Beauty vloggers’ “unboxing” videos and shots of them picking over public relations product hauls have become a YouTube staple — with as much as 100 packages being opened in a single video.
For the brands that are sending the merchandise, quality airtime and increasing competition means the brands are sending out ever-more extravagant, over-the-top packaging to grab vloggers — and viewers’ — attention.
How about a perfume bottle nestled in gold confetti and packaged in multiple boxes with bubble wrap? Eye shadow palettes that come with a TV screen broadcasting the brand’s campaign? Or an acrylic tic-tac-toe set packaged with an eye cream?
No thank you: Vloggers have cottoned onto the environmental impact of unnecessary packaging and are taking to their social media platforms to voice their concerns.
“Brands have said that they feel they need to do something eye-catching because they think if it’s over-the-top enough, people will post it on their Instagram or Snapchat, but I’ve gotten to the point where I’m receiving products in massive packages that don’t make the product anymore interesting to me,” said Samantha Ravndahl, who has more than 900,000 subscribers and has been among the most vocal beauty YouTubers about excessive packaging.
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She recently posted a video announcing that she would remove herself from all PR lists, and aired her grievances on wasteful and un-environmentally friendly practices in gifting.
Other influential YouTubers such as Jenn Im — 2.3 million subscribers — and Jackie Aina — 2.7 million subscribers — have also highlighted this issue on their platforms.
“I get that brands want to make their launches as exciting as possible and I think that’s important. I still love an unboxing and the extravaganza, it’s fun and it’s exciting, but I think if people could learn how to scale back and realize there’s no need for extra-ness for every single launch,” Aina said.
Aina also emphasized that there are pros and cons to gifting: “For those who are just starting out, it’s not fair for them not to have this experience and I wouldn’t want to be the catalyst to take that away from someone else. A beautiful presentation is still important, but it just needs to be done smarter and with more awareness.”
Im agreed that the “smoke and mirrors” won’t change her opinion about a product and that minimal packaging will have the same effect — if not a better response. “It was the packaging bubble that finally burst for me when I received a four-foot hot pink egg structure from Beautyblender. While I love the brand and I don’t want to target them, it just happened to be a gift that took it too far for me,” she said.
For Im, her biggest gripe is e-waste. She claims that brands often send video screens, which often play their latest campaigns, to accompany their products. “It’s e-waste that I receive three times a month and I have to take it to a Best Buy or someone who can recycle electronics because if I put it in my blue bin, it’ll just go straight into the landfill and it’s toxic waste that I don’t want to be responsible for.”
Ravndahl, too, claims that these screens are unnecessary and won’t pique her interest nor sway her opinion on a product, similar to other excessive product packaging.
“I live in a household of eight and, without a doubt, I create more waste in a week than everyone else combined creates in a month,” Ravndahl said. “It is to the point where I can’t fit it in the recycling bins the city provides us and I have to hire outside companies to collect it all and sort through the waste because some have to be specially recycled such as electronics and packaging with acrylics,” she said.
The three beauty vloggers are dealing with an abnormal amount of waste: Aina gets packages sent to her home address as well as to a P.O. Box and Ravndahl spends $500 to $600 on a regular basis to hire someone to pick up the waste, “I have to hire someone else because of the sheer amount of it and all of the un-environmentally materials they are putting in it that I can’t properly recycle,” she said.
The vloggers are hoping that brands will package with the bare minimum it takes to send a product safely and grasp the notion that extravagant packaging doesn’t guarantee airtime. Each of them gave examples of gifts they received with a personalized note that has struck a chord with them more than confetti, bows and ribbons.
“It should be all about the product,” said Im, who also hopes that brands will stop sending full shade ranges of foundation.
Aina added that she is “appreciative of brands who have products that speak for themselves” and which don’t rely on presentation.
“I literally live at a garbage disposal now and it’s become a burden to my neighbors and especially the environment. What are the ramifications of this in the long run? Am I doing my due diligence to recycle everything properly? At this point we’re not talking about one or two boxes but dozens because they’ve been packaged excessively and it’s become a real concern,” Aina said.
The Cosmetics, Toiletry and Perfumery Association, or CTPA, which represents U.K. brands in the personal-care and cosmetics sector including L’Oréal and Estée Lauder, doesn’t believe the gifting culture needs to change, “but people’s expectation of packaging has to change and our members completely understand the problem of excessive plastic litter,” said Dr. Emma Meredith, director of science at CTPA.
“Cosmetics manufacturers try to strike the right balance between a product that is protected for use over several months or even years — and minimizing packaging. They are encouraging their packaging suppliers to look at new methods and technologies for more environmentally friendly printing inks to improved design of bottles or — working with — new machinery and using more recycled materials,” Meredith added.
Beauty companies are also looking into their packaging practices. Coty, the parent company of brands including Rimmel, Cover Girl, Max Factor and Bourjois, said it is addressing its impact on the environment. “Our packaging experts are actively working on plans to reduce unnecessary plastic use and the overall environmental footprint of our packaging, in line with our aim to explore more circular design and production in our packaging,” the company said.