When I tried to make my beauty routine plastic-free, there was one thing I learnt pretty quickly: refillable was better than recyclable. Of course, recyclable packaging is certainly one step ahead of throwaway plastic, but it’s even better if you can avoid waste altogether by using products that can be refilled.
In terms of sustainability, recycling is problematic. Due to the long life span of plastics, including those designed to be recyclable, disposing of them is difficult and can often place huge pressure on resources and the environment. In fact, if you buy a refill instead of a completely new product, you save 70% on CO2, 65% on energy and 45% on water, according to research conducted by The LCA Centre. Up until earlier this year China dealt with majority of the world’s recycling (the UK shipped 2.7 million tonnes of plastic to China and Hong Kong in the last five years, Greenpeace reported) but with the Chinese government banning imports, the recycling problem is set to get worse.
This is why when makeup artist Kirsten Kjaer Weis created her eponymous beauty line, Kjaer Weis, investing in a refillable system was key. Each one of their makeup products is housed in a keep-forever metal case which can be refilled when finished. “Refillable packaging is very important to me because it really cuts down on the overall amount of waste that we produce and leave behind on this planet," Weis told Refinery29. "We see the consequences of not recycling everywhere, especially in the oceans with the enormous amount of plastic buildup. It has had serious ramifications that haven’t been paid enough attention to."
While Kjaer Weis are pioneering this movement, with more and more consumers now looking for eco-friendly alternatives, a whole host of beauty brands are starting to offer refillable options. Even better, refills are often also wallet-friendly - much like when you get a discount for bringing a reusable coffee cup for your latte, buying refills is often cheaper than a brand new product.