Feb 24, 2021
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UK shoppers demand end to beauty's plastic waste problem - report

Feb 24, 2021

The need for beauty companies to get to grips with the problem of plastic packaging is urgent, not just for the planet, but for their own balance sheet health.

Photo: Public domain/Pexels

So says a study by the Pull Agency, the creative agency specialising in beauty, that was unveiled at a virtual event on Wednesday. It spoke to 2,000 UK consumers, and at the Future of Beauty: Sustainability – Do your consumers really care? event said it found that as many as 71% of UK shoppers don’t think brands and retailers do enough to make their beauty and personal care purchases sustainable. They see plastic waste as the main culprit with 46% saying it’s the “biggest sustainability challenge facing the industry”.

Importantly, this is affecting their shopping decisions. Some 88% of shoppers (and 93% of Gen Z) look for sustainability credentials in their beauty and personal care purchases. Meanwhile 32% have deliberately chosen a sustainable brand in the past, including up to 35% of Gen Z.

And while affordability is the number one factor (57%) affecting which products people buy, 88% of shoppers say they would pay more for products that had genuine sustainability credentials (rising to 90% of Gen Z).


So what counts as sustainable in their eyes? Well, 19% of consumers want to see less packaging in their products, 17% want more natural ingredients and 15% want in-store refill stations so they can re-use existing containers (again, that’s higher for Gen Z at 18%). They’re also interested in generally sustainable packaging (12%) and in-store recycling bins (11%).

And while brands might think they’re doing all they can to convey their sustainability credentials, consumers disagree. As many as 70% “don’t find brands’ current sustainability claims helpful when it comes to choosing one product over another”, which might come as a shock to some companies. Almost all respondents (94%) think brands need to be more transparent about their sustainability credentials.

Consumers want more refill stations for beauty products - The Body Shop

Respondents’ three favourite sustainable beauty brands are The Body Shop, Lush and Simple and consumers do listen to what such brands say with 23% insisting brands they know and trust are the biggest influence on whether or not they buy sustainable beauty products. But they listen to family/friends almost as much (22%), as well as skincare/beauty professionals (16%) and influencers/bloggers (9%). Big names like Sir David Attenborough and Greta Thunberg are barely an influence at all though (3% and 2%, respectively) when it comes to beauty.

And although it’s much discussed, 87% of consumers have never heard of the concept of the ‘circular economy’, while only 9% have sent a jar back to the manufacturer for refills and only 14% have used a refill service. 

But consumers are more aware and proactive when it comes to animal testing tissues. Some 42% look for the leaping bunny (cruelty-free) kite mark on products. And circularity may be a bit of a grey area, but 45% of UK consumers look for symbols to show products use recycled materials, while 67% have recycled old packaging from those products themselves. That said, only 8% of shoppers look for the Soil Association symbol and only 12% look for Ecocert.

It all suggests the need for more education around a raft of issues and also sustainable ways to buy beauty being made much easier for consumers.

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