At first glance, Āether Beauty looks like one more mindful makeup brand. But the beauty startup is about so much more than clean, vegan formulas and crystal infusions. It’s about creating and educating on color cosmetics packaging that won’t end up as waste and that won’t persist as an environmental pollutant.
Āether Beauty will launch a first lip color product tomorrow (packed in plastic)!
The brand’s new Radiant Ruby Lip Cream goes on sale at Sephora.com Tuesday, 14 January and a month later will be available on the brand’s own ecommerce site and through other retail partners (12 shades, $28).
Abbitt tells Cosmetics Design that the new lip cream formula “is made with organic rosehip oil, [both] elderberry fruit and plumeria flower oil extracts…[as well as with] ruby powder, which nurtures and softens lips while protecting against environmental stressors.”
But the packaging is what’s really distinctive here: “Made with 100% recycled plastic (no virgin plastic whatsoever), Radiant Ruby Lip Cream is [packaged in] the first fully recycled lip component in the prestige beauty industry!” asserts Abbitt. The secondary product packaging is PSC paper and printed with soy inks.
Why is this beauty branding choosing recycled plastic over new bio-plastic material?
Abbitt approaches sustainably beauty packaging from a practical perspective, working from her knowledge of how existing municipal waste systems function here in the States and choosing materials and designing product packaging accordingly.
Before she launched Āether Beauty, Abbit had a bird’s-eye view of materials and waste issues in her role as Head of Research and Development for Sustainability for Sephora. There, beyond her day-to-day work, she “visited a ton of recycling facilities and talked to a ton of packaging engineers in the beauty space. Basically, I asked both groups what material should be used for products,” says Abbitt.
“They both told me plastic. Not bioplastic.”
Abbit goes on to explain this further in terms of the availability and capabilities of recycling facilities in the States. “In the US, there are only about 90 cities that even offer mandatory composting [that could be used to breakdown bioplastics] in the US,” says Abbitt; at that accounts for “less than 0.257%” of cities.
And even “these industrial compost facilities are composting fast; within 30-60 days and anything that's leftover, that's not fully composted, goes directly into the landfill. Unfortunately, bioplastics can take at minimum 6 months to biodegrade, if not much longer. So, they end up in a landfill, where they act and degrade exactly like plastic, leaching chemicals into the environment and breaking into small bits that will eventually make their way into the oceans,” explains Abbit, which is why she believes that “Bioplastics are unfortunately worse than regular plastic.”
Abbitt also notes that from what she’s seen and heard in the recycling industry that bioplastics “also get stuck in the recycling facilities, because they look like regular plastic. No one is there sorting through those biodegradable forks and asking if it's plastic or bioplastic, so it gets mixed into the recyclable plastics and unfortunately cannot be recycled, so whatever [other material the bioplastics] ends up [being bundled] with makes the entire bundle get wasted and go into a landfill.”
And this is just one example of a beauty packaging material not being as eco friendly as may be commonly thought. Abbitt also makes a case for not use black plastics, mini packaging, and other alternatives with more cons than pros when it comes to the realities of today’s recycling industry.
Deanna Utroske regularly covers news about sustainable beauty packaging. She is a leading voice in the cosmetics and personal care industry as well as in the indie beauty movement. As Editor of CosmeticsDesign.com, she writes daily news about the business of beauty in the Americas region and regularly produces video interviews with cosmetics, fragrance, personal care, and packaging experts as well as with indie brand founders.