Most of us will feel guilt over throwing away empty pots of cream or defunct mascara tubes.
But the waste generated by our love of lipsticks is staggering.
The beauty industry creates an estimated 120 billion packaging units per year, which is accountable for up to 40% of all landfill waste and much of which also ends up in the ocean.
Clearly, this isn’t a sustainable state of affairs.
‘There is such a problem with recycling beauty components, however hard we try,’ says Rakesh Aggarwal, owner of online retailer escentual.com.
‘Many parts, such as spray caps, are non-recyclable. Constructing a product can have a massive carbon footprint – you might bring in a spray cap from China, a lid from somewhere else, and put it together in France or Italy.
Refilling – either with recyclable pouches, powder or lipstick inserts or large bottles from which you can decant product – will eliminate some of this.’
What we need to do, he says, is to view the initial glass bottles or stylish aluminium containers as investments.
‘It’s tragic that stunningly designed packaging is quickly discarded,’ he says.
‘Refilling is a movement, not a trend,’ says Anna Priadka, founder of Fiils, a company that provides only refillable products.
Its premise is simple, buy a reusable aluminium bottle in rose gold, silver or copper, with refillable pouches of shampoo, conditioner or body wash. Decant into the bottle and send the pouches back for free recycling.
There are numerous advantages to refills. ‘They are less energy-intensive to produce, because there is less packaging, and this also reduces emissions during shipping,’ says Priadka.
‘It’s also benefiting the consumer,’ says Aggarwal. ‘Refills cost less and make the product more flexible – you can put liquids into different sizes.’
The refill trend may have been pushing up shoots throughout the industry for some time – L’Occitane launched some in 2008 – but Priadka says it’s only in the past couple of years that it’s taken hold.
Now, take a look across the beauty industry and everything from mascaras to lipsticks, face creams and shampoos is available in refillable, and highly innovative, form.
So what’s put on the pressure?
‘I think Covid has had a positive effect on our approach to climate change,’ says Priadka. ‘We saw that the climate recovered a little during lockdown and people started to question their personal impact on the environment.’
‘What we see in Europe is that consumers are moving from being passive recipients to becoming passionate advocates, and even activists, demanding sustainable solutions,’ agrees Jasmin Akpak, senior director at Herbal Essences, which has introduced a Good Refill system.
What’s interesting about refills is that it’s not just specifically eco companies, but premium brands such as Dior and Clarins.
‘This is a move in the right direction, though it’s responding to demand,’ says Priadka. ‘It’s harder to change from within. Newer companies, with a clear sustainable premise, are able to offer the option right from the start and can be transparent and confident about their eco-credentials.’
Some companies take it a step further with refill stations. The Body Shop has these nationwide, and is planning to have them in 500 stores by the end of 2022. Faith in Nature also has them around the country.
And if you can still remember the sound of glass milk bottles clanking in the morning, you’ll be charmed by Circla, a London-based company operating a zones 1-2 beauty delivery service (via electric vehicle, of course), which picks up your empties when it drops off your reorders. Genius.
To start your re-fillable beauty journey, here are some of our favourites.
Above & Beyond Everlasting Lip Balm
Lifetime-use aluminium cases with compostable, microplastic-free refills, in four chic colours and four sweet flavours.
Refillable Makeup Palette from Benecos
Buy the empty palette and fill with products of your choice: blusher, highlighter, shadows and powders in recyclable aluminium containers.
Lush Vegan Lipstick refills
So cleverly packaged – a nifty little reusable case, and naked wax refills in a range of pretty colours. Peel off the wax at the bottom of the lipstick and slot it into the empty container.
Merci Handy Refillable Shower Gel Tablets
Many products have a massive amount of added water. These tablets dissolve in water in a refillable glass bottle.
A durable case with refills of solid deodorant, which contains magnesium hydroxide and sodium bicarbonate to neutralise odours. Five fresh flavours.
ESPA Essentials Collection
Refill pouches of deliciously scented lotions containing four essential oil blends.
Charlotte Tilbury Magic Night Cream Refill
This refill of Tilbury’s cult cream slots into the original glass jar. Also refills for lipsticks, bronzers and brow products.
Dermalogica Daily Microfoliant: Canister
The brand’s bestselling powder exfoliant. The refill is made with 92% less plastic.