Beauty and the Buzzwords: What Zero Waste Actually Means for the Health and Beauty Industry

Oct 23, 2018 | All, Lets Get Natural, Wellness | 1 comment

In conversation with Hanna Pumfrey, founder of Acala, a plastic and waste free health and beauty platform.

You will probably know by now that here at OHNE we’re pretty obsessed with all things organic and eco-friendly. But we’re also pretty bored of the buzzwords (although we know we’re just as guilty of using them as anyone else) that get dropped a lot with much explanation. If we quizzed you on the actual definitions of the words ‘sustainable’, ‘organic’, or ‘low-impact’, how detailed or accurate would your answers be? Don’t worry, we’re never gonna write that quiz, because we don’t pretend to be authorities on the topic, either. But we want that to change. We want to start thinking beyond tampons – shocking, I know – because most of us probably have a plethora of products clogging up our bathrooms that could definitely do with an eco-upgrade, just like our period products.

We reached out to Hanna Pumfrey for some zero-waste wisdom and product recommendations for you. Hanna is the founder of Acala, an awesome source of info on all things zero waste and an online store carrying every kind of plastic-free, ethical health and beauty product you could ask for. 

First thing’s first, what does living a zero waste lifestyle actually mean?

“It sounds like a lofty goal, but zero waste living is the choice to live a life that sends nothing to landfill.” Hanna says. “Something that is worth serious consideration when you realise that the average person in the western world throws away more than their body weight of rubbish each month.”

Sure, we all know plastic is not exactly fantastic, but when you’re scouring the aisles of Superdrug it’s pretty easy to forget alternatives to plastic even exist.

Hanna explains that zero waste beauty is “as simple as reducing the number of products that we use, reusing the packaging our products come in as much as possible, choosing to buy from brands using plastic free and biodegradable packaging, and starting to make products at home.”

Going zero-waste (or making the small steps it takes to get there) is as much about knowing why you’re avoiding the products you’re used to buying as it is about being told which ones are supposedly Good™.

“90% of us Brits recycle kitchen waste… but only 50% of us are continuing those good habits when it comes to bathroom waste (e.g. shampoo bottles, moisturiser pots, and make up containers).

120 billion units of packaging are produced every year by the global cosmetics industry.

The cardboard that envelops perfumes, serums and moisturisers contributes to the loss of 18 million acres of forest each year. If this level of consumption continues, by 2050 there will be 12 billion tonnes of plastic in landfills – the equivalent of 35,000 Empire State Buildings.”

The stats Hanna reeled off make for pretty scary reading, but one look at her website and it’s pretty reassuring to see that plastic-free products with sustainable packaging are available, if you know where to look.

Zero-waste beauty holds the industry accountable in looking beyond plastic as the only viable packaging option – but it also relies on us being conscientious consumers and remembering to recycle our shampoo bottles. Even if the walk to the kitchen/driveway/utility room feels a little inconvenient (trust that it’s more inconvenient for the sea creatures that get to live alongside that plastic bottle for the next few centuries when you don’t!)

It’s not all about the plastic, though. After talking to Hanna, I was surprised to learn that one of the biggest changes that needs to be made in the health and beauty industry is water usage.

“Water shortages are going to be one of the biggest challenges facing our planet in the years to come – and the beauty industry is one of the biggest contributors to water waste.

While brands offering completely water free products are few at the moment there are some amazing innovations out there that are hugely reducing the water used in production, as well reducing weight of products which reduces the carbon footprint of transporting these products. Taking the water out of a product actually reduces it carbon footprint in transportation by 25%.”

Apparently your skin will also thank you for changing up your water-based products for a more sustainable one.

“Excessive washing or use of water-based products can strip the skin of oils and weaken its natural barrier. The skin has its own self-cleaning system of sebum and natural microbes that repel and neutralise environmental pathogens. Washing away this protective shield exposes skin leading to an increase in diseases such as eczema.

Water is often used in formulations as a cheap base but once you remove that water, botanicals and oils are used instead, which results in a much more potent offering. Essentially, you’re getting more for your money as conventional products are often watered down to increase profits for big brands.”

If, like me, you’re a regular Lush tourist (by which I mean, you wander in to stare at all the pretty things, reel at the price tags, feel a little light-headed from all the smells, leave, and repeat on a semi-regular basis) you’ll already know you can get a lot of dry-form alternatives to regular products like shampoo, conditioner, and hand soap (okay, that one is obvious). But according to Hanna, you can also find dry alternatives for things like toothpaste and mouthwash!

Hanna’s water-free recommendations:

Shampoo Cubes from Beauty Kubes

Mouthwash Tablets from Georganics

Water free face masks from Wild Sage

So, let’s put the question to Hanna, is it possible that we will see a zero-waste beauty industry in the near future?

“Yes, I truly believe the future of beauty is zero waste. And water free. How do we get there? By challenging brands to think about their environmental footprint and by voting with our wallet.”

Vote with your wallet – a great phrase and an even better sentiment. If we continue to buy plastic, brands will continue to use it. If we move onto more sustainable products, the industry will have no choice but to take notice, even the big brands.

Hanna’s not expecting us all to give up our favourite products just yet, but she has some tips for how you can ease that nagging voice in the back of your head…

“Next time you pick up an non-recyclable container of face cream, make sure you drop the brand a line to ask them how to responsibly dispose of it. Or, next time you’re looking for a new product, keep and eye out for a water-free option.”

Living a low-impact lifestyle is not about being an eco-goddesses 100% of the time. It’s about making the changes you can, forgiving yourself for those you can’t, and always keeping one eye out for ways in which this can change.

If you’re new to exploring more sustainable, plastic-free, and organic alternatives, the pressure from the online ‘zero-waste’ community can seem pretty bloody overwhelming. Are you going to start noticing plastic everywhere and panicking every time you go to buy something that you haven’t googled whether it has been ethically produced? Well, probably, eventually. But should you feel guilty every time you buy that thing anyway, or throw out all your plastic products at once? Definitely not. Some changes and product alternatives will seem doable for you, some won’t. We’re all just figuring this shit out together, deal?

Check out Hanna and her independent, zero waste business at or on Instagram @acalaonline

All images courtesy of Acala

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