The student design team behind sustainable beauty brand concept Urth is well-aware that the beauty industry has a pollution problem. As the demand for the personal care market has grown, billions of single use plastics have been created and thrown into landfills. In 2018, beauty products accounted for the production of 7.9 billion units of rigid plastics in the United States alone. That same year, an article in National Geographic revealed that 91% of plastics are not recyclable. “A small lipstick, with the conventional design we are used to, will never be recycled in the current industrial world,” said the Art Center students behind Urth, Hah Kyoung Kim, Osbaldo D. Alvarez, and Andi Li. “[That] can therefore be more hazardous to the environment than large bulk items that tend to be treated at their end-of-life.”
With this in mind, Urth proposes a revolutionary design for sustainable beauty. Their sliding lipstick comes in sleek, alluring biodegradable packaging that’s also refillable. The dispenser comprises just five components made of a thermoplastic algae developed by a research team at UC San Diego’s Center for Renewable Materials. Though many plastic substitutes on the market aren’t durable, these byproducts can be processed to retain the look and feel of traditional, petroleum-based plastic. Rapid growth, inexpensive maintenance, and extremely minimal use of fossil fuels and greenhouse gases make this material almost completely waste-free.
Throughout their design process, the team focused on simplified, minimal waste construction that repurposed ingredients that would otherwise go unused. Algae’s strength and versatility made it not only an ideal container for their lipstick, but a central ingredient for the lipstick itself. Nutrients like carotenoids, enzymes, and chlorophyll have made strains of this rich, biodiverse plant a popular skincare ingredient for decades. The Urth team experimented with the carotenoids in micro-algae to extract vivid pigments for this exceptionally earth-friendly lipstick.
While this refillable product could be reused for years to come, it can also magically disappear. Many biodegradable materials like PLA can only be destroyed at industrial composting sites, but Urth’s lipstick dispensers and cartridges would disintegrate in an at-home compost bin after 12 weeks. Urth's environmentally friendly approach also applies to the shipping process, which proposes using electric trucks and algae paper envelopes for delivery.
Though 40% of the lipstick’s current formula is derived from petroleum, the team behind Urth's research says it will be possible to build with up to 98% renewable content within 2-3 years. As for ergonomics, Urth lipstick’s sleek, sliding door-inspired container lends itself to seamless one-handed application. Consumers can personalize any of their vibrant lipsticks with containers in a range of pastel shades.
Urth used smart design and cutting-edge scientific advances to create a lipstick that’s high-quality, non-toxic, and good for the planet. Dealing with waste is a particularly important challenge for designers in the cosmetic industry to begin tackling. A concept like Urth stands as an example of the progressive incremental steps the beauty industry can take to significantly reduce its negative impact on the environment.