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How to Reduce Plastic in Your Beauty Practice: 3 Conscious Actions

The beauty industry is heavily reliant on plastic - not only what’s on the inside of our products and what they are contained in, but also our tools and equipment and many other items that allow us to do our work. Being conscious of how, when and where we use plastic is key to positive behavioural change and mitigating the environmental and health impacts associated to plastic.

Sustainability

Photograph of a woman with a piece of plastic over her face. The image has a green and navy filter over it.

Table of Contents

Introduction

As it’s Plastic Free July, I thought I’d follow on from Lou’s last article on How To Avoid Hidden Plastics in Your Beauty Products. Plastic Free July is an entire month that highlights the problems of single-use plastic and champions ways in which we can reduce our reliance on it. The onset of COVID-19 has only exacerbated the problem, with an increase in single-use gloves and masks being disposed of – more often than not it seems, on the ground. Not to mention that the dramatic decline in oil prices means that it’s cheaper to produce new plastic than it is to recycle now. 

While plastic is, of course, a huge environmental problem, the truth is, plastic has its advantages. It’s been a literal game-changer across so many industries. In some instances, even having a smaller carbon and environmental footprint than its glass and metal counterparts. The biggest problems with plastic are to our health (as many plastics leach bisphenol A (BPA) and other carcinogens, endocrine disruptors and toxic compounds), product and packaging design, and consume and dispose of the stuff.

I get quizzed all the time on why some of the products I use are still in plastic containers. The fact of the matter is that plastic is still the most practical solution for packaging a lot of the time (but not all). As professional makeup artists, session stylists and beauty specialists, we simply wouldn’t be able to carry our kits if everything were in glass, chrome or steel. From a weighting perspective, cardboard sounds like a solution, but again, that comes with its own set of challenges – both aesthetic and practical. Not to mention that it requires up to 40x more water to produce – which, considering water scarcity is a very real consequence of the climate crisis.

That aside, truly conscious brands that do opt into using plastic would have considered their options by doing a life-cycle assessment (LCA) of their products and any plastic packaging they do need to use would be – at best – bioplastics made from low-carbon feedstocks, biodegradable plastics, PBA-free and made either made from recycled plastic or the packaging is fully and easily recyclable after use. Other things would also be considered, such as the dispensing mechanism, the separability of the packaging and limiting of multiple materials. 

Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying plastic is ideal by any stretch of the imagination, what I am saying is there are many factors at play – and replacing one material for another without consideration of its impact only causes more problems down the line.

Photograph of various types of plastic packaging

Awareness

As we prepare to go back to work, pay extra attention to what items in your kit are made from plastic. Look (or research) what kind of plastic they are made from and consider how to take care or dispose of them in the correct manner.  Look beyond packaging and the ingredients.

If you’re in the UK, this is a handy tool to check what can and can’t be recycled in your area.

Ask

If you’re unsure or it’s unclear what type is used by a beauty brand, reach out to them to ask. Consider more than just the tube or bottle – ask about the pumps, caps and lids too.

Challenge Yourself + Others

Start a “Plastic Swear Jar” and take the Plastic Swear Jar Challenge. Not only will it help you raise funds that can be donated to the Changing Tides Foundation (or similar not-for-profit organisations) it will also make you and your team/family aware about how much plastic you consume, which can help with real behavioural change. 

Conclusion

Developing a conscious beauty practice is not about being “perfect,” it’s about being aware. It’s about continual learning, improving and making an informed decision about the products and practices we choose to engage in and with. Plastic is a part of our lives and work and it’s here to stay. Perhaps, if we can stop vilifying plastic for a moment, and instead take a long hard look at ourselves and our insatiable desire for newness and nowness. Instead, let’s start adapting our mindsets and habits so that we can bring about real change to this great big mess we find ourselves in. The bottom line is that we need to shift away from a single-use mentality.

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