Top politicians, business leaders and campaigners are calling for an end to the use of plastic sample sachets, which they say will “pollute the planet for centuries”.
Sample sachets are a lucrative tool for the beauty and cleaning industries to drive sales, with Euromonitor estimating beauty samples are the third-largest driver for people purchasing full-size products.
The cosmetics industry produces 122 billion plastic sachets each year, which are used to package small amounts of products including shampoo, shower gel, moisturiser, and face wipes.
By 2030, the world is expected to go through a trillion sachets and they are rarely recycled.
In an open letter, 40 experts have called for plastic sample sachets to be included in the UK and EU single-use plastic bans, which currently cover plastic straws, stirrers, and cotton buds.
Former shadow chancellor John McDonnell, Theresa May’s former environment advisor Lord Randall of Uxbridge, and 20 other parliamentarians have signed the letter.
It is also backed by members of the European Parliament, business leaders including Iceland Food’s managing director Richard Walker, and experts from University College London and the University of Exeter.
Organised by campaigning group A Plastic Planet, it is part of a campaign to tackle the pollution caused by the billions of plastic sachets which are thrown away.
The group’s founder, Sian Sutherland, said: “We’ve seen governments across the world crow about bans on single-use plastics, but the sample sachet is a huge piece of the pollution puzzle which every one of them is missing.
“The hundreds of billions of sample sachets pumped out by the personal and home care industries each year are used to drive instant sales but will pollute the planet for centuries.”
She added that any ban on single-use plastics should cover sample sachets to “stamp them out once and for all”.
Although the open letter specifically calls for an end to plastic sachets, the “minis” industry also includes small amounts of products in plastic tubs, tubes and bottles.
Samples have proved a profitable approach in the beauty and cleaning industries to engage new customers and drive loyalty.
Some brands are built around sending out samples to customers, while others allow customers to buy samples directly from their websites.
Advent beauty calendars, which include samples for each day leading up to Christmas, have been popular in the UK.
In the US, the minis market grew by 13% to a record $1.2bn (£900,000) in sales in 2018, according to NPD.
Ms Sutherland said that tackling plastic sachets is “only the beginning”.
“The plastic crisis is intrinsically linked to the climate crisis with the single-dose sachet symbolising the constant drive for sales and over-consumption, regardless of the devastation they cause,” she said.
“It’s now time for both industries to not only look to end their addiction to sample sachets, but also look to tackle plastic across all areas. It’s just a matter of time before the public demand they do. Tackling sample sachets can give them a head-start.”