As a product junkie who's also quite fond of our one-of-a-kind planet, I try to make an effort each year to make my beauty routine more environmentally conscious. In 2016, I went vegan; in 2017, I decided to start buying only sustainably made or secondhand clothes; and this year, my goal is to cut way, way down on my plastic waste.
Environmental experts agree that plastic pollution is becoming an increasingly urgent concern. The World Economic Forum has stated that by 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish. "And the beauty industry is a principal contributor to this pollution," comments Cait Bagby, founder of World Threads Traveler, an online resource to help consumers make sustainable fashion and beauty purchases. In 2008, Euromonitor reported that the beauty industry created 120.8 billion units of packaging that year, 40% of which was made from rigid plastic. This material "will never truly degrade but rather break down into individual molecules," Bagby explains. Translation? Major pollution, totally unsustainable, really bad for Nemo and Flounder.
The good news, says Bagby, is that as companies realize that modern consumers aren't cool with contributing to this environmental damage anymore, many of them have started reworking their packaging to become more eco-friendly. Want to make sure your beauty habits aren't making the plastic pollution problem worse? Keep scrolling for six easy pieces of advice.
1. Go Package-Free
The easiest way to scale down your accumulation of plastic packaging is simply to buy products that don't use packaging at all. "Brands like Lush have made package-free the new norm, especially when it comes to shampoos and soaps," says Bagby. "But they aren't the only one on the market." Many local grocery stores now offer package-free soaps. And switching to safety razors and menstrual cups (as opposed to disposable razors, tampons, and pads) is another easy way to go package-free.
You can see how one editor drastically reduced waste in her beauty routine here.
2. Opt for Glass
Not only is glass packaging chicer, but it's also better for the fishies. "The use of glass jars means these containers can either be recycled and/or will be broken down over time," Bagby explains. Some of our favorite brands that have both all-natural ingredients and sustainable glass packaging include Tata Harper, Pangea Organics, Grown Alchemist, Tammy Fender, Kypris Beauty, and S.W. Basics (which is super affordable and available at Target).
3. Find Refillable Products
For anyone else who feels a small dagger in the heart every time you have to throw away an empty jar, bottle, or pan that you know could be refilled, there is hope. Tata Harper, Ecco Bella, Alima Pure, and Kjaer Weiss (maker of my personal favorite cream blush) are all brands that offer chic, refillable packaging. "By simply ordering a refill you reduce the environmental footprint and plastic pollution generally associated with cosmetics," Bagby comments.
4. Switch to Biodegradable Materials
Package-free products are obviously the best option, but when those aren't available, ones that come sealed in biodegradable materials are second best. "Look for the use of woods such as bamboo or other materials like cardboard," Bagby suggests. "These materials help to ensure the product is plastic-free and will easily break down over time."
5. Consider Plantable Packaging
Yep, plantable packaging: As in, boxes and containers you can turn into an actual flower. "Plantable packaging has been around for quite some time but is only now starting to bloom," says Bagby, who recommends checking out the Canadian brand Elate Cosmetics, truly one of the most eco-friendly cosmetics companies on the market, with packaging that is not only pretty but also produces no waste. So how does plantable packaging work? It's basically a paper-based substance embedded with seeds. "Once you open your product, the packaging can then be planted to grow herbs, flowers, or vegetables," Bagby explains.
6. Look for PCR Plastic
It must also be stated that not all plastic packaging is created equal—some brands use a much more sustainable form of the stuff called PCR (post-consumer recycled) plastic, which eliminates the need to create new plastic, hugely minimizing its environmental damage. According to a 2011 Huffington Post report, the carbon footprint of manufacturing a 100% PCR Polyethylene terephthalate water bottle is 60% lower than virgin PET, even with all the energy expended on collecting, recycling, and remanufacturing the plastic. You can recycle your PCR plastic bottle knowing it will be made into another, or better yet, refill and reuse it.
One of my favorite affordable skincare and body care brands, EO Products (which is a certified zero-waste company), uses PCR plastic in every bottle, and many are 100% PCR plastic. They also offer lots of refill options.
As the year progresses, I'm planning to work as many of these plastic-reducing habits into my beauty routine as possible. Promise to try to do the same?