Protect Our Planet Like Our Skin
Alas, Earth Day has dawned upon us and we're likely seeing more photos of the earth on our social media timeline since third grade science. Sure, people spreading awareness of climate action is great, but one day of declaration is not enough.
Climate activism, sustainability, and environmental protection may sound like a daunting journey to embark on if all we know is to recycle used papers and bottles.
Action can come in many different forms. As a beauty space, it's so important to be accountable with the products we buy and brands we support. It may seem like doom and gloom, but there are small decisions consumers can make that not only benefits our skin, but the earth, too.
In this guide, learn about some of the major shortcomings of the cosmetic industry. The lifecycle of a product actually produces a lot more waste than we think, plus, the side affects it has on the environment and people.
What You Need To Know
The number one enemy of the personal care industry is packaging. From plastic containers to excessive paper boxes, the vessels that contain hopes and dreams of flawless skin have created 7.9 billion units of rigid plastic in 2018. Since then, the number is likely to have increased. In an article by the National Geographic, they identified a shocking statistic:
The amount of plastic packaging on U.S. products (not just on personal care items) has increased by over 120 times since 1960—with almost 70 percent of that waste piling up in landfills.
Besides plastics, brands and consumers need to consider the impact of paper packaging and logistics. Minimizing packaging like extra instruction sheets, decorative paper, and excessive packaging (plastic, too) is just a start. A well-needed start as deforestation devastates regions and habitats—a must to slow down a climbing number.
Another key piece of the packaging problem is that it takes more CO2 to manufacture and recycle paper and cardboard packaging. This issue includes buying reusable tote bags, too. Tote bags should be used 327 times for a positive impact.
So, paper or plastic packaging? While we don't have a definitive answer, nor do conglomerates, manufacturers, brands, and retailers, what we can do is to mitigate as much packaging waste as possible. Retailers should adopt innovative ways to minimize mailing waste on top of the packaging. Plus, many businesses are turning to post-consumer recycled materials as a material alternative.
Nonetheless, sustainability initiatives and environmental movements have pushed back against plastic packaging and plastics in our products.
One of these movements is the zero-waste lifestyle. Environmentally conscious consumers are ditching plastic containers for reusable glass or metal containers (which are recyclable), use fabric materials that have longevity and are multi-use (cotton, hemp, linen), buy in bulk, and shop locally. This lifestyle has resulted in a rapid demand for zero-waste and refill shops across North America and Europe.
Yes! It's important to have wholesome, organic, non-toxic ingredients in our beauty products. However, natural or organic doesn't necessarily mean it's always better. It may be better for us, but it could be harmful to the environment.
While brands can declare their products as "natural," "vegan," "hypoallergenic," or "green," these labels are not entirely regulated. Always look for certifications from the FDA for organic ingredients or EWG certification to ensure what is marketed to you is accurate. Or, seek cruelty-free recognitions from Leaping Bunny or PETA.
Furthermore, some natural ingredients, for example, palm oil, caffeine, mica, or even bakuchiol, can be harvested through unethical means. Unethical sourcing can come in different forms at different stages of production. Child labour, slavery, over-harvesting, or biodiversity depletion are all forms of unethical sourcing.
While it's not entirely possible to find out where every single ingredient comes from in a product, some regulations are in place to ensure complete transparency and a brand's supply chain.
The California Transparency in Supply Chains Act requires all brands to adhere to this standard if their products are made in the sunny state—to ensure slavery and trafficking are not perpetuated in the product's supply chain.
As consumers, we do our part by researching and asking questions about brands, manufacturers, and products. Some questions to ask could include:
- Is the brand responsible and transparent about ethical sourcing?
- Does the brand share its supply chain with full traceability?
- How can energy consumption get reduced at the production level?
- Is the product considered Fair Trade?
- How are the resources cultivated?
- Are the resources biodegradable/compostable?
Water and Ocean
When we talk about environmental issues surrounding the beauty industry, we immediately think about landfills, plastics and paper waste. However, we forget about the massive amounts of water consumption, waste, and the impact we have on the ocean more often than not.
So, you may wonder, how does my serum or sunscreen affect the ocean or water systems?
Water or Aqua is almost always the first ingredient listed on any personal care product. Freshwater is a critical component in formulating skin care, makeup, and hair care products—essentially everything needs water.
Manufacturers need to be aware of how much water is being used, especially in places with a water scarcity problem. Over time, more places are becoming affected by climate change and shrinking water supply, like in California and Italy, where there are hubs of cosmetics production.
This is why brands, formulators, and large manufacturers must find alternative solutions to prevent water over-usage. In a report by the European Cosmetics Industry's Contribution, it noted:
Rainwater harvesting and reuse of wastewater are two approaches that have been employed to reduce water consumption within the cosmetics industry.
Besides freshwater systems, we all know the ocean is polluted with plastic and garbage that affect marine life.
Although regulations such as banning micro-plastics in some countries or removing small plastics (caps and pumps) are positive moves, marine life will still struggle due to years of polluting the ocean through wastewater and dumping. For instance, tiny plastic micro-beads from cleansers have been found in the bellies of dead baby fish or plastic trapping sea turtles.
Another significant pollution of our water systems is sunscreen. Many are unaware that sunscreen is a huge toxin to coral reefs and marine life. According to the U.S. National Ocean Services, certain popular ingredients used in sunscreen can alter and be detrimental to coral, algae, crustaceans, and marine life.
Check out their highly informative infographic to learn which chemicals to avoid when buying sunscreen.
It is imperative corporations are aware of their water consumption and are diligent about treating wastewater before it re-enters the environment as filtration plants cannot recycle contaminated water.
We know the effects of the beauty industry regarding packaging, ethical ingredients, and the impact on our water systems; now what?
Recycling is a staple in many cities, states, and countries. However, recycling is a little more complicated than throwing bottles in a separate bin from regular garbage. Unfortunately, recycling is controlled at a regional or even municipal level. Even if a business has a recycling bin, the recyclable container may end up in a landfill.
Fortunately, some organizations make an effort to help you recycle your personal care items and more. Here are some simple tips that you should follow when recycling skin care, makeup, or other cosmetic items:
- Disassemble a product into recyclable parts and parts that need to be thrown out (glass container vs pumps and lids)
- Remove plastic labelling from recyclable glass jars or containers
- Upcycle containers for DIY projects or towards zero-waste refills
- Understand plastic recycling labels
- Simply buy less
Finally, here is a list of brands that help you recycle your empty containers:
Even though Earth Day is celebrated once a year, we should all celebrate Earth Day every day. Our purchasing choice and habits can make a better impact on the environment. Sustainable action doesn't have to be show-stopping—start small by being a better consumer.