"Natural," "recyclable" and "zero-waste." The cosmetics industry is increasingly lavish in its use of certain terms when describing "environmentally-friendly" products. However, consumers have begun to tire of marketing buzzwords often associated with greenwashing, and some brands have been quick to respond. A case in point is American company Allure, which has published a list of expressions that it will no longer use, or only use with very careful qualification, in its copy and content.
Greenwashing, which is everywhere in advertising these days, has spread like wildfire in the world of beauty. For several years, the cosmetics industry in Europe and elsewhere has been surfing a green wave with products that are labeled as organic and a host of colors, images and slogans that announce their makers' passionate commitment to nature.
"If you stand back a little from the beauty shelves in a supermarket, you might think you are in a garden center. The same is true of the advertising: the color green and the adjective 'pure' are on every page," pointed out the French consumers association UFC Que Choisir in a study published in 2016 .
Recently the goal of "sub-zero waste" became popular to the point where a report by the British market research firm Mintel described it as "the trend set to impact global beauty and personal care markets in the coming years."
Now, however, some players are reconsidering their position, among them Allure . Last week, the American publication and creator of its own beauty boxes announced that it would avoid using "sustainability buzzwords," which "hide the realities of beauty waste."
In particular the brand is taking issue with words like "recyclable," "biodegradable," "green," compostable" and "zero-waste." "We will never describe a product or its packaging as 'zero-waste'. Instead, we will ask the brand using that descriptor to tell us exactly what they mean by this undefined term", the company announced on its website . It further added: "We need to do much more to understand and address the realities of the beauty waste problem — and a good place to start is with the way we talk about it."
The initiative is a necessary reminder for consumers who should not forget that recycling and other environmentally friendly practices have their limits, and the easiest waste to manage is never produced in the first place. This premise is very well explained by Flore Berlingen, a former director of Zero Waste France, in her book "Recyclage: le grand enfumage" [Recycling: a smokescreen of waste].
"In reality, the recyclable nature of a product remains purely theoretical. Product packaging can, for example, be considered recyclable if it's made from a recyclable material, but there still needs to be an operational collection network in the region or the country, which isn't always the case. Recycling has, moreover, become a sales argument, because it fulfills an environmental expectation that's increasingly important for the consumer," pointed out the environmental activist to ETX Studio on the occasion of Global Recycling Day last March.