Cosmetic brands urged to rethink packaging recyclability

Plastics Recycling Charity RECOUP has followed up its serial ‘Recyclability by Design’ reports with a new set of case studies, focused on the cosmetic and beauty industry.

The report, now available to the public, explores the current recyclability of several categories of bathroom goods, including dental care, personal hygiene, hair care, skin care, sun care, hair removal, nail care and cosmetic products.

Bathroom products
Cosmetic and hygiene products are a huge source of waste in the UK, with the average woman generating 527 items of waste every year. 57 per cent of Brits do not recycle any bathroom products, and whilst this could be linked to the lack of convenient recycling measures in bathrooms, such as recycling bins, RECOUP emphasises the need for a greater awareness of the recyclability of cosmetic and hygiene product packaging.

Cosmetics are a unique retail good, the report notes, as they utilise packaging to encourage impulse buying. Packaging is designed in order to be quirky and eye-catching in order to grab the attention of shoppers, with high-end products sporting excessive levels of packaging in order to suggest a ‘luxury’ quality to the consumer.

The industry, valued at £33bn, lacks consistent messaging on product recycling. Whilst many citizens are now used to considering the recyclability of plastic kitchen products, this often gets lost in beauty and personal care regimes. However, with all UK Local Authorities collecting bottles at the kerbside, RECOUP believes there is scope to improve recycling rates of HDPE, PP and PET bathroom products through optimised design and clear consumer guidance, noting that this responsibility rests on the shoulders of cosmetic and hygiene brands.

Paul East, RECOUP Packaging Sustainability Manager, 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?”

In the report, RECOUP highlights the reasons why beauty products may fail to make it through sorting systems, demonstrating the issues with the sorting of small items and why size dictates recyclability regardless of polymer type.

Mixed-material packaging is also highlighted as an issue, particularly for dental care products, which are often packaged using a combination of plastics sandwiched around a thin layer of aluminium, making the product impossible to recycle through conventional methods. Cosmetic and makeup products, which may contain small mirrors and brushes, are similarly impossible to recycle, and brand ‘take-back’ schemes offer little evidence of reuse or recycling.

In recent years, hygiene and cleaning brands have proposed a refillable pouch as a greener solution to rigid plastics. However, being made from flexible materials, the pouches can be difficult to recycle, and in some cases, cannot be recycled at all. RECOUP presents L’Occitane’s plastic pouches as an example here, as they contain a rigid plastic spout and therefore cannot be recycled through store-front collections.

The report also outlines recommendations for the colouring and format of plastic, warning the industry against using black HDPE and flexible PP or PE materials, which are unable to be recycled. The use of shrink sleeves and large labels are identified as an additional factor which may impede recyclability, with RECOUP urging brands to ensure that labels cover no more than 40 per cent of the packaging’s surface area.

Margaret Bates, Executive Director at OPRL, said: “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.”

To read the report, you can visit RECOUP's website.

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