Anyone who likes beauty products is familiar with the mountain of packaging waste they create, from tiny jars to shampoo bottles, mascara tubes, cellophane wrappers for face masks, compacts for blush or foundation, and pump bottles that once held lotion. By one estimate, the cosmetics industry makes more than 120 billion units of packaging every year. Much of it either can’t be recycled, or isn’t.
A new online platform from Ulta Beauty and Loop offers an alternative: Everything on the site comes in reusable packaging. When customers place an order, they pay a refundable deposit on the package. When they use up products, they put the packages back in a reusable shipping tote and schedule a free pickup. The packages go back to Loop, which cleans and sterilizes everything so it can be used again.
“We’re seeing the beauty industry, particularly waking up to this issue more than others, but I think a part of it is that they’ve been asleep so long,” says Tom Szaky, founder and CEO of TerraCycle, a company that focuses on recycling hard-to-recycle products, and Loop, a spinoff platform that offers common brands in reusable packaging. Loop runs its own platform with a broader range of products, including food.
The new site from Ulta offers products like body butter and deodorant in glass jars, Dermalogica cleansing gel in an aluminum bottle, a gel cleanser from Burt’s Bees in a glass bottle, and more unusual products like Noice, an organic toothpaste that comes in a glass container with a pump that also helps avoid wasting the toothpaste itself. “One press gives the exact right amount of toothpaste,” Szaky says. “It’s really good because people usually overdose toothpaste pretty substantially—if you look at the photos of toothpaste on a toothbrush, that is way more than what you actually have to put on.”
So far, the new platform has around 30 products. More will come soon. “Redeveloping packaging from scratch, as you can imagine, is a phenomenal amount of work,” he says. “We are launching with a good number of brands out of the gate, but what’s really exciting is that there’s just a huge pipeline of development occurring, which is going to become available sometime after the launch.” As consumer demand for reusable packaging continues to grow, and more brands begin offering versions of their products in new packaging, he expects that other beauty retailers will follow Ulta’s example. “I think you’re going see a ripple effect,” he says.