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Can the personal care industry clean up and take climate action

With wet wipe bans on the horizon and fatbergs clogging our city sewers, Jeremy Freedman – managing director of sustainable personal care manufacturer Guardpack – argues that his industry can engage with climate-positive action, and encourage others to do the same.

a pink and yellow bag of food on a blue surface

When it comes to personal care products, sustainability can mean many different things. Some consumers will look for natural or organic materials obtained renewably.

Others turn their focus to the absence of ingredients deemed harmful to both humans and the environment. Or biodegradable materials and recyclable packaging might be enough to convince some to buy.

As consumers become increasingly concerned about the environmental impact of their purchasing decisions, there is a growing need for companies to prioritise sustainable practices. Nine times out of 10, though, this isn’t enough to keep you competitive in an industry as heavily criticised as personal care.

To really stand out from the crowd, promoting your sustainable activities isn’t just important – it’s necessary. And there is no shortage of strategies that the personal care industry can adopt to reach this point.  

From adapting existing recipes with sustainable ingredients, to implementing eco-friendly packaging materials, and even adopting sustainable manufacturing practices through renewable energy and water retention systems, the ability to reduce carbon footprints is there. All that’s needed is that first step.

Prioritising Sustainable and Eco-Friendly Materials. 
One of the most prominent contributors of waste within the personal care industry comes from product containers and packaging. Where many beauty products in particular hold an exceptionally high face value, manufacturers feel the need to contain it within elaborate and excessive packaging. In fact, the ‘unboxing’ of beauty products is a significant point of online shopping for many people. 

There are several techniques which beauty companies can employ in response to this, for example, opting for biodegradable or compostable packaging materials such as cardboard or bioplastics — biodegradable and non-toxic plastics made from natural resources such as vegetable oils and cornstarch — within packaging for items such as soaps and make-up. Personal care brands could even consider innovative materials such as mycelium-based packaging which are both biodegradable and compostable. 

In addition to packaging, companies can also prioritise the use of sustainably sourced raw materials. For example, sourcing organic and fair-trade ingredients that have been produced in an environmentally responsible manner can help reduce the carbon footprint of the product. Companies can also consider using ingredients that have been harvested or produced locally to reduce transportation emissions and support local communities. 

Managing Water Pollution 

Many personal care products feature a mixture of water and harmful chemicals, such as microbeads or synthetic fragrances, that can enter the water supply and harm aquatic life.  

To address this, companies across the industry can implement measures to improve the efficient use of water within the manufacturing process, replacing chemicals with eco-friendly alternatives, and monitoring water usage and implementing conservative measures to minimise the volume used in production. Should wastewater be a major waste factor for a manufacturer, investment into advanced water treatment technologies can remove these harmful pollutants before being realised into the environment. 

Furthermore, companies can also educate consumers on how to properly dispose of personal care products to prevent water pollution, whilst also providing information on how to properly recycle product packaging to reduce waste and prevent pollution. 

Local Authority Waste Management (LAWM)  

Companies across the personal care industry can partner with waste management facilities to ensure proper disposal and recycling of their products. This can include providing information on how to recycle specific materials or partnering with facilities to accept certain products for recycling.

Additionally, companies can work with local authorities to identify opportunities for waste reduction and encourage consumers to adopt sustainable practices. After all, the overarching aim of local authority waste management is to minimize the environmental impact of waste by promoting recycling and the reduction of waste sent to landfill sites. 

Companies can also partner with local authorities to identify opportunities for water conservation and pollution reduction. For instance, working with local water management authorities to develop water-efficient manufacturing processes or participate in water quality monitoring programs to identify potential pollution sources. 

White Label Manufacturing 

For many companies, it is often the case that whilst sustainable intentions for their products are present, the infrastructure and investment necessary to see it come to life remains out of reach. White labelling offers a solution to these companies looking to align with sustainability goals without the costs by outsourcing the production process to other companies with pre-existing sustainable equipment and expertise.

This enables them to bring sustainable products to market without heavy investment in the latest equipment and facilities. Through this approach, businesses can enter the market, meet their audiences demand for eco-friendly products, and contribute to a greener future without the pressure of financial barriers. 

More on personal care and the environment: 

UK wet wipe ban raises questions about common plastic pollution

Image: Towfiqu barbhuiya

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