In the year 2022, we’re a long way off from a world in which, to eliminate excess waste, beauty product packaging has been standardized across the board — and using refills is not the exception, but the norm.
Just about two years ago, there was a sudden uptick in beauty brands launching refillable products. (This new wave of pre-existing brands is not to be confused with brands — like Kjaer Weis and Surratt — that baked refill-ability into their lines from inception.) In the time since, it feels like hardly a day has gone by without another beauty company — be it a drugstore behemoth like Dove or a major luxury player like Chanel — announcing that something in their lineup is “now refillable!”
The idea was, and is, that after purchasing the initial vessel and finishing the formula within, one can simply purchase a refill for a product — often in the form of a less-packaging-intensive pod, pouch, or cartridge — instead of another full-size jar, bottle, or tube.
In the marketing of said refills, some brands tout cost savings (refills typically cost less than the original products), others convenience — but pretty much all of them point to the fact that utilizing refills generates less waste than rebuying the primary packaging over and over again.
And here’s the good news: that’s true.
The bad news? It’s not nearly that simple.
Like recyclability, refillability is great in theory — but not always in practice. Just as certain materials are able to be recycled, certain packaging designs are able to be refilled. The question on both counts, though, is: will they be? (Here’s your daily reminder that only 9 percent of all plastic waste ever produced has actually been turned into something that we were then able to use again — as in, recycled.)
Although refillable packaging does have a place in the beauty and personal care industries — but right now, we don’t have evidence that it’s making a tangible difference in the health of our planet. That’s why we at UKPACK have decided to expand our Sustainability Pledge and add “refillable” to the list of often misleading buzzwords (like “biodegradable”) that we only use with careful qualification.
Of course, we’ll continue to do our due diligence as new innovations are unveiled, and research proves the environmental benefits of refillable beauty products to be more than just theoretical (or the result of having to refill the same product more than 50 times).
“This is a story you’ll be writing about for many years,” says Corbett.