The global cosmetic industry creates over 120 billion units of packaging annually, and most of it is not recyclable. Because trying new creams, serums and sprays is part of my job as a beauty writer, I constantly see how unsustainable these products are, including the boxes they ship in and the containers of the products themselves.
This Earth month, I was committed to trying to make my beauty routine as sustainable as possible, but the first step was figuring out what changes I needed to make. To start, I spent two weeks tracking my beauty wastes. I realized that my waste falls into three main categories: postal packaging, single-use products and empty containers. Breaking things down like this has made it so much easier for me to focus my mind on ways I can make my routine more sustainable. Read on for what I’ve learned.
1. Mail packaging management
Whenever I’m out of town for more than a week, I come home with a bigger pile of packages than any Christmas I’ve ever had. It’s as exciting as it is overwhelming because the rejections this creates add up quickly. Most of these contain boxes inside boxes: the generic box from the shipping company, then a nice branded box, then tiny boxes with individual products. Sometimes, brands send out these really elaborate packages, which means a single serum is shipped in a box large enough to fit a pair of knee-high boots. And then there is bubble wrap, peanut packaging and paper confetti.
I recycle all my boxes and know that cardboard is something that is actually quite easy to sustainably dispose of, so I’m not overly concerned about the volume of the boxes. But there are definitely some things I wish were different in the packages I get. The first is all the extras. Whether it’s bubble wrap or metal packing grass, there are some things that simply can’t be recycled and I wish my mail was 100% plastic free. Also, nothing grinds my gears more than getting a box that is much larger than the object inside, which happens quite often. Simply put, it is not necessary.
On the left is a small product that arrived in a very large box. The right shows an appropriately sized and well packed box.
2. Take stock of disposable products
Something that I have become hyper-aware of during this process is how many things I throw away during my daily routine. I’ve used reusable face pads in place of cotton balls for years, so I thought I was doing fine. But then I started thinking about things like cotton swabs, handkerchiefs and sanitary pads. One thing I’m not going to do is invest in reusable Q-tips or blow my nose in reusable handkerchiefs, but I’d still like to explore more sustainable options.
I realized that my biggest problem is the individually packaged alcohol swabs – I use them a lot more than I thought. For example, I always use one to sanitize my beauty tech tools like microcurrent devices or LED light masks after each use. Also, I do my gel manicure every two to three weeks and use some pads during that process. They come in plastic lined paper bags, so I’m interested in finding a solution to reduce this.
While I don’t go through them very quickly, I’d also like to find a sustainable solution for my makeup sponges. I end up getting a new one every two or three months and would love to find a less expensive option.
3. Understand how to manage product containers
The tricky thing about product containers is that they are often made of a mix of different types of plastics and metals, which makes them impossible to recycle through municipal centers. I am currently looking at a serum that comes in a glass bottle with a plastic pump and lid. The glass is probably recyclable, but only if I separate it from the pump and lid and rinse it before putting it in the bin. The pump is probably just garbage. Brands are working to make their packaging less complicated and more easily recyclable, but there is still a long way to go.
I end up with a lot of container waste, be it empty containers or products that I’ve used a few times and then realized I didn’t like them. I have a stash of vacuums in my closet that I have clung to because I know there are recycling options but I haven’t actually done the research yet. I also need to find solutions for products I’ve used but don’t like. In some cases, I can gift them to friends. But finding a friend for every product I don’t like is overwhelming and I know there must be a better solution.
During this process, I am very aware that I will not save the world by making my beauty routine more sustainable. Most of the changes I’m trying to make aren’t going to make that mind-blowing difference. But it’s still something I am committed to doing. I know that by being more aware, I can make my beauty routine more sustainable which is a step in the right direction.
The next step? Chatting with sustainability expert Jhánneu Roberts for her advice on how to make real changes to my regime. Stay tuned to see what comes to mind.
Ways to make your home more sustainable:
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