The good news: The skincare side is starting to make headway when it comes to grabbing that product before it rots. According to one estimate, up to 20 percent of the world’s banana production could be thrown away due to damage or blemishes. (That’s about 24 million tons of bananas going straight to the trash!) Kadalys, a Martinican brand, reuses some of these banana peels and pulps to produce omega-rich extracts used in its skincare. “Bananas have healing and antimicrobial properties,” says cosmetic chemist Ginger King. “There is even [brands making] banana leaf preservatives.”
Olive groves are also useful ground. Last year, minimalist skincare brand Circumference sourced unused olive leaves from Californian olive oil brand Brightland. These leaves produce an antioxidant extract used in the brand’s Daily Replenishing Gel Cleanser, and any remaining biomaterials are returned to the soil as compost. This is taking the idea of waste as treasure to the nth degree.
“[Upcycling] is great for consumers and the planet because we use by-products that may have just ended up in landfill,” says Pamela Marcos, Senior Director of Product Development and Regulatory at Farmacy. The brand’s new 10% Niacinamide Overnight Mask is infused with antioxidant-rich oil cold-pressed from discarded blueberry seeds, an ingredient King says helps support collagen synthesis ( Farmacy is also working to address food insecurity, with a commitment to donate three million meals to Feeding America in 2022).
“It’s a win-win situation for everyone,” says Marcos. “It’s great for consumers and the planet, because we’re using by-products that may have just ended up in the landfill. It contributes to a more circular economy.” This optimized economy could be particularly vital for small farmers, who could turn their waste into additional income. Upcycling gives waste “economic value” [it] didn’t have before,” says Hirsch.
“We talk about the vulnerability of the environment, but there is also the sustainability of a company and the sustainability of people. What we do allows [farmers] provide for themselves: to eat and educate their children,” says Hirsch.
It’s understandably a big challenge, especially for smaller beauty brands, to rethink the way they formulate their products. But there are several ways brands can reduce their footprint and be more consumer-conscious when creating new formulas. First, rather than launching new launches inspired by micro-trends born out of Tiktok and other social media, brands could turn to food trends. Sourcing by-products of a particular fruit, vegetable or spice plant that is in season or gaining popularity in the restaurant industry in general is one way to meet growing demand while helping farms and distributors. And second: Reinforce the idea that food waste recycling is not just a branding item or sustainability talking point. Brands can start with small steps towards a regular practice of upcycling by integrating food by-products where they make sense and building engagement from there. (And as consumers, we can donate our money to brands that make this effort.)