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Refillable and Recyclable Beauty: 101

One of the biggest contributors to landfills over the last few years is single-use packaging from the fashion and beauty industry.

Although this doesn't mean brands aren't doing anything to be better at recycling and reducing plastic waste generated by their products. Brands like Victoria Beckham Beauty's products are delivered in cardboard boxes with dissolvable packing peanuts, Lush has a range of products that are completely packaging-free and as of 2021, more and more brands are introducing refill pouches and cartridges for some of their best-sellers. L'Occitane's refill pouches use up to 90 per cent less plastic than regular bottles, saving more than 214 tonnes of plastic each year according to Glamour Magazine, Celebrity hairstylist Jen Atkin's OUAI recently launched refill pouches for their latest shampoos and conditioners which reportedly use 40% less plastic than the rigid bottles and gives their customers enough product for three refills for the price of two, and brands like Nordstrom are partnering with TerraCycle to make recycling packaging as easy as possible for customers across the globe. Keep reading for a recap of brands offering refill and recycling schemes in a combined effort to create a circular economy for the beauty industry.


Cosmetics brands like Charlotte Tilbury, Hourglass and MAC sell refills for products like their lipsticks and eyeshadow palettes to encourage shoppers to replace the cartridges for their old products rather than buying new and discarding the older one. Charlotte Tilbury offers refills for a range of shades for the Hot Lips 2 Collection including Viva la Vergara, Patsy Red and Dancing Princess. Hourglass also offers refills for their Ultra Slim Lipsticks and I'm so glad because I wouldn't ever want to part with such pretty packaging – anyone else getting some Killing Eve vibes?

Coming to the MAC refills, the idea itself is genius. How many of us actually use all shades out of eyeshadow palettes we buy? MAC lets you buy empty palettes and customise them with the exact shades you want, further encouraging less product and packaging waste beyond your first purchase. The custom palettes aren't only limited to eyeshadows, you can also use them to buy pods for concealer, blush and cream colour bases. Some of my favourite shades are Sandstone and Gold Mine.


One of the first few beauty brands to offer refills for their best-selling products, L'Occitane even created refill stations in some of its stores for customers to refill their favourite products straight from the tap, further eliminating packaging waste from the refill pouches. The brand surpassed its goals of offering eco-refills for 25 products by 2022 – they currently have 33 eco-refills for their body care, skincare and haircare best-sellers.

According to The Guardian, The Body Shop did try to introduce refill stations for their shower gels back in the 1990s but had to shut it down because customers at the time didn't comprehend the significance of the service and failed to understand how it worked. In 2019, the brand reintroduced their recycle and refill scheme – customers can now purchase 250ml aluminium bottles which they can \then refill over and over with shower gels at the refill stations in their Bond Street store in London, and the Pacific Centre store in Vancouver.

While REN Clean Skincare does offer customers the option to refill their old bottles with product, the process takes slightly longer than buying a refill pouch off the shelf. The need to keep active ingredients in skincare stable is a key decider in the packaging brands use, but REN has found a way around refilling that retains the quality and safety of the product by partnering with Loop. Their products are available on Loop's website in glass bottles and once you finish using the product, Loop collects the bottles from your house, sterilises and refills it before putting it back up for sale on their website (within the recycling period set for glass jars, mostly ten cycles). This doesn't necessarily fall under the umbrella of a refill scheme but does promote the practice of zero-waste in beauty and that is definitely worth a mention.

If like me, you're not in a city with refill stations – all hope is not lost! Brands like Kiehl's, MAC, Lush, Aveda, The Body Shop and more will take all your old, empty (and cleaned) jars and tubes back for recycling. Most brands even give you a free gift or a voucher in return, which is a great incentive you can share with recycling beginners (as if the climate crisis wasn't enough).

Here's hoping 2021 is the year we all begin to embrace and encourage a circular economy when we consume fashion and beauty! If you're interested in some further research into the topic of recycling and refilling beauty, check out the latest episode of The Estée Lalonde Show where the Head of Communications at TerraCycle discusses the importance of recycling solutions.



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