In 2015, world leaders adopted the UN’s 2030 Agenda, which included for the first time a new global sustainable development framework setting 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). One of the key objectives of the SDGs is focused on our planet protection, which can be supported by a more sustainable production and consumption. How is the natural and organic cosmetic sector contributing to this objective? How can producers and manufacturers of cosmetics further support the transition towards a more sustainable industry?
Sustainable “inside and out”
Sustainability means taking into account social, environmental and economical aspects throughout the whole production chain of a product to ensure an altogether positive impact. When it comes to natural cosmetics, sustainability does not only refer to the way ingredients are sourced or how the product is produced, but also to the materials used during its production and post-production. This sustainable ·inside and out” holistic approach is an essential part of the NATRUE Label criteria, which is in line with the sustainable actions and strategies carried out by brands whose products are NATRUE certified. Indeed, for many of these cosmetic brands, sustainability has been part of their DNA since their creation, and they greatly contribute to the transition towards the use of more sustainable ingredients and materials for the production of natural and organic cosmetics.
Sustainable and biodegradable: the ideal cosmetic product
Cosmetic innovation is key to support sustainability in the cosmetic industry. From the formulation and production of ingredients to post-consumer processes with an environmental impact, such as the disposal of packaging and the biodegradability of ingredients, natural and organic products carrying the NATRUE Label are certified to rigurous criteria that guarantee a sustainable approach both at formulation and production level.
Biodegradability is a key factor increasingly improved upon in cosmetics to contribute to the protection of the environment. Innovation at formulation level has made it possible to find alternatives to the use of certain substances traditionally used in the formulation of cosmetics. This is the case of microplastics, water-insoluble plastic particles (smaller than 5 mm) which can perform several functions in cosmetics, such as exfoliation in skin care products or tooth polishing in oral care productks. Due to their small size, microplastics can easily pass through the filters of water treatment plants and end up in the sea. Because of their potential threat to marine ecosystems, many cosmetic brands have already responded through initiatives and criteria to restrict or ban microplastics from their products. Many cosmetic producers are turning towards natural alternatives such as inorganic minerals (quartz sand) or products from plants (cellulose beads, fruit seeds and shells) to replace microplastics in cosmetics. The NATRUE Label criteria only permits ingredients classified as natural, derived natural or nature-identical, which means that microplastics are already prohibited by definition in the NATRUE standard as they are usually synthetic plastic polymers manufactured from mineral oils.
Research and innovation to find alternatives to plastics in cosmetic packaging
Until recent years, fossil fuels and their derivatives (such as plastic) had been the main source to develop new and day-to-day materials. However, the environmental impact of such materials, particularly of plastics, has increasingly become a point of concern for many consumers who look for green and sustainable products. The NATRUE Label criteria sets requirements for packaging by prohibiting the use of halogenated plastics and promoting recyclable and renewable materials for primary and secondary packaging, as well as supporting the reduction of packaging whenever possible.
In the last years, many natural and organic brands have redesigned traditional cosmetic products to drastically reduce or completely avoid plastic packaging. Some examples of such innovative products are deodorant creams, solid shampoo bars and toothpaste tablets. In many cases, plastic packaging is being replaced by cardboard and glass, which are easier to recycle and reuse. Refilling options have recently become very popular as they allow consumers to reuse the packaging of a product multiple times, which results in a significant reduction of packaging production.
Finding alternatives to plastics in the development of packaging is important, but what about all the existing plastic packaging in the market? What about the waste that we generate, both organic and inorganic? In order to contribute to closing the loop of certain materials, NATRUE became a partner of the European URBIOFIN project in 2017. The main objective of URBIOFIN is to transform solid urban waste into eco-sustainable packaging. NATRUE’s role in this European project is to coordinate with NATRUE members to provide input for the development of innovative packaging for cosmetic use. After a preliminary test phase that was scheduled to take place in the first months of this year, now on hiatus, the best performing material will be used to produce packaging for cosmetic use, which will then be tested by a selected group of NATRUE members later in 2020 and at the beginning of 2021.
A responsible and conscious consumption: the role of consumers
Consumers play a key role in promoting reusable and recyclable products because their demand helps shaping sustainable practices and actions. Sensitivity to sustainable behaviour and processes is part of the founding values of NATRUE, whose criteria include requirements about biodegradability, packaging and carrier materials as part of its commitment to more sustainable natural and organic cosmetics.
With their purchase decisions, consumers of natural and organic cosmetics can contribute to reducing the global environmental footprint of cosmetics by supporting brands and products that promote respectful practices to protect the future of our planet.
Article by Ana Ledesma, Communications Officer at NATRUE