Upcycling’s on the Up

Upcycling is gaining traction in the fragrance and beauty industries, as materials once considered waste are increasingly being reused in beauty and personal care products.

Specifically, upcycling is the process of transforming co-products, waste materials and useless or unwanted products into new materials. Historically seen more in fashion and food, it’s becoming ever more prevalent in beauty, with rose petals, apples, peaches, turmeric, oak wood barrel chips and hops getting a chance at a second life.

“Upcycling is not just a trend,” said Julien Lesage, founder of Hub.cycle, the French company that upcycles fruit and vegetable wastes into raw materials for the personal care and food industries. “It will become like half of the world’s global supply chain.”

At a time when we are all more conscious of the products we use and their environmental impact, consumers and brands are especially interested in upcycling and how beauty brands are implementing it.

According to a survey conducted by Givaudan for its “Upcycling for Conscious Beauty” report, an average of 69 percent of consumers globally said they find beauty products containing recycled or upcycled ingredients appealing. Younger people, particularly, show an interest in beauty products made of upcycled organic waste: In France it was 55 percent of 16-to-24-year-olds queried, 49 percent of 35-to-44-year-olds and 32 percent of those 55 and above, Lightspeed/Mintel data showed.

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Upcycling is not a totally new trend. Over the past decade, many companies have increasingly been using plant-based materials for cosmetics ingredients, and parallel to that, they’ve started utilizing side-stream raw materials, according to Amarjit Sahota, founder and president of Ecovia Intelligence.

He named as examples companies such as Hair O’right in Taiwan that’s using coffee grounds, goji berry and spent grains from beer production in cosmetics, UpCircle Beauty in the U.K. that uses fruit and vegetable leftovers and Dr. Craft, also in the U.K., that’s upcycling black current pulp leftovers from a juice maker to produce natural hair dye.

“It’s going to be a very big trend,” said Sahota, noting its growth in beauty will mirror that of the food industry. Barry Callebaut, the largest chocolate maker worldwide, for instance, has developed Cabosse Naturals, a range of products from the entire cacao fruit.

Sustainability’s rise in importance is another reason for the beauty sector’s uptake of upcycling.

“It makes great sustainability reporting for ingredients companies or cosmetics firms to say they are using food waste or upcycled ingredients because everyone’s now talking about sustainability and closing material loops moving toward a circular economy,” said Sahota.

For sure, some of this talk is green washing, but many companies seem to be walking the talk.

Some, such as Hub.cycle, launched in 2016, have built their business models on upcycling. While working in the microalgae industry, Lesage, a phytochemist by training, visited numerous factories and noticed each one had a pure side-stream of byproduct that then was mixed into a tank. And at that point the byproduct became waste worth nothing.

The pure material would be easy to handle molecularly, so Lesage had an epiphany: “Why not just work on that, but at large scale, with a transversal approach — not just a single vertical or two or three. Let’s tackle all industrial side-streams,” he said.

With the emphasis on sustainability increasing, forward-looking brands and suppliers are using upcycled ingredients to lessen their ecological impact. Matthew Billington/WWD

Today, Hub.cycle matches the right side-stream to the right client.

“It’s a new value chain, a new business that has nothing in common with a standard business,” Lesage said, explaining that’s because there’s a finite quantity of deposit but unlimited volumes. “It’s a new approach in terms of sourcing and purchasing.”

Cherry tree flowers and fruit peels are among the premium ingredients he’s working with for cosmetics use. Lesage suggests that to save resources, beauty companies should focus on upcycled waters and oils.

“Everybody wants upcycling at the moment, but nobody knows how to do upcycling and what it really is,” he said. “There is nothing you can’t find as a waste.”

Hub.cycle has the happy problem of being unable to keep up with burgeoning demand.

Big companies as well as small are involved in upcycling. Aurélien Guichard uses a lot of upcycled ingredients for his niche fragrance line Matière Première, for instance.

At first, he didn’t realize that many of the natural ingredients he’d chosen are upcycled. Guichard had initially opted for them due to their scent, beauty, power and complexity

“The olfactive part is very noble and rich. You can use upcycled ingredients without a tradeoff on quality,” he said.

Now almost each Matière Première scent is formulated with upcycled ingredients, including cedar wood oil from Virginia and from the Atlas Mountains in Morocco, and cabreuva oil — all coming from the fragrance and flavors supplier Takasago, where Guichard works, as well.

In Matière Première’s newest fragrance, Falcon Leather, there are the upcycled ingredients cistus absolute from Andalusia, Spain, which gives a leather quality texture, and guaiac wood oil from Paraguay, chosen for its depth.

“Both of those ingredients are absolutely beautiful,” said Guichard, who uses a large quantity of upcycled ingredients. “The quantity will assure that the person who produces [them] will have business for a long time.”

Nowadays the entrepreneur only gravitates to ingredients that are upcycled, biological and good for nature.

“It’s the right thing to do,” he said. “When you’re a perfumer and you’re working with an ingredient, especially a natural ingredient, you are given the responsibility to choose the sourcing.”

In the hair-care sector, Brooklyn-based Stephanie Moody created the brand Terre & Botanique in her kitchen using some upcycled ingredients in June 2020 after searching for solutions for her own dry and damaged hair. Its bestseller today is Rice Water + Ginger Pre-Poo, which includes rice water she lets ferment for about a week.

“I then dilute the water by half and it’s ready to use,” she said. “The rice that was sitting in the water becomes almost chalk-like, and you can grind it into a fine powder. I’m currently working on a hair mask that I can incorporate the rice powder into.”

Fruits, flowers, woods and more are being upcycled for use in fragrance and cosmetics products. Matthew Billington/WWD

Moody’s intent was not to start a business. “But I saw such great results, I was like: ‘OK, this may be something that other people can enjoy,’” she said, adding another goal is to show people they don’t need to rely on harmful chemicals, especially in the Black hair care space.

In the skin care sector, Montague Ashley-Craig, a seasoned cosmetics developer, started Montamonta as a passion project about six years ago. Ashley-Craig had been interested in leftover waste materials and then a friend opened the zero-waste restaurant Silo in London.

“Heavily inspired by that, I was like: What kind of things go in the bin in the restaurant, and what could we use?” she said. Spent espresso grains was an answer, and Ashley-Craig partnered with some local roasteries to collect their fresh grounds and began making the Sage + Coffee Body Scrub (now sold out on Montamonta’s site) in East London.

“The biggest challenge for us in using upcycled ingredients is processing them, so they’re stable from a shelf-life perspective,” she said.

Ashley-Craig’s main cost is the labor involved with transport plus filtering and drying the grounds.

She noted a lot of ingredient trends in the cosmetics industry — including upcycling — come from raw material suppliers.

IFF, a case in point, is ramping up its upcycled ingredients offer. Like other fragrance and flavors suppliers, it produces tons of byproducts. It takes 3.5 tons of rose petals to produce 1 kilo of essential oil, for instance.

“Today, we use more than 40,000 tons of biomass, which ultimately will become 98 percent — more or less — of byproduct. The yield is very low,” said Bertrand de Préville, general manager of IFF LMR Naturals. “We are sitting on gold.”

That’s because certain byproducts of that biomass can be used in the group’s various divisions. Some of what’s left over after a distillation process could produce colors or molecules interesting for cosmetics application, for example.

Without knowing it, IFF had long been upcycling ingredients such as beeswax or bran absolute. In 2014, it launched upcycled rose ultimate and rose essential.

“When perfumers smelled the rose ultimate, they were smelling dimensions of the rose which were completely different from the typical rose notes,” said Judith Gross, vice president of communication and branding for scent at IFF.

The supplier has also upcycled a byproduct of turmeric into a new olfactive note and upcycled chips from oak wood wine barrels from Cognac, France, using a CO2 extraction process. Hop ultimate comes from fresh hop corns culled from the beer industry in Belgium.

IFF is currently developing a new ingredient from cocoa bean shells from Madagascar.

“By the end of the year we’re going to launch two new [upcycled] products,” said de Préville.

At Givaudan, upcycling began about 10 years ago, when the supplier began looking at waste materials from other natural industries, such as wood from furniture companies and fruit juice makers.

Once juice is extracted from an apple, the leftover remains a purée in which Givaudan found some micro olfactive oils that provide a wholly natural smell without any negative impact on nature. The company found how to capture those five years ago. Prior to that, fruit notes — now a big perfumery trend — were previously all chemical molecules.

Because Givaudan processes the purée on site, it results in almost no environmental impact. Then the leftover purée is sent to feed animals.

“The only issue is that you have to treat big quantities of purée to have one gram of essential oil,” said Valérie de La Peschardière, business development director of naturality and naturals at the supplier’s fragrance division.

Recently, Givaudan has been able to use the same process on peaches.

“It’s a totally other mindset from what we do usually,” said de La Peschardière, of upcycling. “We are searching for zero-impact ingredients, and then we see what the olfactive result is. Honestly, it’s amazing.”

The search continues, and the process dovetails well with the company’s overarching strategy. By 2030, Givaudan plans to have only products made of wholly renewable ingredients in its palette, versus the approximately 40 percent today. So the company is seeking alternatives to petrochemical derivatives.

“The other piece is the transformation of naturals,” continued de La Peschardière. ”We are working on reducing our carbon impact on the natural’s palette. Upcycling is a fantastic way to do it.”

While Givaudan is looking into other fruits, it’s delving deeper into leveraging its own waste from distillation waters for ingredients such as patchouli or May rose. The supplier has been re-extracting rose petals from distillation waters and also reprocessing exhausted petals to see what comes from that.

De La Peschardière noted that the water used to cook rice — one of the most available natural materials in the world — contains a precursor to vanillin, which is widely used in fragrances and flavors. Typically, it is extracted from vanilla and very costly.

Givaudan views it as its responsibility to come up with such sustainable solutions.

“[Big companies] haven’t asked for renewable fragrances yet, but it will come,” said de La Peschardière. “We want to deliver more sustainable fragrances now and in the future.”

On the cosmetics side, Givaudan’s upcycling practice accelerated after it acquired naturals maker Naturex. Upcycled ingredients, such as blueberry seeds, have proven interesting, since their oils are full of omega three and six, which can treat eczema.

“We try to leverage synergies between fragrance and beauty,” said Fabrice Lefevre, marketing and innovation director for active beauty at Givaudan, citing vetiver as an example. “The type of molecule that we use in fragrance is really different from the type of molecule we use in beauty.”

Executives say challenges remain in upcycling ingredients. One is setting up the supply chain, including quality control. “Because it’s a side-stream, it’s considered a waste product, so one of the big issues is the quality of it,” said Sahota.

Another is a consistency of volume being produced and traceability.

“Upcycling in the cosmetics world is so on-trend right now,” added Ashley-Craig. “But some of it is greenwashing.” She also noted that end-consumers might not fully understand what’s meant by commonly used terms such as “zero waste in formulas.”

“It is confusing terminology,” she said.

Most of the expense involved in producing upcycled cosmetics ingredients comes from setting up the supply chain, as the cost of producing a byproduct or biomass is fundamentally the same, and upcycled ingredients are less expensive than fresh botanicals. The cost also depends on the ingredient and the volume of it being used.

Upcycled ingredients coming from Hub.cycle, which handles quality control and logistics as well as manufacturing, are 30 percent less expensive at a minimum than traditional ingredients, said Lesage.

And overall, costs should come down due to numerous factors such as multinationals beginning to commercialize their side-streams.

Meanwhile, upcycling should keep reaching new heights, with a lot of reasons feeding into that. Brands, for one, are asking for new olfactive notes.

“This is what they are looking for, whether [the notes] come from upcycling, new botanicals or anywhere else,” said IFF’s de Préville. “What they need are sustainable, pure, performing new notes. For us, there is a fantastic opportunity to [tap into] the byproducts that we generate in our traditional business.”

Gross said customers, especially those linked to luxury fashion, are highly interested in upcycled ingredients.

“There are more and more brands that are looking for approaches that combine the notion of luxury with quality, innovation and a sustainable approach,” she said.

“[Upcycling] is a beautiful, very virtuous notion, which helps us come out of a very vicious circle of sourcing, producing, using and then throwing out, into a virtuous circle where you source, produce and use. And from what you haven’t used in the production you take, produce and use again,” Gross added. “So there’s really that idea of completely transforming the circle of waste-making in a very positive way.”

For more, see:

Forte_Forte Breathes New Life Into Deadstock Garments With Upcycling Capsule

Circularity and the Life of Upcycling: How Brands Can Look to Waste With Renewed Creativity

Upsides of Upcycling: ‘It Is a Creative Process’

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