The global cosmetics industry produces around 120 billion units of packaging every year.
The complexity of mixed materials used in beauty product packaging makes it difficult to separate for recycling, and ends up in landfill.
A change in waste standards by China, has forced Australia to look at its recycling system, and pushed for a more circular economy when it comes to waste.
One reason China introduced the ban is to manage products and waste they manufacture, from the start to their end of life.
Flora & Fauna, a certified B corporation that sells eco and environmentally friendly products, aims for a circular economy with products through a recycle program, to ensure the end life of packaging doesn’t find its way to landfill.
“Our mission at Flora & Fauna is to try and make a better place and be a part of the solution, not a part of the plastic problem,” Gabby Dunn, Marketing Coordinator form Flora & Fauna said.
“That is why we are offering our recycling program so people have the opportunity to send back plastic packaging and things they can’t recycle themselves.”
Although the company sell items with compostable or easily recyclable packaging, there are still products that consumers find difficult to recycle.
Products that can’t be thrown in the recycle bin and forgotten about, such as plastic makeup and skin care containers, plastic toothbrushes, nail polish bottles, tights, bread tags and used silicone products that were bought from the company, are then sent to TerraCycle to recycle.
TerraCycle, a global recycling company, operates in over twenty countries to collect and repurposes hard-to-recycle waste through various initiatives, including their zero waste collection box system.
Jean Bailliard, General Manager of TerraCycle Australia and New Zealand said: “TerraCycle is committed to providing innovative recycling solutions for items that most Australians consider non-recyclable.”
They have brand partners who sponsor programs and fill the economic gap, this approach is where brands take responsibility for the end of life use of products and packaging.
Flora & Fauna’s recycle program encourages consumers to either drop products into their store, or post the boxes filled with used materials, offering an incentive per box.
The company receives between 200 – 300 boxes per week, and in 2021 recycled 2,500 kilos of materials.
“We haven’t really had any complaints about posting the boxes,” Ms Dunn said.
“At the end of the day it’s going towards what people want to be doing.”
Before the Ban on exporting recyclable materials, the problem of what happened to waste was pushed from our minds when large amounts were shipped to China and other countries.
In 2017-18, about 3.4 million tonnes of plastics was used in Australia, just 9.5% or 320,000 tonnes was recycled, with 46% (145,700 tonnes) reprocessed in Australia and 54% (174,000) exported for reprocessing.
The Australian Government’s pledge to ensure that 100% of Australian packaging will be recyclable, compostable or reusable by 2025, seems unlikely as there is no mandatory requirement for manufacturers to choose recycled over virgin plastic.
Virgin plastic is still cheaper than recycling the plastic already in circulation, and there are few financial incentives or mandatory requirements for manufacturers to use recycled materials, nor are they responsible for the wastes they produce.
Previously, the Federal Government has said waste management and recycling is primarily the responsibility of state, territory and local governments.
Since the ban, the Government have invested $190 million into the Recycling Modernisation Fund to support the states and territories increase their capacity of recycling facilities.
Australia now has a National Waste Policy, adopted in 2020, but its voluntary targets are yet to be endorsed by federal and state environment ministers.
A cosmetics waste recycling program is being developed by Close the Loop, and supported through investment by the Government.
Close the Loop’s project is to establish a cosmetic recycling scheme, initially focused on cosmetic makeup products, through a comprehensive collection network that will collect, process and recycle this waste.
The project is endorsed by leading cosmetic brands and Accord, the peak national industry association for manufacturers and marketers of personal care products.
This support provides momentum to shift the entire industry towards a circular economy and aim for high rates of cosmetic product recycling.
“I think most of the time companies don’t realise how easy it is to do certain things or make certain swaps for sustainability,” Ms Dunn continued.
“It has given us opportunity to do more.
“Last December we did an up-cycling toy campaign that was a follow on from our recycle program.”
Concern about the environment and the impact of waste, especially plastic waste, is the push behind improved environmental accountability.
The 2018 figures from the United Nations estimate 11.2 billion tonnes of solid waste is produced on Earth every year.
This contributes to about 5% of all global greenhouse gas emissions.
Unlike nations in Europe, who process their own waste, Australia has been slow to move towards a circular economy.
The technology and infrastructure necessary to turn large volumes of plastic into usable items has not been developed due to the high volumes of waste previously shipped off shore.