If you buried a time capsule today, what would you seal inside it?
It’s unlikely that empty shampoo bottles came first to mind. Yet in 2018, the haircare market was worth over $87 billion. As a result, untold numbers of plastic shampoo and conditioner bottles were discarded in landfill sites, where they will remain until they biodegrade or are dug up by future archaeologists, perhaps exploring an age of excess packaging. Plastic is liberally estimated to take 450 years to break down, suggesting that the latter will come first.
In the marketing world, of course, plastic and other packaging materials play an important role. Extra boxes, layers and frills are shiny and visual; they catch the eye and add unnecessary cost to a product. Dreamy, obviously, if you’re taking home the profit. Not so ideal for the customer, or indeed the planet, but the rise of solid, naked products offers an eco-friendly alternative.
During the festive period of 2017, sales of 780, 959 naked shower gels, body conditioners, shampoo bars, body scrubs, body lotions, sparkle jars and lip products meant that nearly 800, 000 pieces of packaging were never even made, let alone wasted by Lush UK.
This increased customer demand for less packaging is a welcome challenge to retailers. Plastic packaging-related waste equated to 2,260 tonnes of landfill in the UK in 2016, and, according to government statistics, only 44.9% of this total was recovered or recycled.
Now, 60% of Lush products are naked (and this rises to over 80% during festive periods with seasonal ranges), with solid shampoo and conditioner sales alone increasing by 14.6% in 2017. These travel-friendly, naked bars are packed full of essential oils, so you also get more bang(s) for your buck, with each shampoo bar lasting for up to 80 washes: around three times longer than shampoo by the bottle.
Lush co-founder, Mark Constantine explains: “Packaging is rubbish and for too long we had had to suffer excessive amounts of it. Now that the true financial and environmental costs are becoming obvious, customers are challenging manufacturers and retailers to cut the wrap. Companies like ours need to think out of the box and present customers with innovations that allow them to buy truly naked products.”
Transforming liquids to solids may be a task of Wonka-esque proportions, but the process often has multiple benefits. Inventing (and reinventing) products naked goes hand in hand with making them self-preserving, which means that products don’t need to be filled with synthetic preservatives to stay safe and fresh. By replacing the water content with ingredients that remain solid at room temperature, like Fair Trade cocoa butter, bacteria growth is inhibited and stays that way. Eureka!
When you order naked products online, packaging won’t be the spectre at the feast either. In fact, the EcoFlo they’re packed in is created from potato starch that is recycled after use in the crisp manufacturing process. The simple nuggets biodegrade quickly in water and soil; take 23% less energy to make than their predecessor, popcorn; and studies by Brunel University and the University of Humberside have concluded they’re better at keeping products protected during transit than polystyrene counterparts.
Similarly, (eco-friendly) light bulb moments are also driving innovation for currently packaged products too, championing environmentally friendly alternatives where possible.
Take black pots for example. When you’re finished using five Lush products in black pots you can bring them back to your local Lush in exchange for a free fresh face mask. The black pots are then cleaned thoroughly and shredded at the Lush Green Hub in Dorset, before being made into pellets, heated and remoulded back into black pots. Last year, just shy of 375,000 were returned to Poole, but this is only a fraction of the total black pots created. By bringing yours back to be recycled you can help to close the loop, so that every single black pot has more lives than a cat.
And, welcome as it is, it’s not just about recycling on a personal basis. Customers have the power to demand a change in attitude from retailers and prompt industry-wide improvement. Tell us what you think. Kick up a fuss. Challenge us and others to do better - to recycle harder, better, faster, stronger.
Rather than that time capsule, let’s give future generations an even better Earth to bathe on.