This Beauty Brand Has Saved The Ocean From 3.4 Million Plastic Bottles

On World Oceans Day, what better time to familiarise yourself with the world’s first zero-waste beauty products?

ethique beauty bars plastic free sustainable beauty

by Hannah Banks-Walker |
Updated on

By now, the cataclysmic fate of Earth’s oceans is news to nobody. We’ve all seen the reports, suggesting that by 2050, there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish. We’ve cried silent tears as David Attenborough explained exactly why an adult whale was carrying her dead calf and we’ve all studied the photograph of the seahorse carrying a plastic cotton bud. So, what’s next? What steps do we all take to individually help ameliorate the situation? One woman may have the answers to those questions – and more – as she is harnessing the power of the beauty industry in order to blaze a trail for those hoping to follow in her wake.

Brianne West is the founder of Ethique, the world’s first zero-waste beauty brand founded in New Zealand in 2012, which launched in the UK in April this year. “After learning about the vast amount of plastic waste that the beauty industry produces, and with my background being in biochemistry, I set out to find a solution to this problem," West says. “Plastic packaging is one of the most significant problems our planet is faced with – there is such an extortionate amount of plastic waste that continues to end up in landfills and our oceans.”

West’s solution was to eschew the typical approach to producing beauty products in favour of something altogether more sustainable. “I learned that liquid-based beauty products, such as shampoo and conditioner, are composed of up to 95 per cent water and hence need to be packaged in plastic materials. I realised that, if you took the water out of the products, they could be formulated into solid bars which can be packaged in 100 per cent biodegradable materials. Eventually, I was able to replicate virtually every beauty product in a solid bar.”

Ethique’s bars are available as everything from shampoo and conditioner to face cleansers, moisturisers and deodorants, all made from plant-based, cruelty-free ingredients. One of the major challenges West has faced, however, has been trying to extol the virtues of beauty bars to those who may be skeptical. “It’s getting customers to trust that solid bar formulae are just as good, if not better, than other liquid-based products," she says. “That is why, when developing a product, we consider how easy it will be to use and ensure that it’s as good as the leading product in the category, if not better. It’s all well and good having a product that ticks all the ethical boxes, but people won’t buy it again if it doesn’t work. We also worked on the storage issue by developing compostable, in-shower containers made of bamboo and cornstarch. They look like plastic but are plastic-free and will biodegrade in your garden, yet last at least five years in your bathroom.”

West speculates that part of people’s reluctance to swap their current products for bars is that many associate bars with soap, which is not what Ethique creates. Instead, she says, her products can rival any of her competitors’: “The ingredients are nourishing, hydrating and gentle on the skin, body and hair. It is important for me to ensure that all of our products are high quality.” In terms of the response so far, Ethique has enjoyed incredible success for a start-up beauty brand. It has amassed a loyal following (over 48k and counting on Instagram) and won multiple awards in New Zealand. Just two months ago, the brand launched here in the UK and it now ships to countries all over the world including the USA, Australia, Japan and Hong Kong. So, what’s next for Ethique?

“We have so many exciting plans in the pipeline,” says West. “We have recently launched several new products and are always looking to expand our range. We have 28 new products on the way this year, including a line of household products, deodorants and hair products. We have new international markets, new retail partnerships (for the UK in particular), new team members and new ways of people accessing our products – it’s all very exciting so watch this space!”

If West had her way, we’d all be using bars in every aspect of our lives – not just our beauty regimes. There are already Ethique bars for pets, for example, and a laundry bar, too. And there are gift bundles available, should you want to encourage a friend to cultivate a plastic-free bathroom. Perhaps the most impressive thing of all is that West claims Ethique has prevented over 3.4 million plastic bottles from ending up in landfill and the oceans, a statistic that will surely carry the brand far in our current climate. Are beauty bars, then, the future? Can the beauty industry – currently expected to be worth over $800 billion by 2023 – ever truly produce zero waste and be free of the tyranny of plastic?

“I would love to think that it will be, but we are a long way off yet," says West. “However, the future looks very promising with many brands pledging to do better, and as a result of consumer demand. I want Ethique to inspire other brands to think about how they sell and package their products and encourage consumers to know that our solid products are really no different; the shampoo is shampoo – NOT soap – the conditioner is what you buy in a bottle; the moisturisers are the same as lotion, just without the water. You have water in your bathroom – why do you need it in your beauty products, too?"

SHOP: How To Make Your Bathroom Plastic-Free


The Best Plastic-Free Products To Fill Your Bathroom

L'Occitane Gentle & Balance Solid Shampoo, £101 of 15

L'Occitane, Gentle & Balance Solid Shampoo, £10

Ethique, Heali Kiwi Shampoo Bar, £11.932 of 15

Ethique, Heali Kiwi Shampoo Bar, £11.93

Lush, Solid Deodorant, £5.503 of 15

Lush, Solid Deodorant, £5.50

Gallinu00e9e, Cleansing Bar, £104 of 15

Gallinée, Cleansing Bar, £10

Hydrophil, Organic Biodegradable Cotton Buds, £1.855 of 15

Hydrophil, Organic Biodegradable Cotton Buds, £1.85

Anything But Plastic, Bamboo Toothbrush, £3.996 of 15

Anything But Plastic, Bamboo Toothbrush, £3.99

Etsy, Organic Cotton Make-Up Pads, £5.507 of 15

Etsy, Organic Cotton Make-Up Pads, £5.50

Simple, Biodegradable Face Wipes, £28 of 15

Simple, Biodegradable Face Wipes, £2

Glasshouse, Wooden Cushion Brush, £239 of 15

Glasshouse, Wooden Cushion Brush, £23

The Konjac Sponge Company, Pure Konjac Puff Sponge, £8.9910 of 15

The Konjac Sponge Company, Pure Konjac Puff Sponge, £8.99

Rahua, Dry Shampoo, £3011 of 15

Rahua, Dry Shampoo, £30

Who Gives A Crap, 100% Recycled Toilet Paper, £36 for 48 rolls12 of 15

Who Gives A Crap, 100% Recycled Toilet Paper, £36 for 48 rolls

The Shaving Shack, Double-Edged Safety Razor, £26.9913 of 15

The Shaving Shack, Double-Edged Safety Razor, £26.99

The Natural Deodorant Company, Clean Deodorant Balm Vanilla + Manuka Clean Deodorant Balm Lemon + Geranium, £1114 of 15

The Natural Deodorant Company, Clean Deodorant Balm Vanilla + Manuka Clean Deodorant Balm Lemon + Geranium, £11

Bybi, Babe Multipurpose Balm, £2815 of 15

Bybi, Babe Multipurpose Balm, £28

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