Most fragrances on the market—drugstore or luxury—are formulated with a high amount of synthetics to achieve a specific scent. Although synthetics aren’t harmful, some volatile organic compounds (VOC’s) aren't great for the environment. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, VOC’s from perfumes released just as much pollution into the air as petroleum emission from cars. And not only is the high pollution concerning, but the demand for fragrances packed with flowers, spices, sandalwood, and resin are being over harvested and on the verge of extinction.
Fragrance companies like St. Rose, are looking to offset that number and reuse resources by upcycling their fragrances.
Ahead, we spoke to Belinda Smith, founder and creative director of St. Rose Fragrances; Aba Gyepi-Garbrah, founder of Aba Love Apothecary; and Jules Miller, founder and CEO of The Nue Co., to get the 411 on upcycled fragrances and how their respective brands are working to reduce their carbon footprint and curb the amount of waste and pollution they produce.
What Are Upcycled Fragrances?
“Upcycling is the practice of incorporating raw materials left over from manufacturing (distillation, extraction, infusions, etc) into a new product to maximize use of materials, repurpose or reduce waste,” Gyepi-Garbrah tells us. This category of fragrances is a great closed-loop system that leaves no waste in the supply chain and can cut back on the number of new materials being sourced.
What Materials Can Be Upcycled?
As long as it is safe to distill or extract, “most natural existing materials traditionally used in fragrance can be upcycled,” Smith says. A lot of perfumers enjoy using rose petals that were distilled from fertilizer, citrus extracts (specifically from orange and lemon peels), wood dust collected from the furniture industry to create cedarwood, and coffee and cacao beans waste. Even extracts from grape waste from wine production can be used to add color to a fragrance.
What Is the Process?
There can be many different ways that a fragrance can be upcycled, from the individual materials themselves to the entire fragrance being transformed from its original formula. Although upcycling is a great way to reduce the waste, there is a fear among the industry that it becomes so popular that resources become strained, which of course would be counterintuitive to its entire misison.
Do Upcycled Fragrances Smell Good?
So, do “trashed,” twice-distilled ingredients actually smell good? Short answer: absolutely! In many ways, they can smell even more satisfying than their original form. “There has been a certain stigma around natural or ingredients with a low environmental impact that they will be inferior products,” Miller explains, “But with the curation of ingredients, you can ensure and achieve a desirable scent."
When working with fragrance house Givaudan, Smith was concerned about the smell as well. “Since many of these materials are created from previously distilled materials, I was worried they might have a diluted quality to them but it's exactly the opposite,” she says, “Instead, the olfactory quality is unique and makes certain facets more intense which is an amazing way to intentionally influence a composition into a certain direction."
What Are the Benefits?
"It takes close to one thousand pounds of rose petals to distill a single pound of rose oil,” Smith says, “By upcycling and distilling the petals a second time, creating an incredible and unique new rose essence, ensures that those petals are not just discarded and essentially wasted."
As materials are used a second time, not only does upcycling directly reduce the amount of waste and energy spent during production, but new resources are spared—leading to more availability of natural resources that are farmed and harvested. "The most obvious benefit gives perfumers the opportunity to reduce waste and be creative in how they repurposed materials to bring new life to their formulas. It could also possibly reduce the strain on resources for core ingredients in the fragrance industry," says Gyepi-Garbrah.
How Do Upcycled Fragrances Impact Sustainability?
Social and sourcing sustainability are a huge part of The Nue Co’s core business. “Ultimately, we see our health as an ecosystem that’s reliant on the health of the environmental ecosystem around us,” Miller shares, “As a brand, we believe we have a part to play in reducing damaging waste and exploring new ways to do this, which has been a focus for us since the brand began."
And because all innovation poses it’s challenges, the main challenge in the upcycled fragrance industry is that upcycled ingredients are not widely available. “Smaller brands who are blending their own formulas may not have access to this kind of technology, yet,” Miller adds. But by teaming up with Givaudan, who has a large library of upcycled materials, brands can attain their sustainability dreams.
Case in point: Committing to upcycled fragrances is one small step to a healthier planet. Miller encourages consumers and brands to remember: "Upcycling isn’t a standalone sustainable ‘solution’, as with everything it’s part of a much wider narrative and interrogation process about sourcing, extraction and manufacturing.” Any step forward, small or big, to conscious and sustainable practices towards raw materials (to lessen the overall impact) is a step in the right direction.