L’Oréal, P&G and L’Occitane are among several companies accused of greenwashing, according to new findings by Changing Markets Foundation.
Revealed via the company's virtual launderette greenwash.com, beauty’s bigwigs were placed its hall of shame alongside the likes of Coca-Cola, Nike, Sainsbury’s and Tesco.
Beauty industry practices under fire include the interception and use of ocean-bound plastic and refill solutions involving hard-to-recycle pouches.
Changing Markets Foundation's findings are based on two new pieces of research: a new report, 'Under Wraps', by Changing Markets Foundation and Break Free From Plastic, which looks at (the lack of) actions supermarkets are taking on plastic pollution; and a body of research into consumer brands, retailers and other companies on green claims they are making on plastics.
George Harding-Rolls, Campaign Manager at Changing Markets Foundation, told Cosmetics Business the company had "found hundreds of examples, but narrowed than down to a selection we feel most demonstrate the issues of greenwashing in this sector".
P&G-owned hair care stalwart Head & Shoulders was singled out for criticism for its beach plastic bottle, which received a UN Momentum for Change award back in 2017.
According to Changing Markets Foundation, the use of marine plastic does little to lessen the flow of plastics into the environment.
Moreover, P&G’s reusable and refillable aluminium bottle system for Head & Shoulders, Pantene, Herbal Essences and Aussie (in Europe) was criticised for each refill pouch containing only slightly more than a single bottle refill per purchase.
This was considered damning because, while standard shampoo bottles are made of widely HDPE or PET plastic, the flexible plastic of the pouch is not.
A spokesperson for P&G told Cosmetics Business: "All of our Head & Shoulders bottles are recyclable in the UK and made out of post-consumer recycled plastic (PCR).
"Head & Shoulders shampoo now uses 55% less virgin plastic, equivalent to 148 million virgin plastic bottles less per year compared to 2016.
"Our 2017 limited-edition Ocean Clean Bottle was recyclable and one of the first steps on our ongoing responsible beauty journey which helped us to learn about the use of PCR. Since then, we introduced the P&G Beauty Good Refill system to help consumers reduce plastic by 60% (per ml versus standard shampoo bottle) by reusing our aluminium bottles and refilling using pouches.
"Our most recent launch of shampoo and conditioner bars was our first paper packaging innovation and marks our continuous journey to deliver on our sustainability commitments at scale.
"We don’t yet have all the answers but remain committed to ensuring Head & Shoulders is a force for good within beauty and we are working together with industry partners to help consumers lead more sustainable lifestyles."
Under fire from Changing Markets Foundation for its refill concept was L’Occitane. Changing Markets Foundation noted that the brand was replacing its bottles, which are at least partially recyclable with unrecyclable flexible packaging pouches that only cover a small number of refills before requiring replacement themselves.
It praised L’Occitane’s trial of in-store refill stations, but noted these are only currently available in six stores across the UK.
L’Oréal also received criticism. According to Changing Markets Foundation, a L’Oréal Elvive brand pack prominently features the text ‘100% recycled plastic bottle’, with small print revealing that this only extends to the bottle, not the cap.
The product was described as ‘more sustainable’, but the report pointed out that this was not a meaningful comparison as the consumer is not told what it’s more sustainable than.
Commenting on the worst offenders operating across beauty and personal care, Harding-Rolls added: "P&G comes up a few times as a greenwashing culprit for their use of ocean plastic in their Head & Shoulders' bottles, and for their refillable bottles.
"We found that each 430ml refillable bottle requires a single-serve 480ml refilling pouch, covering just over a single refill per purchase.
"Shampoo bottles made of HPDE or PET plastic are widely recycled, and yet the flexible plastic of the pouch is not, so at best this seems to be a stop-gap solution from P&G.
"Many brands also make inaccurate claims about recycled/recyclable material. In the case of L’Oréal, this refers to their claim of 100% recycled shampoo bottle, which actually excludes the label and cap."
Cosmetics Business has reached out to L'Oréal and L'Occitane for comment.