Credit: Unsplash

Makeup recycling for all

By Meghan McLoone

Recycling stations are coming to a local supermarket near you.

The UK beauty industry is worth a staggering £17bn, offering everything from foundation to snail slime face cleanser (oh yes, it exists). The industry includes high-street makeup brands that everyone raves about, and high-end designer brands selling night cream that’s worth a month’s wages. It seems like a win-win for all… if only they were environmentally friendly.

The popular high street makeup brand L’Oréal has recently taken the plunge in becoming one of the leading brands in the makeup industry to become more environmentally friendly. In 1,000 UK stores, L’Oréal is introducing makeup recycling points in shops such as Tesco, Boots, Sainsbury’s, and Superdrug. It’s a good shout for that one makeup bag full of dodgy mascaras that are a bit on the ancient side – and let’s face it, if you tried to gouge out whatever was left and put it on, you’d probably have a nasty case of pinkeye…

The real question is, will this recycling campaign be effective? This initiative is a further addition to L’Oréal’s already booming waste reduction policy, which last year resulted in 97% of the company’s industrial waste being recovered either by reusing, recycling, or harnessing it to create energy. According to L’Oréal, this is not a one-off temporary innovation. Since 2017, they have been cultivating new product merchandising and design through their operation system, Sustainable Product Optimization Tool (SPOT), which according to L’Oréal “measures the environmental and social impact of the Group’s products, adding social criteria for the first time to the use of environmental indicators.” This clearly shows a conscious push from the company to tackle mass pollution head-on.

The instalment of these recycling points in supermarkets allows customers to integrate recycling into their weekly routine, as its success can only be enhanced due to its ease of access for everyone. But how many of us will actually utilise these recycling points? According to Adrian Colman, CEO of Wincanton British Logistics, “it’s clear to see consumer attitudes towards the environment extend far greater than just ditching plastic straws. Today’s consumers are looking for retailers who share their ethics and can demonstrate how they are doing their part for the environment.” The success of this scheme will contribute to a rapidly growing vegan and eco-friendly cosmetics market which is set to hit £16bn by 2025.

While this new addition to shops is welcomed and encourages most of us to finally declutter that oversized makeup bag, it cannot be ignored that the industry has a lot more to be done. Greenpeace has commented on the move, saying that without reducing single-use plastic, production firms cannot claim they are doing enough. The question is at what cost to the environment is our vanity? Luxurious packaging, multiple layers of plastic and a few sheets of bubble wrap later, and voila! The anticipated product appears… and the numerous shells of packaging are in the bin. 

A colossal 120bn units of packaging are produced every year by the global cosmetics industry, and this is only the tip of the iceberg.  Mass sea pollution has contributed to a large rubbish formation in the Pacific Ocean which is three times the size of France. The high levels of plastic in the ocean also destroy natural coral reefs, habitats, and millions of wildlife; the plastic creates rising temperatures and acidification which changes the pH of water, causing a life-threatening change to the once natural oasis for aquatic life.

The makeup industry has made long-lasting changes to their contributions to sea pollution. Brands such as Lush, UpCircle and Axiology belong to the new, non-plastic beauty age ensuring, along with innovating brands such as L’Oréal, that buying the next best eyeshadow palette won’t damage the natural world. It is, however, only a stepping stone in a very long journey towards a completely eco-friendly worldwide beauty industry. The reality is factory pollution, unethical sourcing of palm oil, and animal testing are still major issues within the beauty industry which are still damaging the environment. 

Until these issues are tackled with a more serious determination, recycling initiatives such as the L’Oréal campaign cannot celebrate an environmental win for the industry. These small yet crucial campaigns do paint a promising picture for the future of the makeup industry’s environmental compatibility – however, it’s up to us, the consumers, to continue to spread awareness of the benefits of eco-friendly makeup. Our role as the consumer has never been more crucial. Becoming more aware of the environmentally-conscious brands we can support is an essential point in the success of this eco transition in the industry. Investing in legitimately environmentally friendly brands eliminates the potential for buying products from companies which use this movement as nothing more than a sales strategy.


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Gail Smith

Is there a postal address I can send makeup to for recycling? Thank you for your attention.