Hi friends! I realize it’s been over year since my last post, which focused on choosing safer sunscreens. You may have wondered what happened to cause the radio silence. No, I didn’t fall off the face of the earth, nor get bored with blogging or beauty. The truth is that I decided to back to college and pursue a master’s degree in Sustainable Management. Since late summer 2019, I have had little time for much else. But now, you may wonder, what the heck does sustainability have to do with beauty? Well, EVERYTHING. I typed this blog title of “The long pause…” not just as a nod to our current pandemic situation in which I’m writing, but also because I researched this past Fall just how wasteful and problematic the beauty industry has in the contribution to packaging and production waste. As the pandemic put a pause on our previous speed of life, many of us have also taken a moment to reevaluate our daily routines. Taking care of ourselves, including the little luxuries a product can provide as a boost to our morale, is very important to maintain our overall health. Before you think that this post may head off-track into a hotly debated political topics or bad news that makes you cringe, I’m urging you take a minute and think. What do we use everyday, head to toe, that either goes down the drain, into the air, into our bodies, or into wastebaskets? And what can cost us hundreds of extra dollars each year when instead we may need to save or buy other goods? Answer: beauty and personal care products. Let’s quickly connect these dots and discuss how significant this is, and how we can think differently as consumers as we reimagine our lives moving forward.
Sustainability is centered on the topics of economics, humanity, and the environment. They are forever linked together, as humans cannot survive without either the environment (water, air, food sources, minerals, etc) or an economic model that supports our communities. This has been true since the dawn of civilization. Most people also think that the concept of sustainability or climate change is only a recent topic of the last 50 years, but it actually stretches all the way back to the 1700’s and the first Industrial Revolution. This and the subsequent second and third Industrial Revolutions changed everything – the power of machines changed our ancestors’ lives, economy, and advanced modern civilizations and lifestyles forward. While many wonderful outcomes happened, this came at a cost – fossil fuels began to be burned at higher rates to support manufacturing, deforestation occurred, and garbage started piling up. The landfill or “dump” became a thing that communities had to start dealing with. Since World War II, the pollution and industrial consumption of raw materials, along with increasing global population, has grown at exponential rates. This is where consumerism comes into play – never in the thousands of years before the 20th century has the rapid consumption of products ever had such huge impact on our lives and economies. And beauty thrives on this principle – the majority of its products are considered “consumables” – meant to be used up, thrown away, and repurchased as soon as possible. Think about your own bathroom and how much plastic is currently sitting there in beauty products alone…can it all be recycled? Nope. In 2018 alone, U.S. households threw out 7.9 billion units of beauty and personal care product rigid plastic waste (Roshitsh, 2020). And only about 5% of plastic gets recycled annually, due lack of proper facilities and materials processing (World Economic Forum, 2016). For U.S. landfills, the EPA reports that one-third of all landfill waste is from the beauty and personal care industry (Roshitsh, 2020).
The beauty industry depends on a few key business practices that have made it the $530+ billion global behemoth (Forbes, 2019) that it is today: UPT (units per transaction), system selling, and trends. As a consumer, you are impacted because all “push” you to buy more. For example, UPT’s are tracked by beauty associates to ensure they meet their daily sales quotas at a counter, or by retailers on their online sales metrics. Does it mean that you had to buy the eye cream AND the newest mascara because it then gets you the free gift with purchase, when you only really need the eye cream? No, but you just helped satisfy the daily UPT quota. After a month, have you used the new mascara or the free items in the gift with purchase? Or did you end up throwing them away? Or worse, find them stuffed at the back of your bathroom cabinet a year later when cleaning out clutter, and risk using them as they are fully expired? Beauty products, especially skincare, are designed to be sold in sets – it increases the UPT’s and sales revenue. But, do you really need all of the products in order for it to work? As a former esthetician, I can say that no, you don’t need them all – and by using too many products, it may be contributing to your skin’s sensitivity or create a reaction. And lastly, trends in products (shades, formulas, holiday packaging) cause unnecessary waste each year due to the amount of product that either goes unsold or over-produced due to incorrect forecasting, and then ultimately thrown out. Per Zero Waste Week, more than 120 billion units of packaging are produced annually by the beauty industry – contributing to a loss of 18 million acres of forests each year.
This may sound like I’m hating on my former past in the beauty industry, but I’m not. My goal is to challenge their status quo and mindset that has prevailed for the last 100 years or so, and help consumers understand their role in this issue. Beauty products are inherently consumable by design, so they will always be needed, but they do not have to be so wasteful. Beauty is also one of the fastest-growing entrepreneurial industries, as anyone with enough seed money can start their own brand or become a consultant. To support more sustainable action, there’s a sizable amount of articles and videos out there about the dangerous side of counterfeit beauty products (such as toxic ingredients or contaminants) thanks to investigations by sources such as Refinery29. There are growing critical reviews on the issue of marketing eco-friendly beauty products featuring “clean” ingredients but are over-priced and over-packaged – creating the problem of green-washed consumerism that still pushes buying products over consuming less. Sadly, there are also human-rights issues, such as hazardous working conditions, or pollution linked to cosmetics production. I’m asking us, as consumers, to think about our daily use / toss practices within our own bathroom and household behavior. In short, be more savvy as consumers about how we spend our money and produce waste each day – this is thinking sustainably. And instead of me adding to the existing noise out there of well-established beauty bloggers and influencers that focus on brands, technique, and product, I’d rather highlight easy ways that you can be more sustainable in your own beauty and personal care regimens each day while still getting healthy, high-performing results. For example – there’s a lot of bad myths about bar soap that emerged over the years, but it is one of the easiest ways to use a whole-body, multi-tasking product that reduces packaging waste in your daily routine. Plus, I will feature brands that ARE making a sustainable difference, along with tips for choosing products for specific reasons rather than just chasing trends. Being more sustainable in daily beauty and personal care routines also respects skin sensitivities – not everything natural has to be heavily scented, which can cause skin breakouts.
Now, don’t rush to your bathroom and suddenly panic – we’ll discuss these gradual next steps in coming posts. It’s far easier than you think, and also can save you money! Until then, stay safe, wear your mask, and find some time to relax and enjoy the world around you. Happy Holidays and wishing you a much better 2021!
P.S. Check out my references here – well worth the read:
Roshitsh, K., January 2, 2020, “The Beauty Battleground Is Still Mired in Plastic, Faulty Claims”, Women’s Wear Daily Magazine, URL: https://wwd.com/beauty-industry-news/beauty-features/plastic-packaging-beauty-personal-care-1203407978/
Sherriff, L., September 17, 2019, “The Minimalist Beauty Company Tackling the Industry’s Waste Problem”, Forbes.com, URL: https://www.forbes.com/sites/lucysherriff/2019/09/17/the-minimalist-beauty-company-tackling-the-industrys-waste-problem/?sh=12e8241a4326
EPA (United States Environmental Protection Agency), September 21, 2020, “Containers and Packaging: Product-Specific Data”, Facts and Figures about Materials, Wastes, and Recycling section of website, URL: https://www.epa.gov/facts-and-figures-about-materials-waste-and-recycling/containers-and-packaging-product-specific-data
World Economic Forum, Ellen MacArthur Foundation and McKinsey & Company, The New Plastics Economy — Rethinking the future of plastics, 2016, http://www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/publications
Bailly, J., May 13, 2020, “Did It Take a Pandemic to Get Serious About Beauty Waste?”, Allure Magazine, URL: https://www.allure.com/story/beauty-industry-packaging-waste