To get to Glasshouse Salon you have to resist leafy brunch spot Mare Street Market, skip the restaurateurs of Broadway Market and block out the aroma of Netil Market’s street food vendors, (basically, don’t arrive hungry if you want to get to your hair appointment on time). But this city of gastronomical delights is also harbouring an unsavoury problem: food waste.
According to Love Food Hate Waste, the UK bins five million tonnes of perfectly edible food each year – that’s enough grub to fill 100 Royal Albert Halls. Fortunately, more of us are becoming mindful of what we eat and recently we’ve noticed how beauty brands are finding inventive ways to use the stuff we don’t.
Used coffee grounds, quinoa husks and juice pulp are just some of the “rubbish” ingredients finding their way into our body scrubs, balms and more. Organic Monitor first noticed cosmetics companies sourcing food waste-derived ingredients back in 2015 and reckons the trend will only grow in the years to come: “With the global population projected to reach 9 billion by 2050 and agricultural land becoming increasingly scarce, more investment is expected in creating new ingredients from food waste.”
According to the British Coffee Association, Britain drinks 95 million cups of coffee a day.
Yet non recyclable coffee cups aren’t the only waste stream produced as a result of the nation’s caffeine addiction. A coffee shop in a city the size of London chucks out an average of 200,000 tonnes of coffee grounds per year. Thankfully, there are a few companies out there who have figured out how to make your flat white go further.
Natural beauty brand UpCircle has applied circular thinking to all aspects of its business, from the ingredients it uses (discarded coffee grounds and chai spices) to the packaging (99% plastic free with cap-free options) to the very paper its marketing materials are printed on (recycled coffee cups, what else?). To date, the company, which is vegan and 100% natural has diverted more than 50 tonnes of coffee from landfill.
“Based on our current growth rates we estimate that we will have saved an additional 1000 tonnes in the next five years. That’s a whole lot of espressos,” says co-founder Anna Brightman. “We are challenging people’s perceptions of what they consider as waste, which is a particularly tough mission when you consider that we are tackling it within the beauty industry.” It’s an industry which churns out 120 billion units of packaging per year, according to Euromonitor. But the good news is you lot are driving the change. “Increasingly, we are noticing consumers demand more transparency, authenticity and sustainability from their beauty routine.”
Of course, there’s nothing stopping you from knocking up your own DIY beauty products from your leftovers. However, making the switch to brands that use upcycled ingredients means you’re helping to combat waste on an industrial scale. It’s a win win for the environment and your skin. It’s also less of a hassle to tidy up, says Brightman, “We have worked hard to make our formulations user-friendly, so you may find our scrubs (which come in aluminium tubes) last longer and are less messy than homemade equivalents.” Not content with repurposing the dregs of our coffee culture, the UpCircle team are now turning their attention to apricot stones and abandoned flowers from wedding venues.
And there’s great news for anyone devastated at the thought of their beauty routine destroying the natural habitats of orangutangs and other critically endangered wildlife. Glasgow start-up Revive Eco reckons the waste produced by your morning caffeine fix could even replace palm oil in the future. The company has found a way to extract oil from used coffee grounds, which it says mimic the properties of palm-oil. Co-founder Scott Kennedy tells us they’re already in discussion with beauty brands (watch this space) eager to find a sustainable alternative to the land-intensive crop.
Just like UpCircle, whose product range always begins with a core ingredient originally destined for landfill, Fruu takes fruit cast aside by supermarkets and transforms it into its moisturising balms. Avocado oil, mango seed butter and EFA-rich (Essential Fatty Acids) lemon seed oil, an under-utilised byproduct of the lemon processing industry are just some of the fruit you’ll find in the lip balms. According to the Ellen Macarthur Foundation, retailers reject 20-40% of what farmers produce because it doesn’t conform to their strict cosmetic standards. This means Fruu has a steady supply of ingredients that don’t rely on petrochemicals or drain precious land, water and energy resources. Not only do the Fruitilicious balms contain up to 60% fruit, they come in an array of matt and tinted finishes to suit all your summer looks. The only downside is they definitely don’t count as one of your five a day.
Big brands are getting in on the act too, with everything from wonky carrots to wine finding their way into our beauty products. The star ingredient in M&S’s Pure range is Resveratrol, “a potent radiance-boosting ingredient recycled from the crushed pulp leftovers from our English Chapel Down wines.” Dr Kraft, the brains behind the M&S grape range have also cooked up a natural hair dye made with leftover Ribena pulp. Body Shop regulars will be familiar with its carrot cream face cleanser and banana shampoo. Both contain organic carrots and bananas that were lacking in the looks department and the almond milk in its products is sourced from a Spanish farm who even make use of the broken nuts that can’t be sold for food.
And if you needed any more proof that detritus can be desirable, perfume brands are also working waste into their offerings. French perfumery Etat Libre d’Orange has created a scent out of the waste produced by the industry itself, although you wouldn’t know it from scanning the ingredients – a wholesome mix of roses, apples, cedar wood and bitter oranges.
Although it can be easy to get down about the challenges facing the environment, it’s also uplifting to hear about intelligent solutions that are coming about in response to the climate crisis. The idea of circular beauty makes sense on so many levels - and if the concept results in high-performing products that are made ethically with unique ingredients, what’s there not to like? Waste not want not - we hope this beauty movement is here to stay.
Words: Kyra Hanson