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Environmental Sustainability in the Beauty Industry

In recent years, environmental sustainability has come to the forefront of media attention, with efforts extending to the cosmetics industry. Today we’ll uncover some of the criteria for sustainability in the beauty industry and what to look out for as a cosmetics consumer interested in sustainability.

What factors contribute to Unsustainability?

The beauty industry unfortunately has a fairly significant carbon footprint, as many of the production, shipping, and post-consumption practices are unsustainable.

Unsustainable Ingredients

Cosmetics manufacturing can create a lot of waste and toxic byproducts. Additionally, many cosmetics include palm oil. Palm oil is one of the prime causes of deforestation, with the farming of palms and harvesting of the oil contributing to destroyed forests and peatlands. This process accounts for around 6% of global CO2 emissions annually.

Furthermore, a lot of cosmetics that come in spray forms use what’s called volatile organic compounds (VOCs) which significantly contribute to carbon emissions.

Unsustainable Packaging

The majority of cosmetics are partially, if not entirely packaged in plastic. Current estimates indicate that around 120 billion units of packaging are created by the beauty industry each year -- most of it non-biodegradable plastic.

Higher-end products contain more elaborate packaging, using an excess of materials that aren’t necessary for safe shipping and product use. The packaging is also not always easy to recycle, with many of them containing a mixture of materials.

Unsustainable Models

Many cosmetics products are produced with the intent of being single-use. Products such as face masks and makeup removal wipes, as well as travel-sized products and individual sachets used in sample products are intended to be thrown away after use. These products are also usually packaged in plastics.

Even products that are used multiple times are not designed to be refillable and ultimately contribute to massive waste production.

What can be done?

In order for the beauty industry to become more sustainable, radical system change needs to occur at every stage in the cosmetics manufacturing, shipping, and distributing process. Beyond this, there are a few things that consumers can do to encourage the industry to change.

Consumer Action

Consumers can encourage sustainability in the beauty industry by purchasing from brands that prioritize sustainability and are transparent about the sources of their ingredients as well as the recyclability of their packaging.

You can also opt to shop from smaller, independently owned brands that may have a smaller carbon footprint overall. Look for products and shops that offer refillable cosmetic options in reusable packaging.

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