back to Big Thinking arrow
BIG THINKING

The sustainable bathroom solution that will be the next big thing for beauty brands

back to Big Thinking arrow
BIG THINKING

The sustainable bathroom solution that will be the next big thing for beauty brands

Ailsa Hearne
Senior Analyst
Hall & Partners Global Qualitative Team

LinkedIn Email

When my mum told me she was giving up the day job to make soap bars from goats’ milk for a living, I put it down to something of a mid-life crisis. With all due respect to Mum, I couldn’t see how this was a viable or relevant business in the modern day…

Of course, I was wrong. She’s had a successful business for five years now and sells 14 different varieties of scented soap along with shampoo and moisturiser bars and lip balms. And it’s the demand for bars that she struggles to keep up with.

There are probably many reasons that sit behind this new demand. But it’s undeniable that the lack of packaging, particularly plastic, is something that is regularly mentioned to my mum when chatting with customers on her stall.

In our line of work ­– seeking for hidden insights – we’re often poking around people’s cupboards as part of in-home ethnographies. Nowhere is plastic more noticeable than the home. This matters, because the home is a place where we can all take responsibility for what we consume and also what we throw away – and that includes plastic waste.

Figures show that the UK recycles an impressive 90 per cent of its kitchen packaging. When it comes to recycling, kitchens are run like a well-oiled machine: a system to re-fill cleaning products along with a staple set of ‘bags for life’ are normal behaviours that we regularly see in consumers’ efforts to become more sustainable.

But, in the bathroom it’s a different story, with only 50 per cent of waste being recycled! Bathroom plastic bottles are a particularly high source of waste – think of the short lifespan of the shampoos, shower gels, conditioners, moisturisers, etc. that pass through our bathrooms on an ongoing basis.

The infrastructure of the bathroom hasn’t caught up with the kitchen – for example, there’s no equivalent to the recycling or compost bin. It’s also not yet become a cultural norm, as we aren’t accustomed to the routine behaviour that we experience as part of the kitchen recycling process.

While there are ways in which consumers can recycle their plastic toiletries, there’s another reason why recycling rates from the bathroom are low. One of the biggest barriers comes from confusion about how to do it, as identified by this 2018 survey:

Plastics represents the single biggest source of confusion amongst residents regarding contamination ... despite focusing on very specific plastic materials (e.g. bottles, margarine tubs, yoghurt pots) some residents cannot make the distinction with non-recyclable plastics (e.g. kid's toys).”

But why should we be blaming the consumer for this problem? What about those who manufacture the plastic in the first place? And supermarkets have been under pressure to take some responsibility for how much plastic they almost force consumers to use by not providing alternatives.


With sustainability rising up the consumer agenda, there’s an opportunity for personal-care brands to do more to help their customers in reducing plastic waste


So, why not eliminate the plastic problem at the start of its lifecycle? Bars create a natural solution to this challenge as they offer greater scope to use less, and more sustainable, packaging.

This is an opportunity that very few large beauty brands seem to be capitalising on. Where are the Radox or Sanex shampoo bars? The Nivea or Liz Earle moisturiser bars?

LUSH is delivering on this new trend with vibrantly coloured shampoo and conditioner bars, but there are no other big brands competing in this space.

With sustainability rising up the consumer agenda, there’s an opportunity for personal-care brands to do more to help their customers in reducing plastic waste – and make their brand increasingly relevant to the growing number of environmentally conscious people.

There would also likely be additional benefits to producers in reduced costs of manufacturing, packaging and distribution, due to the lower weight and smaller volume of bars vs. bottles.

So, with the win-win scenario of helping consumers to reduce plastic use and brands to reduce costs and emissions, I look forward to more and more beauty and cosmetic brands putting bars at the forefront of their sustainability agenda.

 

Share this article

 

When my mum told me she was giving up the day job to make soap bars from goats’ milk for a living, I put it down to something of a mid-life crisis. With all due respect to Mum, I couldn’t see how this was a viable or relevant business in the modern day…

Of course, I was wrong. She’s had a successful business for five years now and sells 14 different varieties of scented soap along with shampoo and moisturiser bars and lip balms. And it’s the demand for bars that she struggles to keep up with.

There are probably many reasons that sit behind this new demand. But it’s undeniable that the lack of packaging, particularly plastic, is something that is regularly mentioned to my mum when chatting with customers on her stall.

In our line of work ­– seeking for hidden insights – we’re often poking around people’s cupboards as part of in-home ethnographies. Nowhere is plastic more noticeable than the home. This matters, because the home is a place where we can all take responsibility for what we consume and also what we throw away – and that includes plastic waste.

Figures show that the UK recycles an impressive 90 per cent of its kitchen packaging. When it comes to recycling, kitchens are run like a well-oiled machine: a system to re-fill cleaning products along with a staple set of ‘bags for life’ are normal behaviours that we regularly see in consumers’ efforts to become more sustainable.

But, in the bathroom it’s a different story, with only 50 per cent of waste being recycled! Bathroom plastic bottles are a particularly high source of waste – think of the short lifespan of the shampoos, shower gels, conditioners, moisturisers, etc. that pass through our bathrooms on an ongoing basis.

The infrastructure of the bathroom hasn’t caught up with the kitchen – for example, there’s no equivalent to the recycling or compost bin. It’s also not yet become a cultural norm, as we aren’t accustomed to the routine behaviour that we experience as part of the kitchen recycling process.

While there are ways in which consumers can recycle their plastic toiletries, there’s another reason why recycling rates from the bathroom are low. One of the biggest barriers comes from confusion about how to do it, as identified by this 2018 survey:

Plastics represents the single biggest source of confusion amongst residents regarding contamination ... despite focusing on very specific plastic materials (e.g. bottles, margarine tubs, yoghurt pots) some residents cannot make the distinction with non-recyclable plastics (e.g. kid's toys).”

But why should we be blaming the consumer for this problem? What about those who manufacture the plastic in the first place? And supermarkets have been under pressure to take some responsibility for how much plastic they almost force consumers to use by not providing alternatives.


With sustainability rising up the consumer agenda, there’s an opportunity for personal-care brands to do more to help their customers in reducing plastic waste


So, why not eliminate the plastic problem at the start of its lifecycle? Bars create a natural solution to this challenge as they offer greater scope to use less, and more sustainable, packaging.

This is an opportunity that very few large beauty brands seem to be capitalising on. Where are the Radox or Sanex shampoo bars? The Nivea or Liz Earle moisturiser bars?

LUSH is delivering on this new trend with vibrantly coloured shampoo and conditioner bars, but there are no other big brands competing in this space.

With sustainability rising up the consumer agenda, there’s an opportunity for personal-care brands to do more to help their customers in reducing plastic waste – and make their brand increasingly relevant to the growing number of environmentally conscious people.

There would also likely be additional benefits to producers in reduced costs of manufacturing, packaging and distribution, due to the lower weight and smaller volume of bars vs. bottles.

So, with the win-win scenario of helping consumers to reduce plastic use and brands to reduce costs and emissions, I look forward to more and more beauty and cosmetic brands putting bars at the forefront of their sustainability agenda.

Ailsa Hearne
Senior Analyst
Hall & Partners Global Qualitative Team

LinkedIn Email