The complex, mixed-material nature of lip gloss tubes, lotion dispensers, and spray bottles makes the prospect of becoming a low-waste beauty consumer feel like a pipe dream. Even with the increasing number of brands taking oaths of sustainability, the shelves of beauty retailers remain stocked with single-use or difficult-to-recycle packaging, growing the Great Pacific garbage patch more with each mascara wand made. However, Nordstrom's new BEAUTYCYCLE take-back program is a momentous step towards circularity.
In 2018, the global cosmetics industry alone produced 120 billion units of packaging, according to Zero Waste Week, and less than 2 percent of it is estimated to have wound up in a recycling bin. The intricate packaging designs that make pumps, rollerballs, and posh droppers possible are innately wasteful, and despite the industry's efforts to introduce refillable, compostable alternatives, the plastic problem persists.
"We understand our customers care about sustainability, and we want to help them move toward a zero-waste beauty routine so they can look great and do good at the same time," said Gemma Lionello, Nordstrom's executive vice president and general merchandise manager of accessories and beauty, in a press release announcing the new BEAUTYCYCLE program Thursday.
With the take-back campaign — a partnership with the global waste management company TerraCycle — the retail giant aims to save 100 tons of packaging from landfills by 2025.
"When setting our 2025 corporate social responsibility goals around environmental sustainability, we focused on three key impact areas," Lionello tells The Zoe Report. "Climate change, environmental impact of our products and services, and circularity."
Earlier this year, Nordstrom announced plans to contribute at least $250,000 in corporate grants to help slow and prevent climate change, to help customers "extend the life of 250 tons of clothing through donation," and contribute $1 million to industry innovation for textile recycling. Additionally, it plans to reduce its use of single-use plastics by half and use sustainably sourced raw materials for 50 percent of Nordstrom Made products by the 2025 target.
While take-back programs are a norm for green-thinking brands like bareMinerals, EOS, and The Body Shop, Nordstrom's BEAUTYCYCLE program is the first brand-agnostic beauty recycling program to be implemented by a major retailer.
"We hope that by supporting customers to find more sustainable and responsible products, we're also supporting the brands that are developing innovative products like this, which will ultimately drive positive change across our industry," Lionello says.
To participate, shoppers simply bring their empty beauty products — can be shampoo containers, hair paste jars, spray bottles, lip balm tubes, soap dispensers, mascara tubes, eyeliner pencils... almost anything from any brand, including the caps — to a Nordstrom location and turn them into the beauty department in a BEAUTYCYCLE box (available in the store). Nordstrom then sends the empties to TerraCycle, where the materials are sorted and recycled.
Find out more about the BEAUTYCYCLE program and Nordstrom's sustainability goals at Nordstrom.com.