A radical new approach to environmentalism or a motivator for the mainstream? Hannah Conway looks further.

This article is part of our feature on the trends impacting the beauty industry, you can check out Issue 3 of Magpie here.

The concept of the zero-waste movement might at first seem absurd. The philosophy of this group of people centers around the idea of minimizing one’s garbage output to the point of nothing —— through recycling, reusing and refusing all products that can’t meet this standard of living. Numerous videos on YouTube show people pulling years-worth of garbage from one tiny mason jar, detailing the exact circumstances that forced them to purchase non-recyclable plastics. Blogs listing the ways that this community avoids adding more waste to the planet —— from seemingly small choices, such as switching to bamboo toothbrushes, to larger changes in the way they grocery shop and eat out at restaurants, buy clothing and even bathe. To say the least, this lifestyle seems intense
and all consuming.

But in reflection of the growing concern for environmental impact, it’s not a leap to suggest that this movement could spread to a more mainstream audience. The general public is more aware than ever about the destructive impact of human existence on the planet —— and zero-waste is one solution that has emerged in this new collective consciousness.

A recent survey found that 45% of Americans worry "a great deal" about global warming, and 68% believe that it is caused by human activities. The highest rate in history.

In March, a study published in Scientific Reports showed that the Great Pacific Garbage Patch has grown exponentially, with at least 79 thousand tonnes of ocean plastic floating inside an area of 1.6 million km2, making what multiple media sources are calling “plastic island” more than three times the size of France (Quartz, 2018).

“45% of Americans worry “a great deal” about global warming, and 68% believe that it is caused by human activities.
The highest rate in history.”

In the context of the beauty market, brands are stepping up in this arena. Terms such as “plastic-free” and “vegan” are the new normal for product marketing.

Raw Elements is one such brand —— the company dedicates itself to selling the safest and most effective sunscreens while reducing its general impact on the planet. At first we were intrigued by one category of products on the Raw Elements website —— “plastic-free” —— but through more digging we learned that this brand is committed not only to reducing waste, but also to lowering the levels of toxins that sunscreens emit. The focus of the brand is not “zero-waste” but rather a desire to create products that are safe both for people and for the ocean’s ecosystem.

We spoke with Brian Guadagno, founder and CEO of Raw Elements, to get his perspective on how brands today are tackling the issue of human waste.

“The environmental impact has been at the core of our mission since the beginning,”
Gaudagno explains, “but it was tough communicating that to people five years ago.”

Guadagno was quick to note how the changing landscape of media has enabled more people to educate themselves about the human effect on the planet. “Social media brings remote topics into people’s personal space. Ten years ago, the issue of coral reefs might not make sense to someone who lives in North Carolina. But today when you see all that content being delivered in one feed, then you start to see people wanting to make better choices in the products that they use.”

Guadagno points out that education isn’t always enough —— brands concerned about their impact on the environment must also consider consumer needs from a practical perspective. He goes on to say, “You have your core environmentally conscious people who understand that, but you’re also talking to people who look at sunscreen from a convenience standpoint. Some people will always buy the sunscreen product that is most readily available to them or that suits their specific individual needs.” The idea of convenience in some ways complicates the ideal of ‘zero-waste,’ or any other eco-friendly cause for that matter. These products must be easily accessible and useful in order to reach a mass audience.”

Brands today can make a positive impact on the planet, just by showcasing their conscientiousness to the conservation cause. While zero-waste is a seemingly extreme example, it acts as a broader ideal, a goal that any individual can work toward, and a strategy that brands and people alike can employ to lessen their environmental footprint.