Ahh, fast fashion. A phrase that we have all heard before. The concept goes that as fashion trends come and go, retailers are producing a huge amount of quick-turn-around products to keep up with our need for more, more, more.
And while this issue has laid firmly in the hands of the fashion industry for some time, we have some bad news – it seems the new concept of ‘fast beauty’ is quickly becoming a reality. If, like us, you’re the kind of person that doesn’t believe you can ever have too many lipsticks/face creams/palettes/cleansers/serums etc, it’s time to reconsider.
In the last few years, we have seen a rise in social media trends that promote excess beauty consumption, from shelfies to hauls. And the bad news is that while they’re pleasing on the eye, this mentality is having a negative effect on the way that we buy. Recent research shows that annual UK beauty spend per head is set to rise £73 to £487 by 2022.
And, while there’s no doubt we’re spending more, other research carried out by Fragrance Direct shows that while we’re happy to splash the cash on beauty, the average woman in the UK is only using 12 products in her daily beauty regime. So what is happening to all of the product we just can’t resist buying? For most, the story goes that it sits in our drawers until we tire of it and then eventually, we might pass it onto a friend or, most likely, chuck it out.
Stephen Clarke, Head of Communications at recycling company Terracycle, explains: “Beauty industry products and packaging have to look good and be pretty so consumers pick them off the shelf and buy them. Plastic packaging brings down production and transportation costs for producers, offering an accessible price for consumers, making beauty and personal care products easy to use, and encouraging disposal and new purchases.”
The issue arises here, at the stage where we throw out our products. Unfortunately, in the same vein as the issues that arise with fast fashion, beauty products are incredibly hard to dispose of sustainably. Due to the complex makeup of our beauty products, recycling them isn’t as easy as it sounds.
“Small containers are hard to clean, multi-compositional packages need separating at the material level, coloured and opaque plastics have low demand in the recyclables market, and the small size of the caps, pots, wands and trays of makeup and skin care fall through the cracks at recycling facilities. Most common beauty products contribute to the world’s growing plastic waste problem and, without adequate recovery solutions, are tracked for landfills. Burned, buried, or simply littered where waste management is insufficient, many plastic waste items find their way into oceans and waterways,” says Stephen.
While we know that recycling our beauty products is of utmost important in tackling the growing issue of the amount of plastic waste ending up in our oceans, the issue needn’t not be solely about what we buy, and rather about how much we buy. Stephen says: “Plastic as a production material itself isn’t the problem. Rather, it’s the fact that most of these plastic items are actually designed to be disposable.”
So what exactly can we do to tackle this issue? The truth is, steps are already being made. We’re already starting to see a small movement develop within the online beauty community that focuses on the amount that we’re consuming. Whereas once our Instagram and Youtube feeds were full of influencers trying to flog us the latest must-have product, now we are seeing a rise in bloggers promoting a ‘#NoBuy’ message. Youtubers such as Kelly Gooch and Serein Wu have all adopted the #NoBuy or #LowBuy message as a way to promote the concept of using up what you already have in order to save money and rethink consumption. Often dubbed labelled #ProjectPan, many members of the online beauty community are committed to using up (or ‘hitting pan’) the products that they already own.
Similarly, other bloggers and Youtubers have joined the #ShopMyStash movement, whereby in order to cut down on the amount of product they buy, they revisit their stashed-away products and commit to start using them again. The good news is that most of these stories end well – it’s a way to rediscover old favourites and clear some space in your drawers Kondo-style.
So, while we of course continue to fully endorse shopping sustainable beauty products that use less plastic, it’s officially time to start thinking about how much we’re consuming too. Next time you’re toying with the idea of adding yet another nude eye palette to your collection, hold it in your hands and ask yourself where you think it might be in a year’s time. If it’s likely to end up floating in the ocean, it might be best to pop it back on the shelf.