With its first nationwide empties program, dubbed Beauty (Re)Purposed, Sephora is hoping to reduce the amount of hard-to-recycle packaging waste going to landfill.
As of May, more than 600 Sephora stores across the U.S. and Canada will now take back packaging from any brand and recycle it through the company’s partner, non-profit Pact. Sephora is covering all in-store collection costs, so this is a free service to shoppers. If a Sephora store is not accessible to a customer, they may use the Pact mail-back collection program. Customers fill out a form on the Pact website and can send in their items for $8. Information can be found on the Sephora landing page on Pact’s website.
“As the largest prestige beauty omni-retailer in the U.S. and Canada, Sephora has a responsibility to help lead industry-wide collaboration and change to support circularity,” said Desta Raines, Sephora’s director of sustainability.
Starting 15 years ago, Sephora has partnered with specialty recycler G2 Revolution, so far diverting 23.7 million pounds of returned, damaged or expired cosmetic product waste from landfills. Beauty (Re)Purposed will add another layer to this effort, in the form of collecting and diverting hard-to-recycle materials, and involving customers in the process. Sephora declined to disclose its investment in the Pact program.
“The reality is that discarding beauty packaging can be complex for many people, including beauty consumers,” said Raines. “It was important for Sephora to find a partner like Pact who shares our values and, in collaboration, can help to educate our clients and the broader industry about making the process [of recycling] more intuitive and accessible for all.”
Pact, which already works with Ulta Beauty, Fenty Beauty and Ilia, among over 150 other partners, was founded by beauty veterans Victor Casale, previously of MAC Cosmetics, and Mia Davis, vp of Credo Beauty. “[Pact] knows this industry inside and out, and they are committed to addressing our industry’s unique packaging issues,” said Raines.
“Retailers will play an important role in this transition,” said co-founder of Pact, Victor Casale. “Fundamental shifts to more sustainable solutions in the beauty industry can only happen if every part of the supply chain is committed to change for the better. Consumer education and engagement at retail point of sale can create the most change.”
The key to being able to enable the recycling of harder-to-recycle materials is packaging. Pact must collect enough volume of 14 different types of packaging before recycling it. For Sephora, this is an opportunity to gather data on what materials are being returned, which it will track.
“Pact’s goal is to amass enough volume to sell the material to end-buyers who can reuse or repurpose the material,” said Raines. “The material collected by each bin is tracked, including how much plastic and what kind of plastic, and how much glass, [for example],” said Raines.
The cosmetics business is the fourth largest plastic packaging user globally, with plastic accounting for about 67% of the industry’s packaging volume, according to market research company Vantage Market Research. With 120 billion units of packaging waste being produced annually, according to research from environmental campaign Zero Waste Week, retailers that can take back packaging from many brands are a key part of the beauty industry waste solution.
A key part of the Beauty (Re)Purposed program is education. Sephora will share information about the program across its channels, including social, digital and stores, with specific activations set to promote it later this year. Sephora has also collaborated with Pact to provide more information on its site.
“As with other collection programs, the success of this program depends on consumer participation. Education is a critical aspect of fostering that. Our goal is to make it easier to properly process empty products and therefore help to reduce the barriers to more widespread participation,” said Raines.
Alongside the Sephora launch, Pact is also announcing a new brand partnership with Benefit, allowing customers to mail in up to five empties per month for free. Benefit’s director for U.S. e-commerce, Joanne Marzan, said, “We want to provide our consumers with easy solutions to do good. Offering a takeback program via this partnership with Pact is important to us to move towards a more sustainable future.”
Some brands that are already offering take-back programs, like MAC Cosmetics, Susanne Kaufman and Farmacy, incentivize customers to recycle via their Pact programs with points redeemable against future products. Sephora’s partnership with Pact does not include a loyalty program component, which does seem like a missed opportunity, considering its 30 million members. Raines said the company has no immediate plans to integrate the loyalty program.