Beauty's Plastic Problem


I am very much behind all of the current moves to become more environmentally conscious and cut down on waste, and glad to be part of a generation that is adopting a more ethically and environmentally-friendly outlook. We all know the damage to the environment caused by plastic but it only recently seriously occurred to me just how much plastic can be found in my beauty routine; in fact 80% of the products I use everyday come in plastic packaging.

For me, this is a two-fold problem. Firstly is the problem of the packaging that products come in anyway. Although not always plastic, most of the products you buy (especially when purchasing online) will come in some sort of cardboard box and wrapped in some kind of plastic - a very current issue with Glossier being under fire for the excessive use of packaging in their new Glossier Play range. The second problem is the packaging that actually holds the product, most commonly plastic but also glass. We all know to get rid of the plastic straws etc. but what about the $532 billion global beauty business that is doing just as much damage.

The Problem

Plastic is an ever-growing problem that our planet is facing; polluting our oceans and killing marine life, polluting our soil and destroying ecosystems, even getting into our water and damaging our health. The production of plastic was once praised, being a material that can last forever; but what was once it’s key benefit has now become it’s critical problem. The beauty industry is a large contributor to this problem, with data from Euromonitor via Teen Vogue showing that the industry produced 76.8 billion plastic packaging units in 2017; these figures don’t even factor in plastic accessories such as application tools and mini ‘scoopers’

Packaging alone accounts for a massive 40% of total plastic usage, and make up 70% of the waste from the beauty industry. This packaging is completely unnecessary as I’m sure, like me, we throw away the packaging as soon as we get or finish a product.. It is important that we get more into the habit of recycling our old beauty products and packaging as currently only 31% of plastic waste is recycled.

The Solution

A lot of brands are starting to take this issue a lot more seriously, putting plans in place to combat beauty’s plastic problems. Huge brands such as L’Oreal and Unilever have committed to making all of their plastic packaging recyclable, reusable or compostable by 2025, with aims to increase the amount of recycled plastic used for their packaging to 25%.

It is beneficial to brands to adopt more environmentally-friendly mindsets as research shows that consumers are 50% more likely to buy products that are sustainably produced, and if we, as consumers, continue to make these sustainable choices we can drive further change in the industry. The eco-friendly industry is even predicted to be worth £18.76 billion in the UK by 2022.

In 2018, more than 40 of the UK’s largest businesses signed a ‘Plastics Pact’, lead by the sustainability charity WRAP. This pact not only aims to reduce the usage of single-use plastics but look for innovative solutions to the problems facing the industry. It’s great that these big brands are getting involved to tackle plastic waste, but what can we do as consumers to also contribute to these changes? It’s easier than you think - you’re bathroom cabinet and beauty drawers are full of recyclable products. Here are the top ten things that we can all recycle.


Brands to Try

Brands have made it even easier for us to be more sustainable with our beauty consumption, with the best-known ethical brand probably being LUSH. LUSH are spearheading the packaging-free movement mainly through their shampoo bars and foundation eggs; the sales of the shampoo bars alone have shot up by 41% in just one-year and meant that 15,890,925 plastic bottles were never created. Much like the infamous Back to MAC programme, LUSH also give customers a free face mask when they bring back five of the black LUSH pots, which are then recycled for future packaging.

Another great brand is Soaper Duper, specialising in body products that are made from 100% PCR (post-consumer recycled plastic). The whole aim of the company is to produce naturally-derived products with formulas and packaging that respect the environment by using no plastic, microbeads, parabens or phthalates and selling in big, basic and recycled packaging at competitive prices. If all of that still isn’t good enough, they also contribute to WaterAid to improve access to soap and water for those who need it. Their products might be slightly more expensive than typical supermarket prices, at £6.50 for their body wash and £10 for their body butter, but for the extra coins you are investing in a far more ethical and sustainable product/brand.

Other notable mentions include Love Beauty and Planet, that also use 100% recycled materials and are transparent about their carbon emissions and make a conscious effort to reduce theirs by 20% by 2020. REN are also aiming for a ‘waste-free future’ and have partnered with charities to clean up beaches and oceans worldwide.

Click below for a selection of other beauty products that are more environmentally friendly alternatives.

It’s key to note that plastic and excess packaging are only two of many environmental/ethical problems that are apparent in the beauty industry and it’s important to not ignore these other issues.

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Molly Jonesbeauty