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Waste for your face? UK skincare brand UpCircle is leading the by-product beauty revolution

Photography By UPCIRCLE
Published 21.06.21

Anyone who has worked in a cafe can attest to these facts: strangely specific coffee orders are annoying to make, everything in your personal life will soon smell like coffee, and a busy day generates an enormous amount of waste.

For every shot of coffee poured, a disc of coffee grinds, also known as the puck, is created, with few places to go other than the bin.

Anna Brightman, the co-founder of beauty brand UpCircle, says it was this simple observation that led her and brother William Brightman to start exploring ways to repurpose waste. “The initial idea for UpCircle happened one morning when William was on his way to work,” Brightman says.

“He asked his local coffee shop what they did with their coffee waste and was shocked to hear they were producing so much, they had to pay council to have it removed and disposed of in landfill sites.” Though coffee grinds are organic matter, when left to decompose in landfill, they emit methane, a greenhouse gas more potent than carbon dioxide. Figures suggest around six million tonnes of used coffee grounds end up in landfill each year.

“William decided it was a great starting point for a business idea, but wasn’t sure what that idea was. That’s where I came in. I knew that coffee had great skincare benefits so that was our lightbulb moment. Why not repurpose the coffee into sustainable circular skincare products?”

Using coffee grounds from cafes across London, the Brightmans developed and launched UpCircle’s first product range of coffee-based exfoliators. It opened the lid to a world of waste that doesn’t need to be discarded, but rather can be repurposed. “Our ever-growing repurposed ingredient portfolio now includes 10 by-products from varied industries, including the argan, tea, juice, date, olive and wood industries,” Brightman says.

When developing new products or making business decisions, Brightman says they apply 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 has to meet this test, making it sustainable from ideation to creation.”

UpCircle is built on the philosophy of upcycling and promoting the power of the circular economy (they also do this through their packaging return scheme and refill service). If you’ve been thinking about sustainably overhauling your skincare routine, Brightman offers practical advice: “Keep in mind that it will be a gradual process.

“Resist the urge to empty your cupboards and start over again. There is no point in creating waste in an attempt to try to minimise waste! Use up what you have, and then next time, think about what improvements you can make in each of your purchasing decisions.”


For first time UpCircle shoppers, Anna recommends the brand’s top three sellers: “Our moisturiser with discarded argan shell powder, our face serum with upcycled coffee oil and our cleansing balm with apricot stone powder.” Her current favourite product? “Our face mask made with the fine powder of discarded olive stones. Olive stones are a by-product of olive oil production and we source them from Benamejí (Andalucia) in the heart of the Spanish olive growing region.”

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