Between eyeshadows and blush, lipstick and concealer, highlighter and foundation, a beauty routine is seemingly incomplete without a combination of powders, gels, glosses, tints and liquids. There are endless ways to change your look, and at its best, a finished face is akin to a work of art.
But sadly, there’s an ugly side to our love for cosmetics.
The global cosmetics industry has a sustainability issue—to the tune of 120 billion units of unsustainable packaging created every year, according to Forbes. More than 70% of this packaging ends up in landfill, leading to negative environmental impacts like deforestation and increased bioplastics in our ocean water.
One emerging solution is to support a sustainable marketplace like WBA has always done, as outlined in its 2022 Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) Report, and invest in a circular economy—one that utilizes waste as a resource to manufacture new products.
Meet 27-year-old entrepreneur (and self-proclaimed makeup enthusiast) Ameenah Begum, creator and founder of Planet Friendly Paint and a whole-hearted believer in the potential of the circular economy. While studying product design at university in the UK, Begum spent her placement year with a renewable energy company that invested in innovative startups and entrepreneurs to make their businesses more sustainable. Her role was to travel around the UK and pitch partnerships with small businesses that could use the funding. She was struck by the impact one large company could make on the planet through strategic investments.
“That was my insight into what sustainability is and what a difference large companies can make as well as what kind of a difference startups can make when they work together,” says Begum. “After my placement year, I had to go back to university, and that's when I started to look at my own unsustainable habits.”
She had a keener eye for the waste she created at home, particularly when it came to her makeup routine. She noticed that the packaging design often made it difficult to use the entire product.
“I realized that I was wasting so much and it was really frustrating,” recalls Begum. “Foundation is expensive and it’s in glass bottles. You can't actually get to anything at the bottom. Initially, I worked on seeing how to make the most of my makeup before having to throw it away. But then I realized that makeup has expiration dates anyway. It hit me that this is a much bigger problem than just for individuals. It’s a worldwide problem. And rather than guilt people into doing something good for the environment, I could drive people to want to do better.”
Begum was an artist at heart and was struck by the similarities in the pigments of makeup and watercolor paints. She began to experiment by using dry cosmetics, like eyeshadows, to see if they could be incorporated into the traditional paint-making process. She broke them down and sorted them by shade and consistency. Using natural ingredients like gum arabic and honey, she created a binder, or binding agent, that would effectively fuse with the eyeshadows. Finally, she would smooth the mixture with a glass-grinding pestle to disperse the pigments within the binder and then allow it to cure and solidify. After many repeat experiments, Begum had landed on a formula to create a usable watercolor paint. Planet Friendly Paint, a zero waste, handmade watercolor paint business, was born.
Planet Friendly Paint samples, made from upcycled cosmetics and housed in seashells sourced from the beaches of Portsmouth, England, Begum’s hometown.
Planet Friendly Paint has grown by leaps and bounds since Begum put samples up for sale on Etsy. With increasing demand both in the UK and from international customers, she found herself needing more recycled cosmetics to make paint. Ever the entrepreneur, Begum proactively reached out to John Sweeney, head of product sustainability at Boots UK, on LinkedIn to share her company’s goal of “saving the world, one brushstroke at a time,” and to inquire about a potential partnership.
“People contact me a lot on LinkedIn, but this jumped out at me,” says Sweeney. “She was doing something unique that I hadn’t heard of before. I knew it would be lovely to help this person with their business and journey and hopefully trigger some innovation with what we can do with products.”
It’s no wonder Begum’s message appealed to Sweeney. As part of his role, he visits recycling centers where donated products from the Recycle at Boots takeback program are processed. While observing the sorting of donated items, he has been shocked at the sight of donated eyeshadow palettes where only one or two colors had been used.
And, coincidentally, Sweeney had recently taken up a new habit during his COVID-19 lockdown—watercolor painting.
Sweeney and Boots UK sourced cosmetics that were out of date, no longer stocked or had been used as in-store samples. They then sent a box of these excess products, primarily eyeshadow palettes and face powders, from Sleek MakeUP, a Boots owned brand, and NYX, to Begum’s studio.
At the same time, WBA was in search of an artist to create a piece that would encompass the four pillars of its ESG strategy—Healthy Communities, Healthy Planet, Healthy and Inclusive Workplace, and Sustainable Marketplace—for its upcoming ESG Report. A Boots representative connected Begum to Katharine Asher, a UK-based watercolorist, to collaborate on a paint palette for the report artwork.
The two artists started a conversation to hone in on the ideal palette to fit the project brief. Begum created paint samples in her studio and sent them via post to Asher, who created a test palette to determine which colors would best be able to represent land, sky, air and greenery—all elements that tied in to WBA’s goal of enhancing planetary health.
Test colors created by watercolorist Katharine Asher by using Planet Friendly Paint.
“The pigment density was more extreme, but still similar to traditional watercolors,” says Asher of using the upcycled paints. “On the whole, most of the pigments flooded into wet areas with character, held a line well and I was able to indulge in one of my favorite pleasures—watching the generosity of the pigments flooding into water, moving, settling and then drying into their own expressive marks. Some even dried with the echoes of the sparkles present of, I assume, the original cosmetic.”
The final result is a layered, textured landscape featuring blue-tinted mountains in the left-hand background. Turquoise windmills grow larger toward the foreground and draw the eye up to the right-hand corner, painted thick with lush, green leaves. WBA team members and people of different ethnicities stand in the foreground, representing various WBA roles and partnerships. The report and its artwork will be shared in full at the company’s launch event on March 9.
Sweeney reflects on the ease with which Boots UK was able to partner with Planet Friendly Paint.
“It was easy to send her a shipment, and it made myself and the people involved feel good to support a small business in the circular economy,” says Sweeney. “The next time someone approaches me with a more niche idea, I’m going to listen.”
And Begum is encouraged to know that sometimes, a knock on the door of a large company is all it takes to make progress on your goals.
“For true change to happen,” says Begum, “it has to happen collaboratively. That change can happen from the bottom up, but I've also seen how that change can happen from the top down. So having that approach where I can bridge the gap—and not just me, anyone with an innovative circular economy idea—can demonstrate that there’s a need for more people to get involved for the good of our planet.
“I’m at a place where I’m trying to spread an eco-message through the power of art,” continues Begum. “It’s all good and well to speak about sustainability, but art can be louder than words.”
Tune in to “More Joyful Lives Through Better Health,” the 2022 ESG Report Virtual Launch Event on Thursday, March 9, 2023 at 10 a.m. CST / 11 a.m. EST / 4 p.m. GMT to learn more about WBA’s commitment to a Healthy Planet, Sustainable Marketplace and more.