Welcome to another session in our series, The Truth About Marketing Claims. Today we will tackle a trendy word gaining a lot of attention right now in the beauty industry: zero waste.
Of all the terms we have covered so far in this series, I must admit, this is the one I want to get behind and believe is true with my whole heart. As a passionate business owner who loves her planet and profession with equal enthusiasm, there is no greater challenge and accomplishment in my mind than becoming a zero-waste company.
I love what I do, but when I think about empty bottles and jars from my product line contributing to landfills, the guilt is enough to make me want to quit my job. Even if my packaging ends up in a recycling facility, I still shudder because I know that recycling is not enough; reducing and reusing must be at the forefront of any attempt to reduce our negative impact on the Earth.
And as the world's population continues to explode, our oceans and planet continue to fill with garbage at unprecedented rates. With 7.8 billion humans inhabiting Earth, our everyday choices make a colossal and cumulative impact on our planet's health.
Ever heard the saying, there is no planet B?
Consumerism undoubtedly plays a significant role in this equation, and for this reason, it makes good sense to ponder our buying habits and strive to make better, more informed choices. But speaking from the viewpoint of a creator of consumer products, I feel an extra level of responsibility and guilt. After all, it starts with us - the ones who are creating and packaging the product in the first place!
It may come as no surprise that the beauty sector, like any other industry, is guilty of generating waste through product packaging (not to mention excessive product packaging). Nothing screams, "I'm lavish and worth it!" like putting a tiny jar of face cream in a fancy (likely unnecessary) box wrapped in plastic and goodness knows what else.
Unfortunately, plastic is also the preferred choice when packaging cosmetics because it is cheap, widely available, less prone to breaking, and more economical to ship because of its lighter nature (compared to glass, for example). Considering the widespread use of plastic globally, it is truly horrifying to learn that it never really goes away, and every single piece of plastic that has ever been created is still haunting the Earth in one way or another. *insert more guilt for every product I have ever made and packaged in plastic!
So let's jump right in with some burning questions that I had about zero waste when I started this blog post:
What does zero waste mean? Is it possible to achieve? Can you claim to be zero waste without accreditation? Is there a governing body that oversees zero waste claims? Is there greenwashing present surrounding the use of the term?
Merriam-Webster dictionary defines zero waste as generating little or no waste.
The Zero Waste International Alliance defines the term in more detail, as follows: "The conservation of all resources by means of responsible production, consumption, reuse, and recovery of products, packaging, and materials without burning and with no discharges to land, water, or air that threaten the environment or human health."
In other words, zero waste is so much more than recycling or composting, and it goes way beyond merely dealing with waste management. Knowing that our planet has finite resources, a true zero waste movement places resource management as one of its highest priorities. We must protect our natural resources first and foremost, then work our way down, like in this zero waste hierarchy image:
While searching online, I found a website called Eco-Cycle Solutions, which explains what zero waste is (and isn't). There is also an insightful video you can watch.
From their website, I discovered the Zero Waste International Alliance and a national affiliate of the Zero Waste International Alliance from Gibsons, British Columbia, called Zero Waste Canada. They are a non-profit organization dedicated to furthering Zero Waste policies and practices at the community, business, and policymaking level.
And good news! I reached out to them to enquire how a company can go about becoming a certified zero-waste company. There are fees involved and a long list of requirements, so I will keep you posted on what that process looks like and share my discoveries with you.
In the meantime, and from the research I have conducted so far, it appears to me that the term zero waste can be used somewhat loosely by the beauty industry at the moment. I would proceed with caution when you see a beauty brand claiming zero waste principles or when someone makes a claim on their behalf. The reason is that there is so much more to consider than simply what meets the eye. If they aren't "certified" by an organization like Zero Waste Canada, then you should take the claims with a grain of salt. At the very least, you should ask the company to define how and why they have decided to call themselves zero waste.
For example, perhaps it would be considered acceptable for my company to claim to be zero waste by highlighting these points in our marketing efforts:
- we package almost all of our products in reusable glass
- we are phasing out any remaining plastic packaging in 2021 and replacing it with cardboard paper tubes
- our lids are made from plastic that was destined for a landfill
- we have started a returns program where locals can return their clean glass jars to us so we can sterilize and reuse them, giving the customer incentive to return their jars by giving them free product or discounts towards their next purchase
- we reuse all packaging materials that we receive in our shipments and package our customer shipments with them
- we actively seek out packaging (like our bags) and paper products to be made from post-consumer waste that is certified by the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council)
- we are focusing efforts in 2021 to begin offering refills for some of our main products
- our products contain natural ingredients as close to nature as possible and have no toxic ingredients
Sounds pretty good, right?
Yet, in my opinion, there is so much more to be accountable for to claim to be zero waste. We want to reduce our environmental impact as a company, and we try hard to do so, but we have a long way to go still. There are many questions our company needs to ponder and much work to do.
So, in a nutshell, although I know there are many brands out there trying to do the right thing, be cautious of zero waste claims. I have seen zero waste companies with shampoo bars so toxic I wouldn't touch them with a ten-foot pole! Sure, the lack of packaging may be considered zero waste, but don't the ingredients count for something? How were those ingredients produced? What kind of environmental impact do toxic ingredients have when they enter our rivers and oceans? Etc.
On a positive note, I am so happy to have stumbled across Zero Waste Canada and learn that organizations exist to evaluate a company and outline the necessary steps you must take to be certified "zero waste". I can't wait to share my findings with you! My sincerest hope is that even if it is impossible to get accreditation for The Green Goddess, there will be golden nuggets picked up along the way to help me on my journey towards becoming the company I dream we can be. The goal is not perfectionism but progress.