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Courtesy of On Repeat

On Repeat is the British brand solving beauty’s wasteful packaging crisis

By offering zero waste packaging and refillable solutions, On Repeat is working to cut out single-use packaging from the beauty industry and promote sustainable innovation

The line from the huge amounts of single-use plastic that are currently being produced to the environmental crises and extreme weather that we are witnessing right now is a straight one. 

Every year hundreds of millions of tonnes of newly-made plastic are produced. In 2019 it was 368m tonnes and that number is set to double over the next 10 years. Nearly one-third of that plastic goes to single-use packaging and less than 10 per cent of that is recycled. The rest goes to landfills, ends up in the ocean (3 per cent), or is burned, producing millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide which contributes to global warming which is responsible for the deadly heat wave North American is currently in the midst of. 

Clearly we have a problem. One that the beauty industry plays a large role in too. Of the 120 billion units of plastic packaging that is produced yearly by beauty, less than 10 per cent is recycled. Something needs to be done which is exactly what Micaela Nisbet, founder of skincare brand Neighbourhood Botanicals, was thinking when she was inspired to create her new zero waste beauty packaging service On Repeat.

The recently launched service offers beauty brands bespoke zero waste packaging and refill solutions to help them become more sustainable. All packaging created by the service will be either compostable, dissolvable, or repurposed to build a circular economy. Part of that packaging includes two types of bioplastic film able to hold almost any skincare product, one of which is marine safe and dissolves in hot water. The aim is to make sustainability easy and take the onus away from the customer to recycle. 

While many brands have made great steps towards improving their own plastic pollution over the last few years, it was important to Nisbett to extend the work she was doing in making her own brand fully refillable to the wider industry as well. “It felt too important to just build for ourselves,” she says. “I think large scale adoption of anything eco-minded needs to be set up like this in our capitalist world.” 

Dazed Beauty spoke to Nisbet to find out more about it.

When did you first get interested in sustainability? 

Micaela Nisbet: We’ve all seen the statistics about plastic waste and the beauty industry is particularly bad. Honestly, how many beauty products do you actually rinse out and recycle? Most of us don’t have recycling bins in our bathroom, and, to be honest, even if we did we’ve learnt through our conversations with insiders in the waste business that a lot of the recycling just goes to incineration anyway. 

So as Neighbourhood Botanicals grew, the amount of waste that I was personally responsible for was weighing on me. I debated changing everything to glass (heavy, carbon, breakage) or to aluminium (better, but boring), but thought surely the best option is to refill. It makes sense from an ecological perspective but also from an economic one, having your customers come back to you. Since I see Neighbourhood as a brand that people can use their whole life, it made sense to put my effort and resources into offering refills.

Where did the idea for On Repeat come from? 

Micaela Nisbet: When you think about a refill, you want only the product, right? You don’t want another bottle or more plastic. Flexible plastic pouches are not a good option because they’re actually harder to recycle than rigid plastic. Many brands are using them for refills though, because that’s the only option we had. Returning your bottle for the brand to refill is messy, energy, labour and carbon intensive. 

There really weren’t any good options for refills, that were easy and actually disposable. So I started brainstorming my own! 

Once you had the idea and decided to pursue it, what did that process look like?

Micaela Nisbet: I love inventing things, so I really went deep with the research and daydreams at the start. Nobody knew what I was on about, trying to explain to them this idea for a zero-waste refill, where you just get the product and the packaging disappears. I realised I needed help, so brought on two partners and we got to work putting the whole thing together. 

That was about two years ago. We have done hours of bioplastics research, conversations with composting plants, waste legislation research, film challenge testing – you name it. We’re finally about to launch with two truly remarkable bio-plastic films that will be able to hold almost any skincare product.

Why did you make the decision to create a solution that would include the whole industry rather than just your brand? 

Micaela Nisbet: Neighbourhood is not a big enough brand for a system like this to make an actual impact. It needs mass adoption to shift the mindset. It felt too important to just build for ourselves. So by opening it up to the UK and building this new movement among beauty brands we can hopefully make a real change. 

We believe our system will boost the brands’ customer loyalty and eco credentials, and the fact that it’s also saving the world is a happy accident. I think large scale adoption of anything eco-minded needs to be set up like this in our capitalist world. It needs to serve the companies first. We’re all about conscious capitalism.

What are your goals for On Repeat? How would you like to see it evolve in the future?

Micaela Nisbet: We hope to start a real shift of thinking in the industry by making refills super simple and a pleasant experience for the customers, and a no-brainer for brands.

Ideally further into the future we would have a farm somewhere, where we grow the plant matter to produce all the cellulose material needed for the pouches. We’ve definitely got a long-term, macro, 360 vision for the project – this is only the start!