The global cosmetics industry creates over 120 billion units of packaging annually—and most of it isn't recyclable. Because trying new creams, serums, and sprays is part of my job as a beauty writer, I'm constantly seeing how unsustainable these products are, including the boxes they're shipped in and the product containers themselves.
This Earth Month, I made a pledge to try and make my beauty routine as sustainable as possible—but the first step was figuring out what changes I needed to make. To get started, I spent two weeks tracking my beauty waste. I realized that my waste falls into three main categories: mail packaging, single-use products, and empty containers. Breaking things down in this way has made it a lot easier for me to wrap my mind around the ways I can make my routine more sustainable. Read on for what I learned.
@wellandgood Follow along as a Well+Good beauty writer explores the personal steps that will work to keep their home healthy. #sustainability #wastenot #earth ♬ Traveling - Kush Mody
1. Managing mail packaging
Any time I'm out of town for more than a week, I come home to a mound of packages bigger than any Christmas I've ever had. It's equally as exciting as it is overwhelming because the waste this creates adds up quickly. Most of these contain boxes within boxes: the generic shipping-company box, then a pretty brand box, then tiny boxes with individual products. Sometimes, brands send these really elaborate packages that mean a single serum is shipped in a box big enough to house a pair of knee-high boots. And then there's the bubble wrap, packing peanuts, and paper confetti.
I recycle all of my boxes and know cardboard is something that's actually quite easy to dispose of sustainably, so I'm not overly concerned about the volume of boxes. But, there are definitely a few things that I wish were different about the packages I receive. First up is all the extras. Whether it be bubble wrap or metallic packing grass, there are some things that just can't be recycled, and I wish my mail was 100 percent plastic-free. Plus, nothing grinds my gears more than getting a box that's way bigger than the item inside, which happens quite often. Simply put, it's unnecessary.
On the left is a tiny product that came in a very large box. The right shows an appropriate-sized, well-packed box.
2. Taking stock of single-use products
Something I became hyper-aware of during this process is how many things I throw away during my daily routine. I've used reusable facial pads in lieu of cotton balls for years, so I thought I was doing well. But then I started to think about things like Q-tips, tissues, and alcohol pads. One thing I'm not about to do is invest in reusable Q-tips or blow my nose in reusable tissues, but I would still love to explore more sustainable options.
I've realized that my biggest issue is individually packaged alcohol pads— I use them a lot more than I'd realized. For example, I always use one to sanitize my beauty tech tools like microcurrent devices or LED light masks after every use. Plus, I do my own gel manicures every two to three weeks and use a few pads during that process. They come in paper envelopes lined with plastic, so I'm interested in finding a solution to cut down on this.
Although I don't go through them super quickly, I'd also love to find a sustainable solution to my makeup sponges. I end up getting a new one every two to three months and would love to find a less wasteful option.
3. Figuring out how to handle product containers
The hard thing about product containers is that they're often made of a mix of different types of plastic and metals, which makes them impossible to be recycled through municipal centers. I'm currently looking at a serum that comes in a glass bottle with a plastic pump and lid. The glass is likely recyclable, but only if I separate it from the pump and lid and rinse it out before putting it in the bin. The pump is likely just trash. Brands are working to make their packaging less complicated and more easily recyclable, but there's still a long way to go.
I end up with a lot of container waste, whether it be empty containers or products I used a few times and then realized I didn't like. I have a stockpile of empties in my closet that I've been holding on to because I know there are recycling options but I haven't actually done the research yet. I also need to figure out solutions for the products I've used but don't like. In some cases, I can gift them to friends. But sourcing a friend for every product I don't like is overwhelming, and I know there has to be a better solution.
As I go through this process, I'm very aware that I'm not going to save the world by making my beauty routine more sustainable. Most of the changes I'm looking to make won't make that mind-blowing of a difference. But, it's still something I'm committed to doing. I know that by being more mindful, I can make my beauty routine more sustainable, which is a step in the right direction.
The next step? Chatting with sustainability expert Jhánneu Roberts for her tips on how to make real changes in my regimen. Stay tuned to see what we come up with.
Ways to make your home more sustainable:
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