Newcomers and established giants are making some wonderful changes in the personal care industry. It’s encouraging to see how ingredients and packaging are getting a much-needed rethink. But there’s an elephant in the room: the market for single-use and sample-sized items is out of control. For every few items we recycle, there are surely a thousand eye cream samplers winding up in the ocean.
I love samples and minis as much as the next consumer, and I understand that single-use wipes, cotton balls, patches, face masks, etc. are convenient. But our planet has been drowning in trash for a long time, and the single-use craze has turned the dial to eleven. When are we going to put on the brakes?
Single-Use Products = (Supply Chain + Trash) X a Zillion
Let’s remember that most wipes, eye patches, and face masks are plastic (even if the package mentions a natural fiber), plus there’s a plastic container. Wipes are wreaking havoc on sea life. They’re also polluting beaches, waterways, and sewers (Google “fatberg” if you’re brave). Cheap cotton is one of the most harmful crops on the planet, and organic cotton isn’t great. Samples and minis are an endless stream of tiny plastic containers, few of which are ever recycled.
The trash is alarming, but there’s also the supply chain. These items have to be manufactured, packaged, transported, and disposed of. By creating products with shorter “lives,” we’re not just creating more trash, we’re multiplying pollution from manufacturing.
It’s great if a wipe is compostable or a disposable face mask contains organic ingredients, but that’s not enough. Even if they’re made from organic hemp grown by a fair-trade co-op, single-use items are not green.
The Alternatives Represent a New White Space
Our industry excels at telling consumers what they should want. Disposable wipes, patches, and face masks may never be green, so we could market these for travel or other exceptional circumstances. If we think about what wipes, face masks, and skin patches accomplish, it’s easy to imagine reusable alternatives that are more sophisticated and effective (full disclosure, that’s what my company does).
Regarding samples, maybe a beauty box subscriber could receive a refillable tray each month with separate compartments for each product. A lot of beauty tech looks to enhance or replace in-person testing at stores. What if we aimed some of that innovation at replacing individually packaged samples?
We’re an extremely creative group of people with a huge amount of influence over consumer habits. It’s not enough to improve existing consumption models; we have to go a step further and think about the consequences of new ones we create. The first people to popularize single-use water bottles or baby wipes probably didn’t think about what they were doing to the planet. But we do know, and we can do better.
The views expressed in opinion pieces are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of BeautyMatter.
Photo: Karina Tess via Unsplash