Zero waste is certainly a hot topic, and you’ll likely hear us using the term often around here. In fact, we’ve kinda built an entire brand on the premise of helping consumers create a more sustainable beauty routine, and that includes offering zero waste products.
As you can guess, the topic is pretty near and dear to our hearts, but what does the term “zero waste” even mean?
What is the Definition of Zero Waste?
Here’s the truth of the matter: generally speaking, the term “zero waste” has become a bit of a meaningless marketing term.
You might be thinking “but Zerra, how can you call it meaningless when you market your own products as zero waste?” and our answer would be “well, it’s not meaningless to us,” but we’ll get to that.
“The conservation of all resources by means of responsible production, consumption, reuse, and recovery of products, packaging, and materials without burning and with no discharges to land, water, or air that threaten the environment or human health.”
The problem is, there is no officially agreed upon standard for products marketed as zero waste, which leaves the task of determining if something is zero-waste-enough to the consumer. Brands aren’t always fully transparent about their products’ production or packaging end-of-life, so that’s not always a simple feat.
Greenwashing Under the Guise of Zero Waste
When you pick up a product that is labeled as “organic” you can be sure that the product met a certain set of federal production and processing standards in order for it to display that label. That’s not so when it comes to a term like “zero waste”.
Because there isn’t a set of standards that needs to be met in order for a product to be labeled as “zero waste” pretty much any brand can mislead customers into believing their products are actually zero waste or sustainable when the reality might be that they are just slightly more eco -friendly than the traditional alternative.
As consumers are becoming more interested in sustainable product options, brands are starting to lean into this greenwashing (making a false or misleading claim about the environmental benefits of a product) tactic to lure more consumers into believing their products are truly sustainable.
Here’s a few greenwashing red flags to be on the lookout for:
- Vague, “fluffy” language: just because a brand is using words like “green” or “eco-friendly” doesn’t necessarily mean it’s true by your standard or mine. These words aren’t regulated, so make sure they walk the walk and back up those claims with proof.
- Misleading, “green” packaging: sometimes companies will use carefully curated branding designs to invoke a sense of being all natural and “green” to distract customers from their plastic packaging and harmful manufacturing, ingredients, and distribution.
- Lack of transparency: if brands are making some mighty claims about how their products are more environmentally friendly but don’t provide any proof that it’s actually true, that’s usually a bad sign. Check websites for sustainability reports, transparent about us pages, or reach out to them directly if you can’t find anything online.
- Empty promises: countless companies have made promises to their customers to “work towards sustainability” without actually providing a timeline or outlining their goals and specific steps to work towards those goals.
- Highlighting one eco-friendly aspect but ignoring the rest: sometimes products will be marketed for a single eco-friendly initiative while the product itself or the company behind it still isn’t eco-friendly. For example, a company might offer glitter makeup in recyclable packaging, while the product itself contains plastic glitter which contributes to microplastic pollution.
What Does Zero Waste Mean to Us?
Since there is no standard set for zero waste in the beauty industry, we’ve created our own standard to uphold within our company.
At Zerra & Co., “zero waste” means no waste is created as a result of using the product. All packaging components have a clear end of life plan that diverts waste from the landfill. All of our zero waste products are either completely plastic free, or offer reusable plastic components (such as pump tops) with plastic free refills available. We also give the option to skip the reusable plastic components if you wish!
Check out a few of our favorite zero waste beauty product pages, where we make it easy to discern exactly which ingredients are used and get the lowdown on that specific product’s packaging, including whether it is eligible for our Container Return Program.
The Cleanser: our zero waste facial cleanser bar.
Our Zero Waste Liquid Lotion: you can select “refill (no pump top)” to skip on the reusable pump top.
What is Low Waste Vs. Zero Waste
One of the primary goals for Zerra & Co. is to create beauty routines that are attainable and sustainable. We understand that a completely zero waste lifestyle or beauty routine isn’t entirely attainable for everyone, whether that be price wise, time wise, or ability wise. We know that completely zero waste living can be intimidating for many, and we also know that a greener world is about many people taking small, consistent steps towards sustainability rather than a handful of people being perfectly zero waste.
With this in mind, we also offer products that are low waste rather than 100% zero waste by our definition.
Low Waste to us means there's little to no waste created as a result of using the product. Either one or two small components must be tossed at their end of life because there's currently no way to recycle or compost these components.
We promise we aren’t greenwashing though; when we say low waste, we mean it.
For example, our low waste mascara, The Mascara, features a glass vial with a bamboo lid and contains 85% less plastic than conventional mascara. Part of that plastic accounts for the plastic wand, which is now reusable! We now offer refills of The Mascara which come with a metal cap, so you can clean and reuse your mascara wand. The other bit of plastic is a small piece of plastic inside the vial called a reducer, which basically scrapes the excess mascara off your wand when you pull it out.
The reason we sell products like these is to offer a more sustainable option that works similarly to the plastic swathed beauty products that customers are familiar with. We’ve found that people are more likely to pick up a sustainable option if it fits seamlessly into their current beauty routines than if they have to completely overhaul their routines all at once.
Our Zero Waste Mascara is beloved by many customers and we hope everyone can give it a try eventually, but we also understand the small learning curve and the inconvenience of not having an attached wand they don’t have to clean in between uses can be a deterrent to those new to zero waste living.
We believe our low-waste options provide eco-friendly alternatives that, although not perfectly zero waste, cause far less harm to the environment than something they might otherwise pick up in the cosmetics aisle.
And when they’re ready to swap to zero waste beauty options, we have those too!
If you have any questions at all about our sustainability practices or our products in general, feel free to email us at email@example.com and we will happily help you out!
Content Curator - Zerra & Co.