The Cosmetic Industry is Poison to the Earth
Packaging. More specifically Plastic.
Plastic production and consumption is a PANDEMIC. If you know me, you know I hate plastic, and hate is a very strong word. There are multiple facets of which plastic pollutes the earth; air, water, and land, negatively affecting eco-systems, animals and humans alike. We’ll just take a chunk and focus on cosmetics. Zero Waste Week “reports that more than 120 billion units of packaging are produced every year by the global cosmetics industry.” (Stylist Beauty Packaging) Plastic is not just a one-way ticket, it has multiple avenues of where it may end up. Check out 40+ Intriguing Facts about Plastic Pollution.
- In the Trash. Sold AND unsold products? How many people (at the consumer level) have thrown away unused, partially used or empty cosmetic containers? Unfortunately I know I have, multiple times throughout my life before my zero waste, anti-plastic, all-natural kick (my heart hurts at this, also it’s not a ‘kick’, it’s a bold, intentional, lifetime commitment). But that is why I am dedicated to not only have a neutral impact on the environment but HELP it along with the generation to come as well. We also rarely even think of this, but what DO companies and stores do with unsold, taken-off-the-shelf, or expired product? Well MOST likely they trash them unless they are upfront and clear about proper disposal and/or recycling, donating or reusing. What is proper disposal anyway HA!? People of Racked asked bigger companies what they do with unsold products; Ulta replied with “We properly dispose of our products per manufacturer requests.” BUT, someone they interviewed that worked at Ulta in VANCOUVER, WA said that they sometimes destroy makeup before throwing them away. Why do that? Well because people dumpster dive and sell the product for up to thousands of dollars! (Inside the World of Dumpster-Diving Beauty Scavengers)
- In the Recycling. Tubes, pumps, brushes, bottles, aerosol sprayers, pencils, compacts, the list goes on for the different packaging. They are all different, meaning that it is VERY confusing to know what is recyclable or not. Even one company’s products hugely vary in packaging. In the US, every state or even county (depending on waste treatment centers) have different guidelines to what can be put in the curbside recycling, making it exponentially more confusing to figure out what cosmetic packaging can be recycled. Let’s say they do end up properly in the recycling, what now? Will it be made into another plastic item that cannot be recycled? Probably. Will it be sent to China with half of the worlds plastic waste? Oh wait, they just passed a bill as of January 2018 in which the country no longer accepts incoming plastic waste. (National Public Radio China Refuse’s to Recycle the West’s plastics. ) “‘Even if consumer participation in recycling were 100 percent, we wouldn’t be close to recycling 100 percent of the material.’, said chemical engineer Megan Robertson, who co-wrote a piece in Science last November on the future of plastics recycling. Much consumer waste is simply not recyclable, often because it combines materials.” (Bloomberg The Recycling Game Is Rigged Against You.) So yes, recycling properly is helpful and can be very useful and beautiful BUT it is not the answer.
- In the Air. Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) are leaking into the atmosphere from cosmetic products as well. Fumes from our cosmetics are contributing to air pollution. (Your Beauty Products May Contribute to Rush-Hour Pollution Just As Much as Car Exhaust). Factories and the industrial aspect of cosmetics are also contributing to pollution-transportation exhausts, production pollution, raw material and chemical processing OH MY. There is no way for a consumer to really know what all entails in the production of a product and how much air pollution is emitted, especially in cosmetics which usually have a long list of ingredients. It’s a hard number to quantify and there are VERY smart people out there doing their part to solve these issues BUT we can also help by being aware.
- In the Water. If you only get one thing from this post, my wish is that it is this: AVOID microbeads, don’t use them, don’t support companies that use them or have them. JUST DON’T DO IT. Microbeads are a form of microplastics, which are tiny bits of plastic. Bigger plastic that gets into the waterways and break into smaller pieces of plastic but never really ‘break down’. Small enough plastics could be absorbed through our skin causing health concerns. This takes a toll on the environment as well. Wildlife, especially marine life, mistake them for food. This is bad (duh). Microbeads are intentional microplastics used in cosmetics, toothpastes, soaps, scrubs, etc. as an exfoliate. They are ‘pretty’ and ‘bursting’ and ‘deep cleaning’, says the companies that DON’T GIVE A BUTT ABOUT THE ENVIRONMENT (Aveeno, Clean ‘n Clear, Johnson & Johnson, Clearasil, Olay, L’Oriel, Garnier, Dove, Softsoap, Neutrogena, St. Ives, Colgate, Crest, Aquafresh, Covergirl, Clinique, Maybelline, Revlon, Almay, Wet ‘n Wild, Aussie, BedHead AND MORE, excuse the rant). Microbeads are small plastic beads that are listed as polyethylene (PE), Polypropylene (PP), Polystyrene/acrylates copolymer, Polyacrylate, Polyethylene-Glycol, Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and Nylon (PA). These are slowly being banned. Join the movement. In the US, they are currently banned from rinse-off products but that still leaves stay-on, long-wear products, which are definitely not exempt in finding their way to the water. Sisters gotta wash that stuff off eventually. And any fan of Pixar will know that…(for more info see resources: microbeads at the end of post)
“91 percent of potentially recyclable plastic in the U.S. ended up in landfills – or worse, in the oceans.” (Bloomberg Recycling.) SO we talked about the plastic aspect, which is a HUGE one. What about the ‘other’ considerations?
Well, in my Conventional Makeup is Poison (mind, body and earth) BODY post I talked about phthalates, synthetic fragrances, petroleum-based compounds, icky preservatives (BHA and BHT) and more being terrible for our bodies. Well, you are guessed it, they are just as bad for the earth. Wastewater treatment centers can’t filter these substances out, releasing them into the sewage and therefore waterways. The marine life is negatively affected by these chemicals causing mutations in different species and disrupting development in some microorganisms. Most of these ingredients can accumulate in tissues so they are building up the more we use them in more and more marine life (CVS Skin Labs 7 Cosmetic Ingredients That are Bad for the Environment). Other things to look out for are siloxanes (Silicones), Diethanolamine or DEA, Triclocan, Dioxane and chemical sunscreens. These chemicals bio-accumulate and pose a threat to the well-being of fish, shellfish, amphibians, coral reef, nematodes (how can you not love that word), crustaceans, animal and plant-plankton. (simpleluxeliving The Environmental Damages Of Cosmetics)
The cosmetic industry ALSO has many effects on the environment during the very beginning stages of production, like raw material mining. Mica powder, a mineral that is used as a filler in asphalts and rubber, is also ground up and becomes the ingredient for shimmery cosmetics. There are multiple factors that go into this field and also the building blocks of cosmetics (and I wont get that into all that now) BUT one to focus on is getting sustainably-sourced and fair trade certified cosmetics that contain Mica. Its use has low consumer risk but high occupational risks due to inhalation concerns. Some suppliers from India have been known to use children as cheap laborers and also strip mine the land. (Ethical Consumer MICA)
I know this is overwhelming. Trust me. I’m wide-eyed (occasionally teary-eyed) just writing this mess. What can you do? Educate yourself, use what you have and properly dispose of them the environmentally-friendly way by being up-to-date on your local recycling center or different recycling companies like Terracycle and others (post coming soon on companies that are zero waste or reuse and/or recycle- CAN’T WAIT). Don’t just throw away cosmetics. Can it be recycled? Does the company take back packaging to sterilize and reuse? How do I properly dispose of the product, is it environmentally friendly to dump out in the sink and what does this mean it’s doing to my body if it’s toxic to the earth? Buy more sustainable packaged cosmetics. Is the company concerned with the environment and your health and are they taking steps to show it, not just say it? Do I overly obsess over my looks or cosmetics? Is the cosmetic industry marketing and media getting in my mind? How do I change this to be a healthy relationship? Reduce, refuse, rethink, reflect. Yes, you should be more mindful about what you buy. Yes, it’s annoying. Yes it shouldn’t be like this. We shouldn’t have to worry about our cosmetics polluting the water but it most likely is, so we try to change.
Happy Last Day of June and my last day to not wear makeup, wow a whole month flew by. It was a fun roller coaster of a journey. I learned A LOT and am so glad I embarked on this adventure. See all this month’s posts at: June: A Month of Zero Makeup