The beauty industry generates up to $532 billion in revenue every year, but this demand comes with a massive environmental impact. With more than 120 billion units of packaging produced globally, only 9% of those products produced are recycled, 12% are incinerated, and the remaining 79% end up in landfills.1 Additionally, many of the 120 billion units are not recyclable at all.
Our ocean is becoming a sea of trash with plastic bottles, grocery bags, lipstick tubes, and powder compacts floating within the waves. Data has proven that by the middle of this century, the ocean will contain more plastic by weight than fish.2 However, many organizations within the beauty industry are becoming more conscious in terms of product packaging, sustainability, and misleading buzzwords, such as Allure and yours truly, Humanist Beauty. By becoming aware of beauty waste’s impact on the environment, you’ll see why joining the packaging revolution is necessary.
Beauty Waste Isn’t Pretty
Since 1960, plastic packaging is now used 20 times more often. 7.9 billion units of rigid plastic were used for beauty and personal care products in the United States in 2018.3 According to National Geographic, there are over five trillion pieces of plastic in our oceans. These are astounding numbers, proving that we aren’t recycling beauty products as much as we think.
In the past, many beauty and personal care products weren’t made with plastic. Soaps came as a bar, perfume was packaged in luxurious glass bottles, and hair care products were usually a pomade or powder in a tin. So why does the beauty industry rely so heavily on plastic today? The answer is simple: the plastic explosion of the mid-20th century.
During this time, the beauty industry switched its packaging methods to plastic. This is due to plastic being cheaper and easily moldable, while also being light and sturdy. Additionally, many products had to be created for different conditions. For example, soap and hair-care products began being sold in bottles so they would float to the surface of the water in bathtubs or rivers. 4
Microplastics, which are tiny globules, are used to add grit to beauty and self-care products, like exfoliators, toothpaste, and even glitter for extra shine. Essentially, microplastics are made of many plastic particles that are smaller than five millimeters in diameter.
Water filters are not designed to sift elements that are smaller than five millimeters. This is why microplastic particles are contaminating our oceans and being consumed by birds and marine wildlife. Humans are no exception to the microplastics issue, though, since particles have been found in water bottles. Consuming microplastics can eventually lead to cancer.5
The United States banned microbeads with the Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015. However, many manufacturers have found loopholes in the ruling by changing their plastic particles to biodegradable plastic. While biodegradable plastic is more environmentally friendly because of its faster natural breakdown, the particles still end up getting consumed by animals.
Here are a few natural alternatives to microplastics:
- Ground Fruit Kernels
- Ground Coffee
Packaging is the number one contributor to plastic production in the world and offender for plastic waste pollution.6 Additionally, research has found that packaging accounted for 146 million tons of plastic every year.
Plastic is not the only waste that’s created by the beauty industry. Cellophane, cardboard, and paper waste are also problematic. For example, paper boxes used as outer packages for toothpaste and large cream jars – items that have space for legal copy and don’t require another layer of protective material – contribute to deforestation, increased water consumption, and CO2 emissions.7
While many beauty and self-care products come in glitzy and luxurious boxes, the fact of the matter is that it’s just not necessary. Cutting out waste pollution is crucial, and the extra packaging needs to go.
Recycling Plastic Products
Plastic packaging that is necessary should always be reusable, recyclable, and compostable. Necessary plastics are containers that could potentially be dangerous to our health and safety. For example, plastic is used in shower packaging because glass bottles (with their tendency to break when dropped) are not practical.
By making sure packaging can be recycled responsibly, our environment will move towards a more circular economy, which is a way for us to imitate the cycles of nature by making something, using it, and reintroducing it into nature as a nutrient or something else. The loop of a circular economy entails the elimination of waste, regeneration of natural systems, and keeping materials and products in use.
TerraCycle, an American recycling company that recycles products like coffee pods, contact lenses, and other types of waste, is tackling the recycling issue from many angles. The company recognizes that almost everything can be recycled. TerraCycle collects typically hard-to-recycle items through natural, first-of-their-kind programs. Many beauty brands, such as Garnier, Colgate, Weleda, and now, Humanist Beauty, have worked with TerraCycle to offer a free recycling program for beauty waste.
How You Can Help Cut Down Waste Pollution
Cutting down the beauty industry’s waste production will take time, but there are a few things you can do to aid in the quest for a healthier environment:
- Avoid buying or using single-use items, and consider the life cycle of your purchase.
- Choose products that have reusable and recyclable packaging. Also, take advantage of refill and recycling initiatives.
- Read ingredient labels to see if they contain any enviro-damaging material in the form of microbeads or glitter (look for polyethylene or polyurethane). If they do, don’t buy them.
- Replace short life cycle items, such as plastic shower sponges, for more natural options like plant-based loofahs.
- Use all of a product before buying more.
- Download the Beat the Microbead app to check your products at home.
Allure’s Sustainability Pledge
On Earth Day, Allure affirmed their commitment to choosing their words with clarity and certainty when reporting on “sustainable” packaging. Allure addressed that many significant strides are being made to eliminate beauty waste; however, there is more that needs to be done to fully understand the realities and impacts of beauty waste on the planet.
Allure will now be more conscious when it comes to sustainability buzzwords that they’ll no longer employ, or will only use with careful consideration of qualifications. Here is its pledge further in-depth:
- Allure will no longer mention the word “recyclable” when it comes to any type of plastic. Considering that only 9% of plastic waste has ever been turned into something that can be used again, it’s obvious that the term “recycling” isn’t being utilized correctly. Using less plastic is the only way to solve the problem.
- What does “green” mean? Who knows. Allure won’t use the word “green” unless it’s describing something verdant in color.
- Allure will only use the word “biodegradable” with vast specifics. The word is defined as “of a substance or object that’s capable of being decomposed by bacteria or other living organisms. However, most plastics are stable in landfills, due to petroleum being processed into plastic thus making them no longer biodegradable. Additionally, most landfills don’t have enough oxygen to break down the plastics.
- The word “compostable” will only be used by Allure when describing a product that can be broken down by a residential composter. Additionally, the product must be broken down in around 90 days with zero soil toxicity. Many composting programs divert organic material into valuable products, but only 4% of Americans have access to curbside pickup to transport their compost. According to TerraCycle, only 10% of industrial facilities accept compostable plastics.
- Allure recognizes the term “zero-waste” as being undefined, so they will no longer use the word. Instead, they will consult with the brand to explain exactly what “zero-waste” means.
- Unless a product doesn’t exist, Allure promises to never describe a product as being “Earth-friendly.” This also goes for the terms “eco-friendly” and “planet-friendly.”
Humanist Beauty applauds Allure’s buzzword revolution. Allure’s pledge is clear, concise, and adequately evaluates all the problems with wrongful descriptors that are severely overused and lack truth.
Humanist Beauty’s Circular Movement and Zero Waste Program
At Humanist Beauty, we believe that beauty should live endlessly, but not its packaging. While we don’t call our product or packaging zero-waste, we do strive to use the most environmentally conscientious packaging options possible:
- The majority of Humanist Beauty’s packaging is made from glass and paperboard, which is recyclable.
- We use post-consumer recycled paper-based packaging for our shipping materials with no plastic void fill or tape.
- Humanist Beauty minimizes the use of virgin plastic while seeking to further avoid virgin plastic componentry as we grow.
Humanist Beauty praises Allure’s assurances and will also spread the knowledge with our own Zero Waste Program that is in conjunction with the TerraCycle Zero Waste Box.
Send us your beauty boxes, bottles, jars, tubes and makeup palettes. The packaging doesn’t even have to be from Humanist Beauty, it can be from any beauty brand. We’ll even pay and provide your postage to make sending your empty beauty packaging to us easy and seamless. Once we receive your packaging, we’ll hand it over to TerraCycle to be broken down and recycled or repurposed.
Here are a few notes about the Zero Waste Program, because we promise to always be transparent:
- As of right now, our Zero Waste Program is only accepting packages from 48 contiguous states.
- Humanist Beauty is a small company, so right now we can only accommodate funding for a 1-pound package per customer per month.
- If you’d like to pay for your postage if you have more than one pound of packaging, feel free to send it all to: Humanist Beauty x TerraCycle, 9400 Corbin Ave. #1065 Northridge, CA 91324.
- We will keep this page updated with any further enhancements to our Zero Waste Program.
If you’re interested in sending us your packaging, you can fill out the form here to receive your prepaid return label. We are excited to take this step with you to help conserve our precious planet and its resources.