The cosmetic industry has responded rapidly to the microbeads issue (tiny plastic balls used in exfoliating products that end up in the sea) where their use has effectively stopped. However, in responding to this issue, the industry needs to ensure a future problem is not established. If you replace the microbeads with a finite alternative ingredient such as Himalayan Salt, Dead Sea Salt or mineral alternatives like Bali Sand, you are potentially introducing another issue – sustainability of the source. Is it being replaced faster than you are using it? Geology is slow.

Palm Oil is another example where a natural source has been highly successful in providing a myriad of cosmetic and food ingredients. It can be found in 50% of food products in your supermarket. However, this demand has led to over-farming, loss of rain forest and animal species devastation. Sustainably validated palm oil sources are available, and used by Matrix, but public opinion is setting against this crop because of the stigma surrounding it.

It is worth considering that Palm is an incredibly efficient crop; natural alternatives are far less efficient and in practice would demand more land to produce an equivalent quantity. This is driving research into alternative efficient options like marine crops, including algae and seaweeds, and ferments where a small amount of “natural” material can be replicated by a natural process.

Sustainability in cosmetic ingredients is improving and suppliers generally understand this is a key aspect of supply and brand value protection. “Wild harvested” sounds great but can be a real issue if demand increases. Who is harvesting and do they get a fair return? Fair Trade and related associations can answer these questions and have done so for many years – is the customer willing to support this in shelf prices?

Packaging is the more visible by product of the industry. Single use plastics are potentially being outlawed. Significant research is going into new sources of plastic from natural sources, although this could drive more farming, which makes it a bit of a complex issue. Biodegradability of plastics is increasing, as is use of non-plastic options – wax card, wood pulp, etc for packs.

Practical responses to reduce the ratio of packaging to product are also being offered including bigger packs, refills, less cartons, concentrated products, dry alternatives formats e.g. shampoo.

Every little helps and there will be some disruptive options coming forward as this is a key and real benefit and claim. As this also impacts the food industry, which is MUCH larger, the size of the prize is magnified.

Industry target is a Closed Loop Supply Chain – where energy, material sourcing and use are fully sustainable and commercially efficient. Aspirational but achievable, particularly with customer pressure.

At Matrix, we actively research ways to reduce our plastic footprint and have created Bio-Form biodegradable plastics, which can be used to produce many plastic products. We’re actively encouraging our clients to use alternative packaging, product refills and reduced plastic options.