BEAUTY is big business but can be a big, bad business - something L'Oreal Australia is trying to change with New York company TerraCycle.
The companies have developed a world-first program to ensure beauty and personal care packaging doesn't end up in landfill.
They are an odd couple on the surface, but TerraCycle's focus since inception in 2001 is making the unrecyclable, recyclable. The company gives garbage destined for landfill a new lease on life.
Australia is the test market for the Beauty Products Recycling Program, which will accept products from any beauty company in the world in addition to L'Oreal's 32 brands including Garnier, Lancome and Kiehls.
The end game is upcycling packaging into new products at L'Oreal Australia's Sydney warehouse facility.
TerraCycle founder and CEO Tom Szaky (pictured) says this is the first recycling program of its kind, and there's a reason the companies selected Australia as the beneficiary.
"There are other cosmetic recycling programs but they aren't accepting of all brands - and behaviourally, people recycle really well in their kitchens but suck at recycling in their bathrooms," says Szaky.
"Usually brands will take responsibility over their landfill but not that of another brand. This is a completely free platform, with shipping and everything paid for by L'Oreal.
"There's a really interesting culture in Australia where Aussies tend to not give themselves as much credit when it comes to recycling and think they are way behind - it's actually a great mentality because it means you aren't complacent and will push the envelope a lot more."
TerraCycle works with over 110 of the world's largest consumer goods brands to collect 75 different waste streams including coffee capsules, toothbrushes, chewing gum and even cigarette waste.
The company operates in 20 countries and has more than 60 million people participating in its programs.
Szaky says 'it is quite realistic' to think a quarter million Australians will take part in the Beauty Products Recycling Program.
He says TerraCycle does more approaching than get approached because companies still seem afraid to have a voice in this field.
Szaky says traditionally, the higher end the brand is, the worse it rates for waste.
"We absolutely get no's still today - although we have enough weight as an organisation that it's typically a respectful no," says Szaky.
"I've never met anyone on the other side who doesn't agree. It's the powers that be, which is in fact the system they serve, that stop them. You have to serve your profit margins to some degree. You can advocate for things and walls get knocked down slowly but it's a big challenge overall."
Szaky's top tip is thinking of business like a mirror.
"Corporations here are in the business of giving people what they want, or further than that, giving people something they didn't know they wanted which is innovation," he says.
"Business is like a mirror and the real person it's reflecting against is the consumer.
"One of the books I wrote, we evaluated the chewing gum industry and discovered if the world stopped buying chewing gum for two weeks, the industry would be dead. Or if you stopped buying fast food for a few weeks, you would bankrupt all of the fast food restaurants and the supply chains that support them.
"The most powerful thing we do is vote for the business we want and we do that multiple times a day. We aren't voting with a piece of paper like in elections, but cash, which is something far more powerful."
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