Cosmetics have been searching for a long time to find new ways to have less impact on the environment. The path is long and difficult and involves many aspects: from the origin of raw materials, to the method of manufacture, to the choice of packaging and its recycling.

Focusing on the origin of the raw materials used, trying to choose among the many proposals, those that do not deplete forests or pollute the seas, and being inspired by the circular economy, an interesting new course is provided by upcycling.

What is upcycling?

Upcycling originated in 1963, when Heineken invented the Wobo, beer bottles that once used could be turned into building bricks. The Wobo were not successful, but they were an inspiration to everyone. 

A new concept was born, which is not recycling, in which you bring a material back in its life cycle to its original properties, but enhancing or putting something to new use. Thus giving new life to a material or object.

Surely some upcycling is in your homes as well. From the Nutella jar reused in a thousand ways, to the Danish cookie boxes that become sewing set holders and buttons.

We have slowly lost a good and “old” habit: reusing items; we need to get back to protecting the environment and overcome the “throw-away” culture, in a virtuous circle of circular economy.

What is the circular economy and how can we practice it?

The circular economy refers to a system in which materials and products are reused and recycled, rather than entering the waste stream. Realizing its importance, the EU introduced its Circular Economy Strategy in 2018, which aims to achieve a 65 percent recycling and reuse target by 2035.

The circular economy aims to curb the indiscriminate use of environmental resources by offering tools to recover waste, giving it another life in other areas.

This represents one of the best alternatives to try to mitigate overconsumption of raw materials and is to date an option to reuse and recover natural resources and by-products derived from raw materials.

New products can be created using food waste (by-products), where many wastes can be transformed into new raw materials, using sustainable technologies.

To date, most agri-food waste has been used as a source of fuel or feed for livestock or even as organic fertilizer. The new challenge is to try to derive products that can be used in more and more fields, including cosmetics.

How to apply upcycling to cosmetics?

Recent technologies and green chemistry have enabled new reuse of food by-products, creating effective and safe raw materials in cosmetics as well.

The rate of adoption of recycled ingredients is expected to increase soon, in short, new blood in the hands of formulators, who with an increasingly careful eye on the choice of raw materials can arrive at formulations with  increasingly lower impact on the environment.

InOro immediately planned not to use water in its products, but to replace it with a citrus extract that comes right from food waste.

Of course, the discussion on Upcycling is much broader and does not only involve raw materials, packaging also needs to take a leap in mindset and no longer rely only on recycling but on reuse.

Consider cases that once used become containers or scoops to pick up products that can be planted, or even jars that become jewelry boxes. 

Let’s get out of the box and find together a new way to bring things and materials to life; in short, doors open to the imagination.

Author of article:

Dr. Elisabetta Casale

Cosmetologist, pharmacist, academic professor


  1. Lady Laura Del Rio Osorio et al. The Potential of Selected Agri-Food Loss and Waste to Contribute to a Circular Economy: Applications in the Food, Cosmetic and Pharmaceutical Industries. Molecules 2021, 26(2), 515
  3. Belinda Goldsmith. Trash or treasure? Upcycling becomes growing green trend, in Reuters, 30 settembre 2009. 
  4. Jennifer Wang, Upcycling Becomes a Treasure Trove for Green Business Ideas, on Entrepreneur.

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