Unboxing. It’s a social media trend that sees our favourite influencers and celebs opening the wondrous gifts and beauty deliveries they receive daily with great suspense and fanfare. But look beyond the beautiful product within and what do you see? A pass the parcel of plastic packaging.
Flick through the tag on Instagram and you’ll see what we’re talking about. Plastic envelopes, bubble wrap, cellophane, polystyrene, plastic bottles. The chances are that very little of these will be recyclable materials, and even the stuff that is won’t actually get recycled. It will most likely end up in our oceans as part of the 13 million tonnes of plastic dumped in there each year, which is why this year’s World Ocean Day, taking place on the 8th June, will focus on the problem of plastic pollution.
Needless to say, the consequences of plastic pollution are detrimental, not just to fish and marine life (although they do indeed suffer with issues like entrapment, ingestion and bio-accumulation of harmful toxins) – the problem is as much to our own detriment. The fish we eat are harbouring unprecedented levels of toxins due to the plastic in their environments and the water we drink has most likely been contaminated by plastics, which contain harmful chemicals able to disrupt our hormones.
The beauty industry has come under fire in recent years for its use of microbeads – tiny balls of plastic used in body scrubs and facial exfoliators. Some products can contain over 300,000 microbeads – per tube. Luckily, as of January this year, a manufactoring ban by British law means that microbeads will no longer be found in beauty and personal care products, in part thanks to a huge pressure movement from consumers and eco-friendly beauty brands themselves. Neal’s Yard Remedies fought tirelessly for the ban on microbeads and shared a petition by Fauna & Flora International, Greenpeace UK, Environmental Investigation Agency and Marine Conservation Society that finished with over 350,000 signatures.
Another problematic beauty ingredient is that of Oxybenzone – a chemical often found in sun creams, which is extremely harmful to coral reefs and oceanic ecosystems (whether or not the ingredient is toxic to humans is still unknown). Earlier this year, law makers in Hawaii ruled to ban the sale of sunscreens containing Oxybenzone throughout the state as of January 2021.
And then there are face wipes and wet wipes. According to Mintel, 47% of us regularly use them and many varieties are virtually indestructible. In fact, 93% of blocked UK sewage pipes are caused by wet wipes. The industry is taking note, with many brands starting to produce biodegradable versions. Yes To has launched a range of biodgradable and compostable cellulose wipes, which are bound together using a technology called Spunlace to avoid using latex material to bind the fibres.
But the problem is far from solved. From plastic applicators used in tampons to excessive plastic packaging, the beauty industry has a long way to go – although hope is in sight. According to recent research by Mintel, 66% of UK female beauty buyers aged 16-24 want more information about which products are environmentally friendly and there’s a host of brands following suit with various eco-innovations. Brands like Aveda and The Body Shop have been pioneering eco-solutions to packaging and formulas for the best part of a decade. Aveda is the largest user of recycled plastic in the whole beauty industry and has also recycled millions of bottle caps through their Recycle Caps With Aveda campaign. The Body Shop uses predominantly biodegradable ingredients and have long strived to reduce their water footprint in the formulation of their products.
Lush are also dedicated to reducing waste and not using plastics to package their products. Instead, they sell products naked or else nestled in biodegradable materials. In fact, between 2015-2016, Lush’s naked shampoo bars meant that over 15 million plastic bottles were never created. Other brands like Origins, & Other Stories and Kiehl’s offer a reward system when customers return their empty plastic bottles. Then there are totally new brands like DAME, which produces the world’s first reusable tampon applicator to reduce the 10 billion single-use plastic applicators that are discarded every year.
So next time you unwrap your latest beauty haul, spare a thought for our oceans and remember, if you can’t reuse it, refuse it.
Find out more about the effect that plastic is having on the environment and the eco-friendly beauty products that are blazing the trail.