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How These Biodegradable Natural Beauty Brands Are Giving Back to the Planet

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A handful of pioneering brands are beginning to realise that our beauty products effect far more than our faces. 

These natural beauty brands use biodegradable or compostable packaging for their cosmetics to foster a shift in the beauty industry. Using these products could make your run-of-the-mill morning routine into a meaningful ritual that is mindful of the planet.

Dora Young 4 October 2019

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The Gaia hypothesis and natural beauty

In 1995, maverick climate scientist James Lovelock and pioneering female evolutionary biologist Lynn Margulis published a book called the Gaia hypothesis. Their argument was that the entire global ecosystem - from the microbes we wash off our faces in the morning, to the river basins running to the sea the world over - should be considered as a single super-organism called Gaia. 

The popularity of the book wasn’t unfounded; it makes a lot of sense. We humans flourish from natural ingredients, but haven’t always followed the ethics of mutual care (or as biologists would say, symbiosis). This is essential for a healthy, functioning organic system. We are especially lacking when it comes to the ingredients we use in our beauty routines. In fact, the packaging and chemical content of a lot of beauty products have choked watercourses with pollutants and plastic for decades.

Bio Beauty 1

The entire global ecosystem can be considered as a single super-organism called Gaia

Tending to nature and putting on makeup? 

It’s one thing to reduce the environmental impact inherent in the beauty industry by reducing plastic packaging. But many companies worldwide are going further. They look at the way that natural ingredients allow us to care for ourselves and ask how can we return the favour? 

If we took as much time in the day to tend to these natural systems as we took in front of the mirror using the ingredients they produce, could we ensure their sustainability for the future?

Some brands believe adding such consideration to a beauty routine can make it a ritual; a meaningful practice that redefines the way we think about make-up so that the environment benefits as well. 

Here are a handful of the most inspiring brands from around the world, working to change the beauty industry from the inside out. 

They are seek to re-write every step of the beauty system, from the environment that produces the ingredients to the communities where they’re farmed, to us as consumers and back again to the soil.

Bio Beauty 2

How can your morning beauty routine do more?

Natural brands are making beauty bio

For the most part, these natural brands beautify the product cycle by being smart about packaging, using either compostable or biodegradable materials. And there is a difference between the two.

Compostable materials can be decomposed at home, and can benefit the soil in your garden

Though biodegradable packaging doesn’t add nutrients to the soil it is better than the plastic alternatives that will hang around for hundreds of years in landfill or in the sea. 

Depending on where you live and what recycling facilities you have access to, biodegradable packaging such as cardboard can be broken down quickly in commercial waste facilities. Check your local council or borough's website.

Zao Beauty 2

These natural brands beautify the product cycle by being smart about packaging

Zao

Biodegradable packaging in the beauty industry

Here are a few steps you can take to make sure you're dealing with packaging that is as green as the eco powder:

  • It’s important not to get ‘greenwashed’ by recycling claims so do a little bit of research. 
  • If you’ve purchased something in compostable packaging, make sure you actually compost it.
  • Check if the packaging can be composted at home or if it has to go to an industrial composter. 
  • It's best to put biodegradable packaging in your recycling and let the council take care of it. 
  • Of course, some packaging can be avoided altogether and you shouldn’t be afraid to ask about the packaging on your favourite products. 

On this last point, brands like Elate (mentioned below) are happy to accommodate those with a plastic free lifestyle with their postage. As many eco-conscious beauty brands only have online stores, this global selection might also help you to consider shipping distances.

1. Seed Phytonutrients

The tour begins with an absolutely amazing brand called Seed Phytonutrients. It's an incubator project from the US beauty giant L'Oreal. Their packaging is made at the Ecologic factory.

What makes Seed Phytonutrients a great natural beauty brand?

Its shower-friendly paper bottle is made from a 100% recycled material.

  • Seed take newspaper, paper bits, cardboard, etc and grind them up to create what is essentially paper mush. 
  • The paper mush then transforms into beautiful, recycled packaging.
  • Their partners at TerraCycle have ensured that everything from Seed’s bottle to their pump can be recycled, making for a zero-waste situation. 

The natural beauty brilliance doesn’t stop there. 

Together with Hudson Valley Seed Company, they have developed a little surprise inside their paper bottles. After you’ve used up all of the product in your bottle, crack it open to discover a beautifully-designed packet containing a range of heirloom herb seeds that can be grown in your garden or on your windowsill.

Seed festival 2019

Discover a beautifully-designed packet containing a range of heirloom herb seeds

What have seeds got to do with natural beauty?

All of Seed’s products are sourced from seeds grown by Barefoot Botanicals. So, why the emphasis on seeds? 

Seed saving is extremely important because it creates diversity in plant species that help protect them from pests, diseases and changes in climate. The over-commercialisation of seeds in modern farming practices has meant that global biodiversity has decreased, decimating plant resilience to pests and diseases and meaning that pollinators such as bees are declining. 

Seed Phytonutrients are therefore committed to supporting the growth of organic, heirloom and open-pollinated seeds and sharing them with you to create more resilient plants across our planet. 

The last step in the Seed cycle is to pay growers ahead of time for 100% of their products, regardless of harvest yields, ensuring that the farmers are truly put first. If that’s not a healthy beauty system, I don’t know what is.

Bee Lines campaign to save the bees

The over-commercialisation of seeds in modern farming practices means pollinators such as bees are declining

2. Zao

Next up, we go to Italy. The group of friends who founded Zao were convinced that a line of certified organic makeup must use natural packaging and the elegance and modernity of bamboo asserted itself as an obvious answer. 

Why does bamboo go well with beauty?

Bamboo is really a miracle plant.

  • Its exceptional growth rate makes it a carbon capture champion during its life-cycle, without the use of fertilisers and pesticides, and allows Zao products to display a reduced carbon footprint
  • Unlike most timber, bamboo is a self-regenerating natural resource, meaning new shoots appear annually to ensure production continues after individual culms are harvested.
  • It needs only four to five years to regenerate compared a minimum of 30 years for a tree.

The bamboo Zao uses grows in endemic forests in protected areas. Their bamboo products are sold in cotton pouches to further protect them. Though less sustainable than bamboo, these pouches can be reused. As a natural material, it also biodegrades in landfills. Zao’s research and development programme is currently looking to replace their cotton pouches with bamboo fibre pouches from the end of 2018.

Zao

The bamboo Zao uses grows in endemic forests in protected areas

Zao

3. Elate Cosmetics

On we go to Canada, where Elate Cosmetics also use bamboo for all of their compacts, tools, and palettes. They offer discounted refills with an extra incentive in the form of special seed paper enclosed in every refill purchased. All you need to do to grow this sweet little care package is to wet, plant and water it before you step in front of the mirror to nourish yourself too. 

Elate also embrace imperfect products in order to tackle waste and offer a range for their bamboo capsule products with minor flaws. Their tube products, such as the gorgeous creme blush, come in completely biodegradable paper that the DIY enthusiast in you will love, as they make perfect little seed planters!

Elate Beauty

Elate Cosmetics use bamboo for all of their compacts

4. Sulapac

We end across the border in France with some motivating news. Last year, iconic luxury house Chanel invested in Sulapac, a Finnish start-up that has produced a sustainable alternative to conventional plastics

Sulapac products use a biodegradable and microplastic-free material made of FSC-certified wood chips and natural binders. They have all the benefits of plastic, biodegrade completely and leave no microplastics behind. 

Even better, they’re designed to be immediately replaced by manufacturers using plastics, because they are compatible with existing machinery. 

Beauty 1

Have you thought about the amount of plastic in your make up bag?

Biodegradable beauty is big news

There’s reason to be excited about this kind of news. Applying pressed powder from a cute compact may not feel like a revolutionary act, but big changes are happening from within the beauty industry and you can be a vital part of its transformation. 

If there’s one thing that Lovelock and Margulies can teach us, it’s that the Earth is a complex system, but actions at every scale have their impacts on the total functioning of this huge, beautiful organism. 

So, let the revolution begin on your skin.  

Dora Young is a freelance writer and geographer with a background in sustainable food systems and a passion for finding out how to do things differently.

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