Vanity vs planet

8 Mins read

“It is one world. And it’s in our care. For the first time in the history of humanity, for the first time in 500 million years, one species has the future in the palm of its hands. I just hope he realises that that is the case.”
David Attenborough

“Plastic is everywhere. It’s even more difficult [to deal with now] because the things we need and/or want tend to come in plastic packaging, and even [we’re] looking at a product that seems to be plastic free there can still be micro-plastics in them,” said Laila Murray, a 24 year-old who is actively trying to cut down her plastic use in the bathroom.

Murray’s bad acne experience prompted her to explore more natural products with the hope of improving the condition of her skin. However, after finding that even though those ‘natural’ products may be benefiting her, they were still having a negative effect on the environment.

I went back online to do more research, read reviews and went to stores that had my interests in mind (organic and environmentally friendly) to sample new products. Some products I have still do have plastic, mostly the caps or pumps on containers, but the main packaging is glass or recyclable material. It has been a long process of trial and error with products, but every little positive change is progress,” Murray told us.

3 shampoo bars by Friendly Soap

Friendly Soap uses 100% recycled and recyclable packaging [Anastasia Turkina]

David Attenborough’s Blue Planet II documentary, which was broadcast in late 2017, became a pivotal moment in public attitudes towards the plastic issue. Since then, plastic has become one of the most talked about topics in the environment, and individuals have started sharing their personal tips about reducing plastic waste in their lives. Across different social media platforms as well as reaching out to brands questioning their use of plastics, they were passionately determined to have removed anything that is deemed as unnecessary.

The focus has mainly been aimed at the food industry, in which many companies have been doing their best to become more environmentally friendly. However, it is now time for the beauty industry to step in and do its part as well.

Geoff Kerouac and Rob Costello are the owners, directors as well as workers of Friendly Soap. They have expanded their range widely from soap to shampoo and shaving bars and they are not slowing down anytime soon. “We will be introducing a Conditioner Bar very soon followed by many new and exciting soaps from Pet Soap to Castile,” Geoff said.

Being SLS, paraben, palm oil, plastic and cruelty-free, Friendly Soap won a Gold Natural Beauty Award by The Green Parent in 2018.

Their soaps are sold across London, especially in health stores such as WholeFoods and As Nature Intended. “The companies turn increased massively due to the public’s interest in plastic-free products,” Geoff confirmed.

Friendly Soap strives to minimise its environmental impact during production by using as little energy as possible. Its packaging is 100% recycled and recyclable, even when delivering packages they use brown paper tape to seal their boxes.

Lush naked product range

Lush has introduced a ‘Naked’ range including products such as shampoo bars, body soaps and body butters. [Anastasia Turkina]

Creating natural products that can 100% disappear is one way of doing it. Lush is implementing a similar concept called ‘Naked Beauty’. They’ve moved towards their products being ‘naked’ by not having any packaging for their body butters, shampoos, conditioners, hair masks and most recently, lipsticks.

With this fairly new concept, Lush claims to have stopped producing 1,248,503 bottles thanks to people who have purchased products form their ‘naked’ skincare range over the Christmas period of 2017. On the other hand, Euromonitor told TeenVogue that in 2017, the beauty industry produced 76.8 billion plastic packaging units.

This raises a worrying question: are we the ones demanding the products or have we been trained to need them?

Women today have their bathroom ‘essentials’. On average, a woman in London spends around £6,300 per year on cosmetic products including skin care, make-up, hair and hygiene products.

Too many companies have been focused on profitability over sustainability but the tables are now turning. The more sustainable they will become and the faster they do it, the more profitable it will be in the long run due to the increase in demand for sustainable skincare and make-up products.

Tata Harper skincare products

Beauty brands are swapping plastic bottles for glass ones [Anastasia Turkina]

Tata Harper is one of the companies being praised for using glass bottles for their packaging, however, despite glass being a recyclable material it in no way guarantees that happens. There is still a high possibility it will be delivered to landfill where it will apparently take one million years to decompose naturally.

In the United States, Euromonitor reported that “manufacturers are gravitating towards glass bottles as primary packaging for premium skin care. Glass bottles communicate a scientific, medicinal, simplistic positioning, which are fashionable claims used in the dynamic US skin care industry.”

Using glass does not make their product any more ‘zero-waste’ if the glass still becomes the waste. Those collecting it are still left to deal with the packaging having to either melt it or break it. Most glasses dropped off at recycling centres is crushed into small pieces called cullet, a product that is less expensive for glass manufacturers to purchase than raw glass materials.

“When people look at the packaging for products they are seeing a narrow range of the cycle but you have to look at the whole process, look at the overall result and impact,” said Dr. Mengyan Nie, a teaching fellow in the Institute for Materials Discovery at University College London (UCL).

“It depends on the type of glass, some glass might need more energy to melt therefore the impact is worse,” said Nie as he explained the potential benefits of companies making a switch towards glass packaging. “Also people think that paper is more green and more sustainable but you have to look at the after service; when you design a product you have to look at the material and the after service of the model.”

Delivery man delivering loop package

Loop will be launching in Spring 2019 in the US and France [Loop]

This is where REN Clean Skincare comes in. This skincare brand are implementing a different approach as they partner with new company Loop that is launching in the United States and France in Spring 2019. REN has made a pledge to go zero waste by 2021 and partnering with Loop brings them closer to achieving that goal.

In July 2018, REN made their first step towards making a change in their packaging by creating a bottle made from 100% recycled plastic of which 20% was ‘reclaimed from the ocean’. CEO Arnaud Meysselle told Glamour magazine: “We were told that 10% ocean plastic was the maximum we could incorporate, and we’ve made it 20% because we wanted to make a statement.” Since then REN has gone on to use the same concept for their body cream in February 2019. However, by partnering with Loop, the future of REN does not seem to be recycled plastic bottles but a return-and-refill system.

Their press release states: “Loop is an innovative new business model for premium durable packaging which is delivered directly to the consumer, returned and refilled…the initiative was designed to change the world’s reliance on single-use packaging, offer a convenient and enhanced circular solution to consumers, while securing meaningful environmental benefits.”

As it stands, only six of their best-selling products and cleansers will be available through Loop. The cleanable glass bottle will be durable enough to allow this process to happen more than 100 times, and the brand’s name is imprinted directly onto the glass in order to avoid any waste.

Timeline of REN packaging

REN press release showing the packaging journey [REN]

The current focus is to reduce the amount of waste produced in order to aid the recycling aspect, bringing us closer to a more sustainable beauty industry and the world as a whole. But is this where we are heading?

According to GlobalData: “The health & beauty market is forecast to grow by 21.1% over the next five years”. The market however may grow in a different direction. If we take a look at Google Trends, eyelash extensions, lash lifts, micro-blading, hair extensions and lip filler have all been on a gradual rise since late 2015 and are all at the highest point of interest today.”

Despite these beauty treatments having been around for many years, the high interest and demand did not surface until recently. People want to have the effortless ‘natural’ beauty, which can make them feel confident enough to go about their day without needing makeup. Perhaps that is what we are moving towards: no makeup but more cosmetic and beauty procedures to attain the so called ‘low maintenance’ beauty ideal.

[pullquote align=”right”]“When people look at the packaging for products they are seeing a narrow range of the cycle but you have to look at the whole process, look at the overall result and impact”– Dr Mengyan Nie [/pullquote]Or perhaps we should start embracing our natural beauty and stop giving into the beauty standards set by those that are feeding off of our vulnerability and insecurities. Perhaps make-up will become more of a form of art and used for special occasions rather than the day-to-day.

The UK government has committed a “£61.4 million package of funding to boost global research and help countries across the Commonwealth stop plastic waste from entering the oceans in the first place”.

However, a company called 4Ocean has already begun to do this. 4Ocean was founded in 2017 and has gained incredible recognition and following across social media since. To date, they have removed more than four million  pounds (1.81 million kg) of plastic out of the ocean.

On 15 November, the company launched its OPR campaign with the goal of stopping plastic entering the deep blue as a whole. “We are launching a massive campaign to stop plastic at the source. As you guys know up to 90% of plastic is entering the ocean from land based sources and specifically river mouths. It’s our job to stop plastic at the source and then be able to collect that plastic and recycle it to be made into other products,” said co-founder Alex Schulze via Instalive.

4Ocean volunteers gathered around plastic on the beach

Since 2017, 4Ocean has removed more than four miillion pounds of plastic from the ocean [Instagram: @4ocean]

Micro-plastic is an issue that is affecting marine life and therefore affecting us. Recent studies have confirmed speculation of our ingestion of micro-plastic when they discovered it in the human stool. “The Environmental Agency in Austria tested the stool samples for 10 different types of plastic. They found nine of them, most commonly PET and polypropylene (PP), a common component of plastic food wrappers and synthetic clothes.”

Even though 4Ocean is saving the ocean one pound at a time, there will be no end in sight unless the plastic waste is minimised as a whole.

It should be the customers’ responsibility to actively cut down on their plastic waste, the companies’ responsibility for the products they bring into the world and their impact and the governments’ responsibility to keep those companies accountable.

It is also important to become aware of the term greenwashing. With more and more conscious consumers concerned about sustainability and natural products, beauty brands are using the issue to their advantage in order to get noticed.

Greenwashing can be promoting something ‘green’ in order to divert attention from the not so green parts in order to appear much better than they are. Some companies highlight action which is a legal requirement but their presentation of the issue makes it appear as though the company has chosen to do that action voluntarily.

Plastic is all around us and ignoring it is extremely hard if not impossible throughout our day-to-day lives, but, while the world adapts and slowly progresses, all you have to do is be a bit more conscious of the choices you make.

Begin to evaluate what you are buying and the products you have in your bathroom, were they really worth the purchase? Which products can you avoid? Or maybe try and challenge yourself to stop using your skincare and makeup products to see how much you really need them. If not for the animals and the future of the planet, do it for you and your kids.

At the end of the day, we did this.


Featured Image by Daria Shevtsova via Pexels.

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