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17 Jun 2021

Plastic Free Beauty Day 2021 – Let’s talk about cosmetics

Hannah Carter, RWM Expo
Plastic Free Beauty Day 2021 RWM

Plastic Free Beauty Day 2021 aims to educate consumers about the importance of reducing plastic, promoting plastic-free alternatives or properly recycling plastic if it is used. 

According to the BBC: “Every year, more than 380 million tonnes of plastic is produced worldwide. That's about the same as 2,700,000 blue whales – more than 100 times the weight of the entire blue whale population. Just 16% of plastic waste is recycled to make new plastics, while 40% is sent to landfill, 25% to incineration and 19% is dumped.” 

The cosmetics industry is one of the biggest producers of plastic and is often made up of complex parts which are hard to separate and clean. According to Beat the Micro Bead: “Last year it was reported that 120 billion units of packaging are produced every year by the global cosmetics industry, bulked out by the use of complex lids, multi-layered boxes, and cellophane, much of which is superfluous, non-recyclable and ends up in our landfills and oceans.” 

However, it’s not just the packaging itself, every year, tonnes of microplastics wash down our drains and contaminate our water systems. Beat the Micro Bead tested a 50ml bottle of anti-aging cream and found that it contained roughly 1.48 million polyethylene particles.  

This Plastic Free Beauty Day highlights alternatives to plastic beauty products. Although there are many different types of plastic free cosmetics available, it will also take a change in consumer behavior minimize plastic in the cosmetic industry or to at least ensure it is recycled properly. 

Plastic Free Beauty Day 2021 RWM


One of the simplest solutions is using biodegradable materials. Materials such as cardboard and bamboo are starting to be used in the cosmetics industry. Also, more advanced biomaterials are being developed, such as mycelium and different forms of bioplastics. However, the main issue with biodegradable packaging is ensuring it is composted or recycled properly. We currently have the systems in place to recycle most household waste, if companies are designing packaging made from alternative biomaterials, does this pose an issue for our current recycling systems? 


Refillable products have been designed so the consumer only needs to buy the casing once and when they run out, they can head to an in-store dispensing systems, or simply purchase the refill to top up their products. Refillable products encourage brands to design out waste and think circular. The casings for refillable products can also be made from recycled plastics or alternative materials such as aluminum.  

Minimal packaging 

One main issue with using plastic in cosmetics is the complexity of the designs. With small parts which are hard for the consumer to break up and clean, it makes the plastic very hard to recycle. One solution to this issue is creating more minimal packaging which is easier for the consumer to separate, wash and recycle. Since its inception 23 years ago, Lush have honored their commitment to protect the world and champion minimal packaging. Their long-term goal is to be fully circular, stating that “over the last two decades and a half, we have been pioneering materials recovery, using recycled and recyclable packaging and the best of all, avoiding it altogether.” 

Return Scheme 

Some shops selling cosmetics have taken it upon themselves to tackle plastic waste and have introduced return schemes. Boots have a reward system where the customer can exchange their empty bottles for money to encourage recycling as part of their routine. The empty bottles will either be sorted, cleaned and reused or turned into a composite construction composite material. Boots have “already recycled over 373,000 items – weighing over 6000kg – in the first six month of the scheme”. 

At RWM, you can find more materials and packaging innovations at the energy and materials theatre and the packaging theatre which is sponsored by Valpak. The packaging theatre is where visitors can learn about new packaging techniques and materials and discover where products fit into the circular economy. Topics will include, EPR, compliance, new packaging materials and technologies, and case studies on dealing with different types of packaging. 

Register for your free ticket here.