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Trends Analysis: Recyclable, Refillable and Reusable Packaging Enters the DTC Beauty Mainstream

One of 2021's biggest eCommerce trends is a growing demand for beauty brands to become more environmentally responsible. As a result of this, reusable and refillable products are top of mind for eco-conscious consumers.

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In 2021, consumers are all about reducing their carbon footprints, and they are increasingly demanding that DTC eCommerce beauty and skincare brands do the same. That is why one of the year’s biggest eCommerce trends is a growing demand for beauty brands to become more environmentally responsible. To help curb rampant single-use waste, reusable and refillable products are top of mind for eco-conscious consumers.

What Is Behind the Sustainability Trend?

Mounting concerns about global warming contribute greatly to the growing demand for sustainable products. In fact, 6 in 10 Americans feel human actions are the main cause of climate change and 64% believe climate change is a global emergency. This is especially true in 2021 as weather conditions have become more extreme. 

The pandemic also helped fuel environmental concerns. As more people shopped online, they became aware of the excess packaging of both the items they bought and the packages they were delivered in. This led to a public shift toward eco-consumerism where consumers let their green principals guide their buying decisions.

As U.S. consumers increasingly adopt sustainability in their personal lives, they expect the brands they support to do the same. According to a recent Scalefast report, 61% percent of consumers rate a beauty brand’s sustainability efforts as very important when shopping for products. The same report found that a quarter of consumers would try a new beauty product if they knew it was sustainable.

The Beauty Industry’s Dubious Environmental Track Record

Consumers have reason to be concerned. It is no secret that the beauty industry has long been a major producer of environmental waste, but some of the bare facts are shocking. According to the global market research company Euromonitor

  • The global beauty and skincare industry is responsible for creating 120 billion plastic packaging units every year. 
  • Only 9% of that plastic is recycled. About 12% is incinerated, and 79% ends up in landfills or the environment. 
  • A reported 95% of beauty packaging is thrown out after just one use, and only 14% makes it to a recycling center.

DTC eCommerce Beauty Brands Answer the Call

Facts like this make it vital for the beauty industry to double down on its sustainable initiatives. And for the most part, DTC eCommerce brands have been making good on their commitments to go green. In the past few years, brands like Ace of Air, Aveda, Humanrace and Paula’s Choice have started adopting innovative eco-initiatives. These include programs like in-store recycling centers and reusable and refillable packaging. Some brands, like eCommerce beauty retailers Beauty Heroes and Credo Beauty, have gone even further. Both brands have completely phased out single-use packaging while moving towards usable and refillable options.

The Push for Reusable and Refillable Packaging

DTC eCommerce beauty brands are turning to sustainable packaging for many reasons, including social responsibility, reducing waste and boosting sales — but mainly because consumers demand it. For many eCommerce beauty brands, switching to reusable/refillable beauty has become an important step toward long-lasting sustainability. 

Once a niche concept (think reusable coffee cups), reusable and refillable beauty products have become mainstream. By offering refillable beauty packaging in attractive, eco-friendly packaging, brands reduce their carbon footprint while giving customers the “keep forever” beauty products they want. Even better for consumers, refills cost less than the original product.

4 DTC eCommerce Beauty Brands Leading The Way With Reusable and Refillable Packaging

While many brands have committed to reusable/refillable products, these brands are frontrunners when it comes to sustainable practices.

L’Oréal, one of DTC beauty’s biggest brands, has been leading the way when it comes to sustainable practices. Since 2018, L’Oréal has launched several products that are refillable in store or rechargeable at home, including Lancôme and Giorgio Armani My Way. Their ambitious “L’Oréal for the Future” program details out the company’s sustainable goals for now and the future. The company has pledged to become fully sustainable by 2030. “Consumers expect full transparency from brands and companies,” said L’Oréal’s incoming CEO Nicolas Hieronimus in March 2021 at the company’s first Transparency Summit. “Sustainability is more than ever an imperative.”

The Body Shop has long championed reusable and refillable practises. It embraces a circular economy strategy that revolves around a “return, recycle, repeat” philosophy. In 2019, the company launched an inventive product refill plan in two concept stores with plans to expand to other cities in the near future. The company has also pledged that by 2025 all of their products will be fully recyclable or reusable. Currently, more that 68% of their packaging can be recycled. The company’s ultimate goal is to become “the world’s most ethical and truly sustainable global business.”

Kjaer Weis is one of the pioneers of sustainable luxury beauty, introducing an innovative product refill system at its 2010 launch. Kjaer Weis’s products come in elegant silver compacts that are designed to be displayed, ensuring their packaging does not need to be discarded. Product packaging is made of 100% recyclable and compostable metal or paper that can be refilled as many times as necessary. Plus, their refills are 30% cheaper than repurchasing the entire product again.

L’Occitane is also a long-time frontrunner when it comes to sustainability. The company launched its first glass bottle return systems in 1976 and started a plastic packing return program in 1992. In 2019 it joined the Responsible Beauty Initiative, which promotes ethical, social, and environmental practices throughout the entire beauty industry.  Recently, the company has installed “Refill Fountains” in 60 stores in 27 countries. Like The Body Shop, L’Occitane partners with Terracycle, an innovative recycling company known as a global leader in recycling hard-to-recycle materials.

The Future of Reusable and Refillable Packaging

While the concept of reusable and refillable beauty products gains traction, steering consumers away from single-use products presents a challenge. Brands may need to roll out attractive discounts or other incentives to change deep-seated customer behavior. But as customers find value in paying less for refills, refillables could shape a more sustainable future for the eCommerce beauty industry.

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