Plastic Pollution: A ‘wicked problem’ for sustainable beauty

By Deanna Utroske contact

- Last updated on GMT

© Getty Images \ (Stocktrek Images)
© Getty Images \ (Stocktrek Images)

Related tags: Plastic, circular economy, Sustainable cosmetics summit, event

At the North American edition of this year’s Sustainable Cosmetics Summit, Daniella Russo, CEO of the Think Beyond Plastic Foundation, is talking about Plastic Materials for a Circular Economy. Cosmetics Design spoke with Russo in advance of the event to learn about the future of plastic in a circular economy.

Daniella Russo, Founder and CEO of the Think Beyond Plastic Foundation, calls “plastic pollution...a wicked problem,” ​one that “there is no one answer to.”

Which is why she created the foundation. According to her organization’s website​, “Think Beyond Plastic Foundation leads a global multidisciplinary effort to harness the forces of innovation and entrepreneurship for a world free of plastic pollution, with focus on innovative product delivery systems, bio-benign materials and sustainable chemistry. To secure a rich pipeline of innovation, we are building an innovation eco-system connecting industry, investors and innovators.”

Is there a solution to beauty’s plastic problem?

As hopeful as Russo’s work is, she’s not very hopeful about plastic itself. She tells Cosmetics Design that “plastic pollution is a wicked problem;” ​and one that is “very difficult to solve because all the solutions tend to cancel each other [out].”

Explaining her concern further, Russo points to several contradictions that exist in the current system, such as the fact that, “single use packaging is the top polluting material, but often made from plastic which does not disappear in the environment - so we make packaging specifically designed to be discarded from material that lasts forever.”

Russo sees the whole plastic economy as a problem, even the emerging market for recycled plastics: “We make massive investments in plants that use plastic waste for energy and thus create demand for more waste - all while we try to educate consumers to use less.”

“Major brands create campaigns about recycling,” ​she tells Cosmetics Design, “yet with the current price of oil, recycled material is more expensive than virgin plastic. And when we introduce new materials, a common argument is that we have already invested in recycling capacities so we should stick to the old materials.”

It’s fair to say that Russo is frustrated with plastic. “And the contradictions continue,” ​she says, repeating her earlier assessment that, “it is truly a wicked problem.”

Can a circular economy solve beauty’s plastic problem?

Russo doesn’t see a place for plastic in the circular beauty economy. “The current material set is not well suited for circularity and reuse; and we need [to] focus on new materials,” ​she says.

The answer says Russo is to change business models. “The linear economy incorporates waste as an external cost that is passed on society or consumers.”

She goes on to explain that, “packaging is essential in the cosmetics…industry as it conveys marketing, safety and performs delivery service. Incorporating circularity means changing business models, delivering the same product without packaging or with intelligent packaging, charging per cycle of use, and developing and incorporating new revenue streams. It requires investments in innovation.”

Daniella Russo, Founder and CEO of the Think Beyond Plastic Foundation, is one of many expert speakers on the program for the upcoming Sustainable Cosmetics Summit. The event will again be virtual this year and is taking place June 21 – 24. To learn more and find a link to register, click here​.

Related topics: Packaging & Design

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