The future of beauty is in how it’s packaged

TerraCycle Include USA l’Occitane The Body Shop Gillette
While innovation in the beauty world often focuses on defying age or bringing out that elusive inner glow, the industry’s ugliest issue to tackle in 2021 is actually the amount of waste it generates. That pump on your favourite serum, for example, often includes so many parts that the entire product is non-recyclable, and that contributes to the almost 90 per cent of discarded plastics that end up in Canadian landfills every year.   “All that packaging, which is very durable and goes through intensive quality control – why couldn’t it be refilled?” wonders green beauty pioneer Tata Harper. “I think over all, [we’re] an industry that has a lot of work to do in terms of reusability.”   Harper is leading the way to more sustainably-packaged cosmetics, which isn’t surprising considering the eco-friendly approach to skin care she has developed over the past decade. A former industrial engineer, Harper founded her namesake brand in 2010 as a natural alternative to luxury skin-care labels such as La Mer. The brand evolved out of sourcing natural ingredients for her stepfather, who had been diagnosed with skin cancer. Today, she is beloved for her oils and serums, which are all produced on a 1,200-acre organic farm in Champlain Valley, Vt., where she’s lived since launching the business.   Sustainable packaging was baked in from the very beginning, with Harper’s products mostly bottled in glass and packaged in recycled paper boxes dyed with natural soy-based pigments. “Designing how you produce things for sustainability is incredibly important, because you reduce waste dramatically by controlling what and how you produce,” Harper says.   Harper’s latest product, the lightweight, silicone-free Water-Lock Moisturizer, is sold in a sustainable refill system that solves the pump conundrum by incorporating an inner pod that can be removed, recycled and replaced. The outer shell can continue functioning for up to two years.   “Cartridges and refill stations will soon become the norm – especially when it comes to skin and hair care,” says Sarah Jay, a sustainability expert behind the 2019 documentary Toxic Beauty. Last year, Unilever announced that 100 per cent of its plastic packaging will be reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025. Brands such as Gillette, The Body Shop and L’Occitane have partnered with recycling company TerraCycle on incentive programs that encourage customers to return empty products for recycling or refilling. “It is an absolute priority for brands to take responsibility for the waste they generate,” Jay says.   Harper points out that ensuring sustainability is an evolving process for beauty brands such as hers – and pre-empting the demands of the market has become an integral part of how she does business. “We’re never done learning,” she says. “There’s always something new and better to try, especially when it comes to packaging.”