British Beauty Council calls for ‘responsible consumption’ in the beauty industry

responsible consumption

In an industry first, the British Beauty Council has released a sustainability report, calling on the beauty industry to embrace a sustainable approach to Responsible consumption processes.

The for responsible consumption report, Courage To Change, was researched and written by social impact consultancy Junxion Strategy and includes a survey of 3,000 UK residents commissioned by environmental charity Hubbub.

According to the report, confusion about which products can be recycled, too much plastic, cruelty to animals and ocean pollution are some of consumers’ top concerns regarding the beauty sector in responsible consumption process.

The report also sets out a vision and action plan for a sustainable beauty sector in the UK and the role that government and consumers might play and outlines the key sustainability-related issues affecting the business of beauty.

Beauty issues

  • Supply chain vulnerabilities, highlighted even further by the global pandemic, are being exacerbated by environmental changes resulting from climate change and biodiversity loss.
  • Ingredients, both rare and more common, are being affected by changing weather patterns and over-consumption. Increases in flooding and drought are heavily impacting not only agriculture, but also manufacturing.
  • Access to water is a growing challenge. This is of particular concern to the beauty industry, which is such a high volume user. Scarce resources are expensive ones, so it will make less and less business sense to persist with outdated practices.
  • Industrial processes: recent research has found that perfumes, hairsprays and deodorants pollute the environment as much as car emissions

With these in mind, the British Beauty Council is calling for individual brands to ‘do more’ to improve the impact of their products and support consumers to make better choices; for consumers to choose ‘positively impactful products’, use them ‘wisely’ and engage with brands on the issues they care about; and the industry to collaborate through a Sustainable Beauty Coalition and responsible consumption process.

Misleading labels

On 2 November, the government-run Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) announced that it will investigate descriptions and labels used to promote products and services claiming to be ‘eco-friendly’, and whether they could mislead customers.

Such ‘misleading behaviour’ could include exaggerating the positive environmental impact of a product or service or implying that items are eco-friendly when this is not true.

As the Hubbub survey revealed in the report, 86% of beauty consumers want information about ingredient supply chains, while 1 in 5 people don’t know how to check a product’s sustainability credentials.

With the growing interest in responsible consumption and the collective consciousness that has been borne out of a global pandemic and six months of social unrest, prioritising sustainability isn’t just the right thing to do, it makes good business sense, too.

The CMA’s investigation will include a number of sectors but will focus on areas where consumers appear to be most concerned about ‘eco-friendly’ claims, including fashion, cosmetics, food and cleaning products.

The Hubbub survey also shows a shift in consumer habits with 1 in 7 people saying they’ve recently changed to a more environmentally friendly cosmetic product or brand and 59% are willing to refill their beauty or grooming products.

Working together

“It’s time the beauty industry started working together like we’re seeing other industries do,” said Anna Teal, British Beauty Council Pillar President for Innovation and CEO of Aromatherapy Associates. Anna co-commissioned the report with Millie Kendall MBE, CEO of the British Beauty Council.

“We believe the Courage to Change report was an urgent first step towards a collective industry effort,” she said. “With the growing interest in responsible consumption and the collective consciousness that has been borne out of a global pandemic and six months of social unrest, prioritising sustainability isn’t just the right thing to do, it makes good business sense, too.”

Recyclability by design

Plastics Recycling Charity, RECOUP have used case studies as an effective method of delivering the recyclability by design message in food packaging and the team are now looking to apply these principles across a wider range of sectors including beauty and personal care.

The study is now in the open domain with some additional thoughts around face cream and moisturiser packaging.

The recycling message to consumers for items from the bathroom is a confusing one, RECOUP says. And whilst many citizens are now getting used to thinking of plastics recyclability daily with kitchen items this ‘often gets lost’ when it comes to beauty and personal care regimes.

Whether it is due to convenience (no bathroom recycling bin), or lack of recycling instructions, greater awareness is needed to ensure that the lotions and potions packaging is recycled.

With all UK local authorities collecting bottles kerbside, there is opportunity to recycle more in terms of HDPE, PP and PET bathroom products, RECOUP says.

RECOUP has highlighted in its case studies the reasons why beauty product packaging might not make it through sorting systems.

The work demonstrates the issues with the sorting of small items and why size dictates recyclability regardless of polymer type.

Label coverage is also identified as a barrier to recyclability with RECOUP pointing out that products should not include more than a 40% coverage to ensure they are NIR detected.   The study also highlights the issues with multi-polymer and multi-material challenges.

RECOUP Packaging Sustainability Manager Paul East explained: “After consideration of recyclability principles in the design of their packaging, brand owners should consider how to promote their own products by thinking about how they are disposed of in the home. Is there clear instruction on disposal, including advice on recycling?”

Bathroom product recycling

A survey conducted in 2019 revealed that around 57% of UK residents do not recycle any bathroom products. It is calculated that the average UK household uses over 52,000-bathroom products in their lifetime, weighing a total of 512 kilograms.

With the UK market being worth £33bn in terms of cosmetic and beauty products along, the industry has a responsibility to help increase recycling rates through improved design and clear consumer guidance for responsible consumption.

Margaret Bates, Executive Director, at OPRL commented. “The study really shows that we need to ensure that easy to understand labelling for recycling is on all our packaging not just the things we have in the kitchen.

“Sometimes it’s hard to find the right place to put a label that the consumer will see but increasingly they expect to have recycling information and brands need to supply it – rather than keep on including labels that are confusing or meaningless to the UK consumer such as the Green dot or resin codes.”

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