The retailer’s lessons learned from collecting 5,7 tons of beauty waste from end consumers
KICKS’ special project focuses on hazardous waste — bottles or jars that still contain product — and educates customers on the importance of end-of-life.
16 Oct 2023

As the Sustainability Specialist at KICKS Group, Ann-Katrin Dolium focuses on the social and environmental risks and opportunities where we have the most impact throughout the value chain. At the top of her and the company’s agenda is of course the end-of-life process and how to take better care of packaging and resources. In 2017, the retailer launched the Beauty Recycling initiative following research results showing that consumers didn’t know how to dispose of their cosmetic waste.

— They can now bring their cosmetic waste to our stores that have recycling, and we make sure that it is correctly disposed of, without negative impacts on the environment, says Dolium. The initiative focuses on hazardous waste which is bottles or jars that still contains product, for example, sunscreen or nail polish, and therefore cannot be put in the recycling bins for plastic or glass. In addition, we communicate to our customers on how to make products last longer. And also about the multi-use of products since the best way to reduce the quantity of waste is to fully use the products, and we communicate that empty packaging should be reused or recycled.

How come that you focus on hazardous waste?

— People living in apartment blocks as well as quite many people living in houses have access to nearby recycling of clean and empty packaging of plastic, glass, and paper. However, jars and packaging that are not completely empty must be brought to a recycling centre as it is considered hazardous waste. Many people do not live near a recycling station where they can leave hazardous waste, and if you don’t have a car it can be complicated to travel to one. With Beauty Recycling in our stores, we want to facilitate the disposal of this type of waste for our customers.

Since 2017, until the end of last year, 5,7 tons of waste have been collected in 46 stores in Sweden — one-third of the total amount of units — currently offering recycling. The collected products, Dolium explains, are incinerated and used to produce heat, in line with the latter steps of the EU waste hierarchy. 

— In the start-up phase, the main challenge was to convince municipalities to cooperate with us on this. As municipalities in Sweden have the responsibility for collecting and handling waste, we needed to sign agreements with them to have the right to collect cosmetic waste in our stores. Today we have agreements with 17 municipalities. Another continuous challenge has been to find ways to ensure that our customers know that they can bring their cosmetic waste to a store. We also see the benefit of more targeted communication to the stores, as relevant communication actions depend on where they are located and the characteristics of their customers. We have also designed a specific container for the stores to make Beauty Recycling visible to customers while aesthetic.  

What are the reactions from your consumers?

— The feedback is positive. Many people do not live near a recycling station where they can leave it, and if you don’t have a car, it can be complicated to travel to one. During these years, we have learned a lot about what is important for our customers and how to make it easier for them to be a part of our sustainability strategy. This initiative is definitely a piece of the puzzle on how to handle the consumer use phase and the post-consumer phase of our value chain, as well as it is a new way of engaging with our customers on an important issue. 

And what have you learned about what is important for your customers?

—More and more are aware of the impacts of their consumption and want to decrease the impact. However, if you want to drive broad behavioural change among consumers, you need to facilitate access to alternatives, without additional cost for them. In the end, it is of course a combination of politics and the economy in addition to business initiatives that will make a difference. We do what is coherent and relevant for our type of activity.

How will you proceed with this work?

— In Sweden, we continuously contact municipalities where we have stores, and we have ongoing discussions with an additional ten municipalities. End 2022 we also started pilot projects with Beauty Recycling in Norway and Finland. We started up with five stores per country and in these countries, the process is more straightforward as you sign an agreement directly with a waste contractor. We can use the learnings from the Swedish experience for the other two markets, and we recently evaluated the pilots to see how we best should proceed.

And how did that evaluation go? What are the next steps in Norway and Finland?

— We have received excellent responses from both customers and employees in Norway and Finland. The evaluation showed that the participating stores were positive about the project and would like to continue developing Beauty Recycling. The employees in the project also believe that the initiative has a positive impact on our brand and is an important and visible part of our sustainability work. It also showed a need to focus even more on information and communication with customers as the initiative is new and it takes time to reach a critical mass of customers and must be done through a combination of channels. In addition, we work with training of our employees at the stores so that they feel confident in communicating and explaining the purpose of the Beauty Recycling initiative. The next step is to roll out the concept to more stores.

When you speak to the brands that you carry and your colleagues responsible for the packaging at your in-house brands, what do they say about packaging?

— Most of the brands we carry are from large corporations who have established sustainability work, and many are based in Europe and thus covered by the same EU visions and regulations as we are. What we hear from brands is that refill solutions are increasing, including for products such as premium perfumes. At KICKS, our customers can now specifically search for refills as we foresee an increase in supply as well as demand.  We also see that more packaging is made with recycled material and mono material for easier recycling. Another innovation we see is pumps and dispensers in mono material without metal springs which makes them recyclable. The trend is also towards lighter-weight packing, which saves material and energy in the manufacturing and transportation phases. When possible, we remove secondary packing on our own brands, though often needed to fulfil regulations on consumer information.

With your experience, what are your thoughts about the current problems with recycling, the lack of infrastructure and such?

— The current problem with recycling is that we as consumers do not recycle enough, especially plastic, with 40% of all plastic being recycled in Norway, 34% in Sweden, and 27% in Finland. New legislation is coming within the next few years that will facilitate as well as require people to recycle more and better. That will also be helpful for us in the B2C business. We have our own sustainability targets related to, for instance, plastics and beyond integrating that factor into new product development. Consumers are in our value chain so what they do with our products reflects on us and is also our responsibility.

Last spring, the company stopped using retouched images in the content and marketing material. For many years, a special image policy and action plan has been established to ensure that it reflects the demographics of their markets in terms of age, ethnicity, body type, and gender identity. This month, KICKS presents the new biannual campaign to support organisations working with mental health.

— In the sustainability community, there has been much focus on the supply chain, as it is global and very complex. However, the consumer use and post-consumer phases, which for obvious reasons are complicated for B2C businesses to manage, often generate more emissions than the other phases. Yet, commitments to tackling these are limited, says Dolium. She adds:

— Another issue is of course circularity and what that means for the beauty industry, as the reuse of products is not as straightforward as, for instance, in the textile industry, even if there are experiments in the area. Further, we would like to see more cooperation between different industries to identify upcycling possibilities, turning trash into treasure. Finally, the actors in the Swedish and Nordic beauty industries should collaborate more as we have common challenges in the sustainability area. That would push the agenda faster and further towards innovations and solutions that would benefit the whole society as well as our businesses.