Beauty brand turns waste coffee into skincare

Can you imagine your eye cream having leftover bark in? Or your body cream being made with leftover date seeds that would otherwise have gone to waste? It sounds strange, but that’s the basis of UpCircle, a beauty company using repurposed ingredients to create their products. 

They’ve used the water of 8,000 leftover mandarin oranges in their toners so far. They’ve collected and transformed more than 350 tonnes of used coffee from London cafes, and each batch of eye cream uses the extract of the leftover bark from approximately one red maple tree.

Co-founder Anna Brightman says every UpCircle product is made from a core ingredient that would otherwise have been discarded. “It all started just over three years ago,” she tells Smiley News. “My brother William (co-founder) asked his local coffee shop what they did with their waste coffee and was shocked to hear they were producing so much, they had to pay the council to have it removed and disposed of on landfill sites. 

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“He decided it was a great starting point for a business idea, but wasn’t sure what that was – that’s where I came in,” she says. “Throughout my teenage years I wanted to be a makeup artist, so always had a keen interest in beauty and skincare. I knew coffee had loads of great skincare benefits, so… lightbulb moment! Why not repurpose the coffee into sustainable circular skincare products?”

The pair began their journey collecting coffee grounds from one coffee shop, and now collect from 100 coffee houses across London. “We’ve proudly made a name for ourselves as the pioneers of ‘byproduct beauty’,” says Anna.

Each repurposed ingredient from their range has its own unique provenance given the circular economy element, says Anna. For example, the olive stones in their face masks are sourced from the Mediterranean olive oil industry, whereas the maple bark extract in the eye cream is sourced from Canada’s wood industry. 

“Every ingredient we upcycle has to benefit everyone,” says Anna. “For example, we repurpose date seeds into our body cream. This is sourced from date trees in the Arava rift desert, Israel. The date fruit is farmed to be eaten whole, and pulp is also created, to be used for syrups. However, the seeds are discarded. The seed and seed liquid extraction process is green (water) with no preservatives – any waste created is biodegradable.”

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Anna says each decision they make has to pass a ‘win-win-win test’. “Is it a win for the skin? Is it a win for UpCircle as a business (cost, availability, supply)? Is it a win for the grower (fair trade, adding value to the harvest)? Every product meets this test, making it sustainable from ideation to creation.”

And the name of the brand itself intends to resemble the word “upcycling” – the process of making something better from things that already exist. 

“As a business, we’re not only reducing waste in the beauty industry but industries across the globe,” she says. “It all started with London cafes, but now we’re working with the wood industry (maple bark), tea industry (chai spices), flower industry (chamomile stems) and more! We’re minimising waste across all industries, and transforming people’s perception of ‘leftovers’ by seeing the value in things that already exist.”

Find out more about UpCircle cruelty-free skincare on its website