Can Refillable Beauty Products Be Sustainable
Do you refill reusable shampoo bottles or a deodorant stick? It is good to see many products have refill options available recently. A refillable shampoo bottle and refill pouch sound better than shampoo in a single-use bottle. But do refillable beauty products make a difference in the environment?
In theory, keeping the original bottle forever and refilling from a less recourse-intensive pouch reduces waste. And refill pouches are recyclable. Imagine that your daughter will be using the same shampoo bottle 30 years later. In our real world, it’s not that simple. There are many challenging conditions to be met so that the refill system can work.
Problem with plastic recycling
Same as other products, beauty products are still packaged in plastics. About 120 billion units of plastics are produced, and about 9% of them are recycled. Recyclable does not mean they will be recycled. In fact, cosmetic packages are one of the most difficult recyclable items to recycle due to product residue and multiple materials mixed.
The report by Beyond Plastics indicates that Recycle By Mail programs are mostly greenwashing. Because not all items collected are recycled due to the quality or compatibility of the materials isn’t suitable. Also, recycled items will be used for a lower quality product, then will end up in a landfill or the ocean in the next cycle. This type of program is a temporary solution to delay the problem to a bit later. The result of those programs is not replacing the production of new plastics. It could be worse if consumers get the wrong idea “it is fine to use items in a single-use plastic package because they are recycled.”
Shampoo refill pouches are still plastic
Few brands collect and reuse their refill pouches. This is good because the pouches will be used many times before going to landfills. But many others don’t have a such system and the pouches will not be recycled either. Refill pouches use slightly fewer materials than reusable bottles, but it is not a significant difference.
The bottle may be made of aluminum and could last for many years. But the pump or cap is still plastic and will get broken sometime. Hopefully, you can get a replacement, but the pumps and caps are not recyclable. If you have to throw the bottle, make sure the bottle is empty, remove the label or sleeve, and quickly rinse it.
How many times do you need to refill?
Remember, reusable shampoo bottles are made to last longer than single-use bottles. This means they need more materials and energy. How long do you need to keep using the same bottle so that your reusable bottle is more sustainable than single-use bottles?
50 to 100 times…
By the way, have you ever continued using the same product 50 times? Especially beauty products change every year to catch up with the trends. It makes it very hard to commit to the same product.
Flexibility to adapt
Since you see many new products released all the time, you want to try them. Some of them might work better than you are currently using. The choice will be either buying the product in a reusable package or a refill that could fit in one of empty bottles in your home. If you decided not to continue with the product after purchasing the reusable package option, it will result in more waste than a single-use package version. In many other cases, there needs to be flexibility in reusable and refillable products.
Clear instructions for refilling reusable bottles
Replacing a solid product in an original package may be easy. But when you refill liquid products such as shampoo and conditioner in a reusable bottle, you need to be aware of a couple of things. Liquid products have preservatives to prevent microbial growth. The effectiveness of the preservation system is tested only for its shelf life and its formulation only. If you mixed with an older batch, another product, or water, the preservative may fail to protect the product. Therefore, you need to empty, wash, disinfect (with alcohol), and dry the bottle and pump/cap before pouring a new product. If there was no guidance about how to clean and refill the product, contact the supplier.
We have an increasing number of products offering a refillable option. Reusable and refillable sound good but there are many challenges to making the system work. The bottom line, each reusable bottle needs to be used in more than 50 refills to have its environmental benefits. When you choose refillable products, you do need to use them for years to make them work.
Sustainability is about how you make buying decisions and use the products than the system by itself. You have many options and can buy any products before finishing what you already have. Remember, you can vote with your money to push the movement in the right direction. Even though the reuse & refill system isn’t effective for all products yet, it is just the beginning of a world where zero single-use plastic is the rule rather than an option.
Seven things you need to stop putting in the recycling bin - https://www.bhg.com.au/common-recycling-mistakes