Upcycling is the transformation of waste or by-products into products. There has been a push in recent years to make use of more waste and by-products to improve supply chains. This includes fashion, furniture, cosmetics, and skin-care.
The beauty industry is plagued by waste. Terracycle, a recycling company, reported in 2020 that the global cosmetics market produces around 120 billion units per year. The food industry may be a good ally in reducing this waste. Although beauty and food supply chains are closely linked in many ways there is no system to maximize their often-shared suppliers and products. It’s a common practice to recycle food waste and by-products for beauty products. This could help reduce global warming. We, beauty professionals, have the responsibility to recycle and reuse an olive branch.
“Upcycling is the future, because beauty, as an industry, is competing with food.” Jennifer Hirsch, a botanist based in England, says food is essential. There are many of us on the planet and not enough land to grow crops. There is now more competition for this land and that places more pressure on resources.
This can be done by repurposing old waste. Brands don’t have to use the leftovers of cherry skins or beet peels for pigment. However, they can draw nutrients and pigment from whole fruits and vegetables that are perfectly nutritious. Hirsch gives the humble cucumber as an example of one of many grocery products that can be wrapped in plastic.
She explains that to be able to wrap them they must be shaped straight and between a certain size. If you have a cucumber with a knot, it won’t fit into the packing machine’s channel. You end up in the compost heap with perfectly edible cucumbers that don’t conform to the supermarket’s guidelines.
Good news is that the skin-care side of things is making progress in securing this produce before it goes to waste. One estimate suggests that up to 20% of world banana production could be destroyed due to imperfection or damage. This is about 24 million tonnes of bananas that end up in the trash. Kadalys, a Martinique-based company, uses some of the banana peels and pulp to make omega-packed extracts for its skin care products. Ginger King, a cosmetic chemist, says that bananas are known for their healing and antimicrobial qualities. “Brands even make preservatives with banana leaves,” Ginger King says.
The ground is equally valuable for olive groves. Circumference, a minimalist skin care brand, sourced unutilized olive leaves from Brightland, a California-based olive oil company. The brand uses the antioxidant extract from these leaves in its Daily Regenerative Gel Cleanser. Any biomaterials that are left behind are then returned to the soil as compost. This is a way to see trash as treasure.
Pamela Marcos is Farmacy’s senior director of product design and regulatory. “Upcycling can be a great way to help consumers and the environment because we are using by-products that might have ended up in landfills,” she says. Brand’s 10% Niacinamide Night Mask contains antioxidant-rich oil cold-pressed from discarded Blueberry Seeds. King claims this helps to support collagen synthesis. (Farmacy has also committed to donating three million meals to Feeding America by 2022.)
Marcos says, “It’s win-win for all. It’s a win-win for both consumers and the environment, as we are using byproducts that might have otherwise ended up in landfills. It promotes a more circular economy. This optimized economy could prove to be particularly important for small-operation farmers who could convert their waste into additional income.” Hirsch says that upcycling waste gives it “an economic value” that it didn’t previously have.
“We often talk about the vulnerability of the environment, but there is also sustainability for a business or the sustainability of people.” Hirsch says that “what we are doing allows [farmers] the ability to sustain themselves: to eat, and to educate their children.”
Rethinking the formulation of products is a difficult task, especially for small beauty brands. But there are a couple of ways brands can aim to carve out less of a footprint and be more consumption-conscious when creating new formulas. Instead of focusing on micro-trends derived from Tiktok or other social media platforms, brands can look at food trends. A way to tap into increasing demand and help farmers and distributors is to source the by-products from a specific fruit, vegetable or spice plant.
Second: Reaffirm the notion that food waste recycling is more than a branding strategy or sustainability talk. Start small by encouraging brands to incorporate food by-products wherever they are appropriate and then build their commitment. Consumers can support brands that make this effort by giving their dollars.