How Lush Reduces Plastic

Putting plastic in its place

How is Lush tackling the amount of waste created by the beauty industry?

Our Sustainability team manager, Katrina Shum, writes here about how Lush, as a business, is tackling plastic.

The global pandemic, Covid-19, has disrupted business as usual and changed how we go about our daily lives. Public health and safety are paramount but the face masks and gloves that now litter the streets and clutter the landfills are disheartening. The years of habits built around personal reuse and policies banning single-use plastic have fallen by the wayside. As we think about the economic, social and planetary recovery from Covid-19, individuals and businesses need to pause and reflect on how we rebuild for the health of our communities and natural ecosystems.

Plastic pollutes at every stage of its lifecycle—upstream in its production as an oil byproduct and downstream through air, land and water. A significant contributor to plastics pollution is the industry in which we work at Lush: cosmetics and personal care products. By its nature, cosmetics packaging is small and intricate, made up of many different parts that are difficult to clean after use, resulting in the majority of its packaging going directly into landfills. But it doesn’t have to be like this. The global packaging industry is valued at $850 billion USD. What if businesses invested that money into the products themselves rather than what is wrapped around them?

As a vertically-integrated business, Lush has the unique opportunity to embed our corporate values and zero-waste philosophy throughout our value chain as we invent our own products, manage our supply chains, grow some of our own raw materials, own and operate our manufacturing and distribution facilities and run our own retail shops. When Lush began in 1995 as a single shop in England, our co-founders Mark and Mo Constantine would hand-pour soap into upcycled drainpipes and lunch pails. We've grown from these humble beginnings to continually innovate, try, make mistakes, learn and evolve our “naked” products—the ones that require no packaging at all. Reducing the water content of formulas has allowed us to bring to market solid versions of products such as shampoo, shower gels, body lotions and toothpaste. Since 2005, we’ve sold more than 41 million shampoo bars in North America alone, saving 124 million plastic bottles from ever being produced. That’s approximately 3,417 tons of plastic reduced, or about the weight of 30 blue whales.

For products that still require packaging at Lush, we reduce and reuse to cut unnecessary resource use. The packaging materials we source are not only recyclable but—equally important—made from post-consumer recycled content (PCR) to prevent extraction of virgin resources. For over a decade, we have been sourcing 100 percent PCR content for all our plastics and 100 percent recycled paper. We also promote our reusable tins and reusable knot-wraps as giftwrap to help our customers to reduce their packaging needs.

Businesses have an opportunity to create circular systems for their packaging and provide customers with a direct and transparent way to ensure their packaging is being properly recycled or repurposed. Lush started their Black Pot program in 2008 where customers can bring back five empty Lush black pots to be recycled, in exchange for a free fresh face mask. The reverse logistics (the process by which we recapture the value of post-consumer material) involved developing and fostering partnerships with local processors to wash, chip, pelletize and remold old black pots into new ones, near the factories where we make our products. The program currently has a 17 percent return rate, which allows each new black pot to be made with roughly 10 percent resin from old pots and the remainder from PCR resin.

Our Black Pot program gives you a free fresh face mask when you return five pots.

A person holds empty black pots.

In addition to customer-facing programs, businesses also have an opportunity to initiate waste reduction and circularity programs upstream with their network of suppliers. As we started tackling zero-waste goals in our manufacturing and distribution facilities, we recognized the need to engage our suppliers to reduce the amount of unnecessary packaging materials they send into our facilities. Over the past few years, we have found various waste reduction opportunities by simply initiating conversations with suppliers and sharing our zero-waste goals. We’ve eliminated unnecessary packaging, increased pack sizes to reduce waste and initiated reuse programs with our suppliers that have reduced cardboard and plastic.

Businesses that bring products and packaging into customers’ homes have a responsibility to think about how we lead the transition toward zero-waste living. We each have an opportunity to change the habits and the dialogue in society around waste in everyday living. Lush is a very small player within the larger cosmetics industry. However, similar to keystone species within larger ecosystems, we see the opportunity to be a catalyst for change and have a disproportionately positive impact to transform bathroom habits and routines around the world. If all of us used our influence for good to raise awareness about waste issues, challenge industry working groups and support the advancement of government policies, then we could collectively have a much greater positive impact on rebuilding a cleaner, more sustainable world.

Want to discover how you can embrace going plastic-free? Contact our Customer Care team for more tips and tricks on reducing plastic and finding products to fit your lower-waste routine.