TerraCycle’s come a long way since its humble origins in 2011. Then, the concept of recycling took the form of waste (feeding organic waste to worms) packaged in more waste (used soda bottles). Cut to 2022, and initiatives like Loop, a platform that allows brands to create reusable versions of their product’s packaging available at any retailer, and TerraCycle Global Foundation, which works to remove plastic from rivers and canals before it can reach the ocean, are well underway.
But what business does a company that started with dirt have in the beauty industry? For Murad, a business pioneering the clinical skincare space since 1989, it’s a perfect match. “Dr. Murad’s life’s work is dedicated to helping people attain healthier skin and happier lives, and being able to put forth this partnership with TerraCycle strengthens our pledge to that,” explains Paul Schiraldi, Murad’s CEO. “Consumers are sharper than ever and interested in sustainability, so we wanted to make it easier for them to take care of their skin and the planet.”
Partnerships with powerhouse brands like Garnier and pop-ups at Nordstrom locations for easy recycling drop-off prove TerraCycle’s appeal. For Murad specifically, the consumer journey starts once the product is finished. From here, consumers can mail in Murad product packaging using a prepaid shipping label. Once delivered, used packaging is remodeled for life as new product packaging.
The brand’s inspiration came from customers, and their unwillingness to compromise. “We know being a sustainably conscious brand is important to our customers,” Schiraldi continues. “We didn’t want them to have to compromise, skin health vs. sustainability, so we merged the two.” By designing recycling processes and consumer-facing recycling programs on behalf of companies, TerraCycle skirts recycling’s notorious pain points by offering something refreshingly straightforward.
TerraCycle sees its continued partnerships with beauty brands as good business. Tom Szaky, TerraCycle’s CEO and founder, explains. “Recycling is a business and like any other, it is driven by economics. Individual municipalities may not have recycling programs designed to process waste like hair gel tubes and caps, for instance, because there’s little profit to be made.” He continues, “However, since TerraCycle partners with brands who fund the research and development of innovative recycling techniques, we are able to engage more consumers directly through free recycling programs.”
Since beauty and skincare are both categories tied intrinsically to the consumer’s personal choice, or as Szaky puts it “extensions of their own identities,” there’s a certain incentive to consume consciously—whether that means opting for less waste in purchasing, prioritizing “clean” formulations, or giving the product life after the last pump through recycling. Citing the logic of voting with one’s dollars, Szaky explains that the companies they choose to support are their ideals and values come to life. “Because of this additional psychic income from working with TerraCycle, brands across the consumer-packaged goods spectrum are eager to collaborate,” he explains. “This can take the form of supporting nonprofits through the donation incentive aspect of our free programs or creating recycled products, like playgrounds or durable outdoor furniture, made from the waste collected through these programs. These products are then donated to schools or nonprofit organizations on behalf of our brand partners.”
Beyond the higher calling of proper recycling, beauty products pose an often-overlooked challenge with the complex rules and regulations that prohibit recycling on the municipal level. Some dark-colored shampoo bottles are unrecognized by sorting machines. Small pieces, think lids or caps, are likely to go undetected as well, ending up in landfills.
For Murad, promising customers that they will do better in terms of environmental responsibility starts with packaging. Compostable shipping materials, replacing virgin plastics, and pursuing ingredient transparency are all recent initiatives. Thanks to the brand’s partnership with TerraCycle, Murad empties are coming back in their second life as raw materials, which will be turned into flooring tiles, storage bins, outdoor furniture, and so many other products. The clean revolution in skincare no longer stops at formulation. To be considered clean is to account for the life the product lives beyond its usage.
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