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Cut The Wrap: How makeup packaging is ruining the face of the planet

There’s plenty of information to be found on the impact of discarding “throwaway” fashion and food wrap. But when it comes to the makeup industry, the problem of packaging is harder to quantify. With an excess of cardboard, plastic, glass, metal and paper surrounding our lipsticks, foundations and mascaras, this is where we really need to start thinking outside the box, writes Laura Briggs


Makeup is big business. According to Forbes, the beauty industry is worth an eye-watering $445 billion – enough to make anyone’s mascara run. The average cosmetic bag is brimming with products, and consumers are spending anything up to £7,000 a year on varying shades of lipsticks, foundations, eyeliners and blush.


Makeup brands have in recent years moved more towards using “natural”ingredients, thanks to a drive from consumers to know exactly what they are putting on their skin, but how concerned should we be about the packaging our makeup comes encased in?


It’s believed around one billion lipstick casings are discarded each year, ending up in landfill where, if they’re made of plastic, they’ll take in excess of 400-500 years to degrade.


The plastic crisis and the effects of marine pollution has been well documented. On Lush Player Imogen Napper talks about the sources of plastic pollution in the ocean, the makeup industry being one of those polluting culprits.


According to market research firm Euromonitor, in 2008 the beauty industry accounted for  around 120.8 billion units of packaging, and the Zero Waste Week initiative reports that cardboard packaging around perfumes, serums and moisturisers contributes to the global loss of 18 million acres of forest each year.

Materials such as plastic, glass, metal and paper are all used in packaging, but plastic still remains popular for makeup due to its low cost, light weight, and convenience.Some brands are switching to biopolymers or wood and bamboo products to reduce their carbon footprint, and some are looking at refillable makeup cases. At Lush, we champion going naked. This means no packaging at all.


Lush co-founder Mark Constantine explains: “Packaging is rubbish and for too long we have 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.”


With a change in public perception about the environmental impact of single use plastics, the makeup industry needs to reflect this growing concern and create more sustainable packaging – ditching the oil-based plastics and moving towards more environmentally-friendly solutions. More advice on what can and can’t be recycled is also key to helping consumers make better choices.


A big part of the problem is that not enough from our cosmetic bags are being recycled. While many kerbside collections take food waste, cardboard and glass, the likes of makeup boxes, lipstick cases, mascara wands and foundations pots are thrown straight into the landfill bin.


Research from WRAP’s 2016 Recycle Now campaign found that if every UK household recycled one lipstick box; stood end to end, they would reach from London to Paris and back over three times.


Craig Stephens, campaign manager for Recycle Now, says: “While we are recycling more and more as a nation, it’s important that we remember to recycle items from all around the house. In fact, whilst almost 90% of people in the UK claim to regularly recycle from the kitchen, only 52% say they regularly recycle from the bathroom. Every little helps and recycling just one more item of makeup packaging can be of huge benefit to the environment.”

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation identified that packaging accounts for nearly 20% of household waste. The frequency of purchases and high volumes associated with consumer products, including makeup, mean that consumers buy an estimated 207 million tonnes of packaging globally – and most of that will be discarded within moments of the purchase.


Packaging is likely to be sticking around for most makeup companies, in fact research from the Cosmetic Packaging Market Research Report – Forecast to 2023, suggests that the global cosmetic packaging market is to grow annually by a rate of 5.2% by 2023. If this happens, the market will be worth a staggering $35.6 billion by then. And with more and more of us shopping online, the demand of lightweight packaging is showing no sign of slowing down.


For too long the makeup industry has glossed over the problem with its packaging but if we think of makeup in similar terms to fashion and food, then we can push the change to cut down on makeup’s contribution to waste. Look at what your cosmetics are wrapped in, invest in makeup that you know you’ll use up, or that you can refill, and if you can avoid makeup packaging completely, then all the better.


"Packaging is rubbish and for too long we have 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"

Comments (2)


about 1 year ago

I love Lush and love the program to recycle the black pots some of your products are sold in. However, it would be incredible to have a system to reward people for going the naked product route, even just as an encouragement to do so, as is the intention of the recycle program. Thanks for the good work!


about 1 year ago

Excellent article! This really has just opened my eyes wider than I thought they were already opened. Great to have such a concise article to share with friends and family too. Thanks Laura. Thanks LUSH!