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The 7 Most Common Types of Plastic Found in the Beauty Industry

In this in-depth piece, our sustainability expert, Khandiz, breaks down the 7 most common plastics used throughout the beauty industry - and discusses the wider the environmental pros and cons. To access this content, please sign up to our mailing list.

Sustainability

Table of Contents

Introduction

Plastic is ubiquitous in our lives, and  industry. While we should absolutely be avoiding single-plastic – single-use everything if we can help it – learning about the plastic that we come into contact with on a daily work basis is vital towards mitigating the plastic problem. 

There are approximately 45 different kinds of plastics, with multiple variations and endless uses, but here’s a list of the seven kinds we interact with most regularly in the beauty industry.

Below is a list of seven of the most prolific plastics, but it is by no means exhaustive. We will continue to explore this topic together over the coming months through our in-depth series on plastics in our beautiful industry.

PETE: Polyethylene Terephthalate

A lightweight, versatile plastic that’s usually clear makes it one of the most widely produced plastics in the world. PET is mostly associated with water and soda bottles, but PET is omnipresent in the beauty industry – usually in the form of clear, rigid product bottles. It’s also the polymer used to make polyester fabric – which you can find in many reusable makeup clothes, gowns and protective clothing to name but a few. It’s a big cause of microplastics in the environment. It’s 100% recyclable, provided it’s separated from other materials.

Resin Identification Code 1 PETE PET

HDPE: High Density Polyethylene

Another multipurpose plastic used in a myriad of products in the home and across industries because of its low cost, hard wearing, versatile properties. In our kits, we will find HDPE in the form of bottles for acetone and alcohols because of its high resistance to many chemicals. It’s also used to make bottles lids and is easily and widely recyclable. 

PVC: Polyvinyl Chloride

This type of polymer takes on both a very rigid and very flexible form. It can be used in everything from the pipes of the factories manufacturer our beauty products to our product container lids and plastic wrap. But perhaps the most commonly associated use we have for it is artist/makeup/standby bags, mats and brush rolls and disposable vinyl gloves. PVC or vinyl is lightweight, reusable, easy to clean, highly resistant to oils and chemicals and it’s waterproof, making it very practical for our needs. It’s a firm favourite of vegan and cruelty-free artists, as it’s what is most commonly used as a leather alternative. On the flipside, PVC is hard to recycle – because of its many additives, including cadmium and lead and can ‘contaminate’ other recycling streams. It’s also non-biodegradable and releases dioxin – a well-known carcinogen.

LDPE: Low Density Polyethylene

We see this stuff everywhere. It’s what plastic bags are made from, but LDPE can also be found in squeeze bottles, kids toys, gas and water pipes, and even laboratory equipment (ie: where our beauty products are formulated). The most prolific association to the beauty industry is as a protective film to paper/card products and the bags our goods come in. It is also used as an alternative to PVC plastic wrap/cling film – which is used in some hair salons to wrap colour while it develops. However, polyethylene versions offer “clinging” ability unless additional additives are included. Depending on the form of the LDPE, it can be recycled, but check your local authority as it’s not widely accepted, especially with regards to cling film. The other big issue with LDPE is its propensity to release phthalates and other toxic compounds into the environment when it’s disposed of.

PP: Polypropylene

This thermoplastic resin which acts as an “addition polymer,” is used to make a multitude of plastic products for home and commercial use, with some reports estimating that we use as much 45.1million tonnes of the stuff. It’s used for injection moulding to make things like car parts (which reduces CO2e emissions because it makes the car lighter, requiring less energy to run),  hairdryers and hair tools,  carpets and our reusable BPA-free water bottles and food containers that we have become accustomed to carrying around with us in recent years. While less common in the day to day use of beauty packaging (likely because of its sensitivity to UV rays) we are heavily reliant on PP in other areas to get to work and do our jobs, not to mention as a protective measure as PP is used in many disposable face masks – which cannot be recycled. In some good-ish news, it’s been reported that the bio polypropylene global market is set to grow by 1,517.94 th tonnes by 2024.

PS: Polystyrene

A foam-like plastic which is most often associated with takeaway food containers and cups (which we have all been subjected to location shoots) which is Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) and packaging chips to “protect” our beauty products and equipment. It’s used widely on still and film shoots by the photographer or lighting depart in the form of poly boards, as well as insulation in trailers and buildings (ie: the spaces in which we provide our services). Polystyrene can also be found in more rigid forms such as disposable razors, plastic cutlery and CD cases  – and becomes very brittle. Although technically speaking, polystyrene can be recycled, the cost and complexity of recycling it mean that it seldom is. 

N: Nylon

A foam-like plastic which is most often associated with takeaway food containers and cups (which we have all been subjected to location shoots) which is Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) and packaging chips to “protect” our beauty products and equipment. It’s used widely on still and film shoots by the photographer or lighting depart in the form of poly boards, as well as insulation in trailers and buildings (ie: the spaces in which we provide our services). Polystyrene can also be found in more rigid forms such as disposable razors, plastic cutlery and CD cases  – and becomes very brittle. Although technically speaking, polystyrene can be recycled, the cost and complexity of recycling it mean that it seldom is. 

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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