PA Packaging, used by wellbeing brands like Nutra Organics, MMore and SIPP, has been working on compostable plastic solutions.

PA Packaging went from FINALIST in this year’s Food & Beverage Industry Awards to eventual WINNER for its compostable home pouches at the 2019 awards on 19 July

The company produces a range of Australian certified home compostable paper and film barrier duplex and triplex lamination film packaging guaranteed to break down in a home compost bin within 26 weeks.

PA Packaging’s Liz Haywood elaborates:

“Our duplex and triplex packaging is plant based and contains:

* Paper sourced from FSC, PEFC accredited pulp.

* Natureflex (cellulose) film – produced using sustainably grown eucalyptus trees from managed plantations.  One to two new trees are planted for each tree felled.

* Bio-polymer produced using the offcut plant fibres from non-GMO sugarcane, cassava and corn crops. These offcuts normally would have been disposed of, now recycled to produce packaging.  The use of non-GMO plant waste is exclusive to our home compostable packaging.  The plant material is 100% organic and natural, free of chemicals and toxins, producing richer, nutrient heavy soil as it decomposes.”

Even adhesives are made from totally inert raw materials derived from plant sources, and not an eco-toxin in sight.

PA’s ink and varnish range is also made without any heavy metal content within the pigments. The printing ink and varnish range are both plant based and of food grade.

In other eco packaging news, The Times switched from a plastic wrapper to one made from potato starch

Packaging co’s are also experimenting with nature, such as BioFutura’s new materials made from fallen palm leaves and its “natural plastic” produce bags made from 100% compostable corn starch.

Meanwhile, bamboo and palm leaf plates have been selling well on Amazon, with palm leaf brand Aevia arguing their plates are better than disposable bamboo ones (perhaps open to debate?!)


REN Skincare CEO Arnaud Meysselle’s words rang true at a conference in Cannes last month:

“Packaging has meant luxury. The more packaging, the more luxury. At REN Clean Skincare, we decided to break that code. Packaging isn’t luxury anymore, packaging is waste.”

“Packaging isn’t luxury anymore. Packaging is waste”

  – Arnaud Meysselle, CEO, REN Skincare

I couldn’t agree more – luxury/superfluous/excessive packaging has a sour feel and taste to it these days. Give me a clean ocean to swim in, safe and healthy marine life and wildlife and humankind versus frilly, fluffy, bin-cluttering, unnecessary, planet-choking packaging any day.

Like Weleda, REN also works with Terracycle. Through REN’s Ocean Plastic Campaign, products are encased in 100% recycled plastic, containing 20% recycled “ocean plastic” which has been scooped up and sifted out from oceans and waterways by charities.

Fragrance brand Floral Street’s distinctive pulp carton packaging isn’t just planet friendlier, it’s eye-catching for  its sheer simplicity. I think we’ll see a lot more brands “dressing down” their wrapping with pulp/card boxes, or no boxes at all, and  lots more cool, minimalist logos (that bit’s already happening).

Much as you’d probably applaud innovations like this sneaker made from coffee grounds and plastic bottles (below – recently featured on @MyGreenPod) the priority has to be to STOP producing plastic – and here’s where shareholders, beauty buyers, retailers and the rest of us come in.

Below: 21 cups of coffee and 6 plastic bottles went into your RENS sneaker…the upper is made from coffee yarn from used coffee grounds.

ZERO WASTE – is the bar too high?

Actually *being* Zero Waste, Anti-Plastic’s extremely close relative, can feel daunting at times. I know from experience I’ve found it’s easier and more productive to aim “low waste” all the time than try but fail to live zero waste.

As @ZeroWasteChef Anne-Marie Bonneau says, “We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.”

Last but not least, it’s the little things (like microbeads) that can be the biggest problems. Makeup remover pads are tricky ecologically, so reusable bamboo ones have been gaining popularity of late.

London brand Magnitone, a Beauty Shortlist Awards winner, has introduced its new WIPE OUT 100% Bamboo Microfibre Cleansing Cloths which last up to 1,000 uses and are kind to the planet. (Just add water).



As part of our 10th BEAUTY SHORTLIST ANNIVERSARY CELEBRATIONS this autumn, we want to hear your idea(s) for moving the beauty industry forward in a much more earth-friendly direction.

We’ll reveal full details of the competition when we officially announce our 2020 Beauty Shortlist & Wellbeing Awards on 2 September (entries are open now, click on the image below for details/the entry form).

Your idea can be related specifically to the beauty industry OR much broader, across food, lifestyle, fashion, etc. Innovative ideas, new natural packaging, better sustainability, cutting edge solutions…we’re all ears!

The 5 most interesting, change-driven winning ideas will be published on The Beauty Shortlist in the autumn and receive a specially-curated selection of Beauty Shortlist Awards winners.



Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published