Buy the product, use the product, bin the product. That’s the relationship many of us have with our beauty purchases, whether we recycle or not. But with the ongoing climate crisis very much at the forefront of everyone’s minds – and 120 billion units of beauty packaging created every year – it pays to understand what we can do to minimise waste.
Emma Lewisham, founder of an eponymous brand that’s rapidly gaining cult status, has (some of) the answers. “Before I started the brand, I could see that the current beauty model was broken and needed changing – it wasn’t acceptable for what we know is going on in the world,” she tells me over Zoom. “Much of the beauty waste we create is not being recycled curbside, and in the UK that means a lot of it is burnt.”
Her theory was that if she could create a circular model of beauty, flipping the linear process we are used to on its head, it would be a cleaner, greener way of offering products – and would hopefully inspire the wider industry. “The circular model is about having refillable products – reduce packaging, then reuse and refill it,” she says. “We believe in taking ownership of that material and, first and foremost, reusing it. But if we do have to recycle it, we pay for it to be done.”
The brand is, of course, entirely refillable and works with Terracycle, the global recycling company that makes it easy for consumers to effectively recycle their old packaging. Plus it is clearly working – the brand recently announced that it is the first beauty brand to be carbon positive, meaning it takes more carbon out of the atmosphere than it produces. “All our products are labelled with a carbon score – just offering refillable products, on average, allows a 70 per cent reduction in carbon score,” she adds proudly.
It’s not just the environment Lewisham cares about, either; after learning that an active skincare ingredient, hydroquinone, that she was prescribed for hyperpigmentation was actually banned in a number of countries, including the UK, Australia and Japan (she is from New Zealand), she decided to rethink the formulas she was applying to her skin. It was time to explore the world of natural skincare, which at the time, she says, was lacking.