When did we get so fixated on having our soap dispensed to us in liquid form? Yes, it has a luxurious feel compared to a utilitarian bar of or soap and makes less of a mess of your washbasin. But the packaging – for the most part, made of plastic – comes with an environmental cost. It's particularly on our minds right now as soap sales have soared with all the handwashing that we're doing. One brand, Dani Naturals , has reported a spike of 700 per cent in sales in just one week.
Thankfully, as we're turning to plastic-free beauty, we’re learning to love soap bars again – and even embrace shampoo bars . However, for those of us wedded to liquids, there are now more soaps, shampoos and even self-tans available in less impactful ways – via refill pouches and ‘forever’ bottles.
The refillables model works best with items that we use lots of – such as soap and shampoo and that can be easily topped up. It's not so simple for smaller skincare items such as serums, where meticulous cleaning of the bottle would be important so that remnants from your old batch don't contaminate your new one. Skincare brands are for the most part opting for recycled and recyclable packaging for that reason.
However, that could be set to change with TerraCycle’s Loop refill scheme – already available in Paris and parts of the US and set to launch in the UK this year, 2020. It is partnering with brands such as Ren and Nivea to collect your skincare and other domestic item empties from your door, clean them hygienically and give them back to you full.
Plastic can only be recycled two to three times before its quality decreases too much
Refill bars in stores and salons are becoming more common too. At Boots Concept Store in London's Covent Garden (which reopened for beauty this week) Beauty Kitchen's refill bar encourages you to buy an aluminium 'bottle for life' and (re)fill it with face wash, shampoo, conditioner or body wash.
Around the corner at Cara Delevingne's hairdresser Windle London , you receive 30 per cent off if you bring your shampoo and conditioner bottles in to be topped up. Salons are set to reopon in early July. While over at Bleach London, bring in your refillable 500ml Pearlescent Shampoo or Conditioner bottle to one of their salons and save £4 on the full price of £14. Faith In Nature shampoos, body washes and conditioners are not only great value (mostly less than a fiver) they are widely refillable in independent health stores around the country many of which have stayed open as essential retailers.
If you want to minimize your environmental footprint, here are the brands that are leading the charge for refillables – allowing you to save on packaging and on price.
Now you can tan sustainably too! These chic pouches are made with 81 per cent less plastic than Isle of Paradise's spray bottles. Simply pour the pouch into your original bottle and twist the cap to seal. Trust Isle of Paradise to make sustainability look so slick.
Olay is selling refillable pods of the cult Whip moisturiser; the pod comes in a set with a full jar of the product. The pod fits into the empty jar, reducing plastic waster by up to 94 per cent. In addition, £5 of every sale will be going to the Young Women's Trust.
The hero ingredient of this sustainable hairdresser-founder brand is symbiotically harvested rahua oil from the Amazon rain forest. It's grown wild in undisturbed virgin forest, prepared using ancestral knowledge by the indigenous people and bought from them at a fair price. Quite apart from that, this luxe clean haircare is as clean and gentle as it gets. Rahua oil is particularly light and nourishing making it great for glossing and repairing damaged ends (the full Rahua range is well worth a look).
Now they've entered the refillable game with their two original and bestselling products: the Classic Shampoo and Classic Conditioner. They come in pouches made from 60 per cent plant-based materials, which biodegrade to compost, reducing plastic usage by 90 per cent. They have snip off corners so you will need to dispense them into something. They work out £2 cheaper each than their bottled counterparts.
L'Occitane has been doing eco refills since 2008 and this is a chance to buy a raved-about premium skincare product at knock-down price. It's part of L’Occitane’s anti-ageing L’Imortelle range, it gets off every scrap of makeup and smells divine. The refill pouch offers is a significant saving on the original packaging ( £22 for 150ml ) but you do have to buy the plastic pot once as you need the foaming action of the nozzle to enjoy the product in all its lathery glory.
L’Occitane is committed to recycling and has partnered with recycling organisation TerraCycle to provide recycling station for beauty empties from any brand in its boutiques nationwide. They’ll give you 10 per cent off full-price L’Occitane purchases on the day if you do.
For budget eco washing (yourself and your clothes) Faith In Nature can’t be beaten – they’ve been going since 1974 when being eco was considered hippy and fringe. The British brand is passionate about keeping prices affordable so everyone can benefit from their no-nasties approach (they are SLS, SLES and paraben-free). They do an impressive array of soap bars and shampoo bars as well as shampoos, conditioners, body washes and even laundry liquid in 5l bumper refill sizes for around £50 (Holland and Barrett have a £37.50 offer on that the moment on some of them). They come in gorgeous natural botanical scents and there's a fragrance-free body wash too. Pretty much everything comes in a generous 400ml refillable bottle (recycled plastic where possible) and costs less than a fiver.
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Now £44 may sound steep for a shampoo, but New York Salon Hairstory want to eliminate the need to buy a shampoo and conditioner separately with one serves-all product. The innovative New Wash comes in three forms: Original, Deep (for oily hair) and Extra Conditioning. It’s free from sulphates, silicones and synthetic fragrance and doesn’t strip the scalp’s protective barrier. This allows you to go longer between washes because your scalp doesn’t overproduce the natural oils that traditional shampooing can strip - so you buy less. Join the New Wash subscription club and they will send you a free aluminium bottle and save you money on regular purchases.
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This British sustainable, artisan no-nasties brand has opted for cans instead of pouches as their refill of choice. The rationale? Aluminium has an infinite life as a recyclable - 75 per cent of all aluminium produced is recycled still in use today says Recycle Now. Plastic, on the other hand, can only be recycled two to three times before its quality decreases too much, according to National Geographic. It takes 95 per cent less energy to make a can from recycled materials, says Kan Kan, plus they are light, recyclable everywhere and don't have tricky-to-dispose-of lids.
With the Kan Kan model, you buy the one-time 'forever' bottle, it arrives in cardboard packaging (which you can send back for them to use again, via the returns label), they plant a tree to thank you for your purchase and everyone’s happy. They do three types of wash, Body, Baby and Hand (all £15) and the starter sets – an empty bottle plus one can are £24. Yes, it’s a lot for soap but you are supporting a brand that really wants to change the packaging game.
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Arms up waste down is the slogan from this refillable natural deodorant brand, which although it smells surprisingly low key manages to keep odour at bay. You buy the slide-up metal container once (the slider is plastic but that's the only bit of plastic used in any of the packaging including what it's posted in). It comes in five sophisticated essential oil scents, doesn't crumble, feel greasy or leave white marks. Sodium bicarbonate eliminates nasty smells while tapioca starch absorbs wetness. Sign up for their regular refills which are £12 for three and allow you to mix and match scents. They reckon one refill lasts a month. It's suitable for pre-teens wanting to try their first deodorant too. Not for nothing did this make the edit of our best natural and aluminium free deodorants.
L’Occitane has an impressive selection of supersize bath, shower and handwash refill pouches ranging from hand soaps - £18 for a large 500ml of Lavender Hand Wash - to a Lavender Foaming Bath Duo for 44.50, which gives you a whole litre of product as 500ml aluminium ‘forever’ bottle and a same-size refill. The pouches use 98 per cent less plastic. I particularly love the Almond Shower Oil Refill Duo. The Almond Oil Shower Refill by itself costs £28 for 500ml .
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Got any eco beauty and wellness recommendations we should know about? Let us know in the comments below.