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Could circular beauty remedy the industry’s waste problem?

The ever-expanding sector generates 120 billion tonnes of throwaway packaging annually. Given we can no longer recycle our way out of this mess, are circular-designed products the answer?

Unless your skincare routine involves using leftover ingredients from last night’s meal to create that homemade face mask you saw on TikTok once, then you’ll be well aware that the cost of looking our best is taking a significant toll on the planet.

A quick comb through your bathroom cabinet ought to demonstrate this, embodying the beauty industry’s sustainability problem and our buy, use, bin approach to the products we’re continually encouraged to buy the second a new fad hits our feeds.

I’m referring to the 120 billion tonnes of throwaway packaging generated by the ever-expanding sector annually – a sizable majority of it un-recyclable plastic – that houses those serums, exfoliators, oils, and cleaners you deem an essential part of your day-to-day.

While no one person’s makeup bag is to blame, of course, our obsession with personal care sits comfortably alongside a bevy of alarming consequences involving ingredient sourcing, environmentally hazardous formulations, and improvident distribution.

So, with the ongoing climate crisis very much at the forefront of everyone’s minds, what’s being done to minimise waste?

Emma Lewisham and her eponymously named brand may just have the answer.

Officially the first in the world to offer a solution, her company has achieved a 100% circular business model, complete with carbon positive status.

It’s a feat that garnered the written endorsement of renowned environmentalist and UN Messenger of Peace Dr Jane Goodall who believes Lewisham to be setting a new benchmark for beauty as well as for how all industries should be operating on a larger scale.

‘Before I started the brand, I could see that the current beauty model was broken and needed changing – it wasn’t acceptable for what we know is going on in the world,’ she told Vogue in an interview.

‘Because of the complexity of packaging it’s not worth it for curb-side recycling to work through it, so it’s diverted to landfills and often burned.’

It’s for this reason that Lewisham took it upon herself to flip the traditional linear process of extraction and disposal we’re used to on its head, hopefully paving the way for a cleaner, greener industry.

But what exactly is a circular business model?

The term refers to keeping materials in use through repair and reuse, extending a product’s life-cycle through quality and purposefully reducing waste.

In this case, it’s about offering customers the opportunity to refill already purchased products free of charge because, as Lewisham puts it, ‘recycling is the last resort’ and it’s a great deal more efficient to reuse materials.

This means that everything from the packaging to the machinery has been designed to ensure they remain in circulation long after initial use.

An added bonus? In mapping the brand’s carbon emissions, Lewisham has been able to prove that when buying her circularly designed refills (which typically requires less energy and resources thus emitting less greenhouse gases) – as opposed to brand new, single-use packaging – carbon emissions are reduced by up to 74%.

‘We genuinely want to see change,’ she finishes.

‘The problems we face are so much greater than the success of one business or brand, and if we are going to solve them, collaboration is key. We must tear down the barriers of competition once and for all. This must be the future of beauty.’