6 Ways to Reduce the Plastic in Your Beauty Stash

These innovative brands are making it easy for you to become more environmentally responsible

These innovative brands are making it easy for you to become more environmentally responsible

We’re going to assume that you’re already aware of the impact of plastics on marine life: That every day, eight million pieces of plastic find their way into the oceans and ever year, 100,000 marine mammals and one million sea birds are killed by marine plastic pollution. Like us, you may even have seen the footage of the pregnant whale that was found with almost 50 pounds of plastic in its stomach.

You’re probably doing your very best to reduce your environmental impact by consuming thoughtfully, and recycling what you can, but when it comes to beauty, that can be challenging. You need to wash yourself and brush your teeth, so there’s only so much you can reduce your consumption, and often, beauty packaging is tough to recycle.

“The first issue is that it tends to be small. Small items of packaging, less than 2.5 inches in diameter will generally not be captured in recycling facilities,” explains Eva Cook, brand PR specialist at LUSH. “The other challenge is that cosmetics packaging can be made up of multiple kinds of materials that can’t be easily separated; for example, a metal component with glass and paper. Consider a lipstick or eyeshadow—the external plastic case may be recyclable but there may be another material that the product actually sits in and that can’t be separated in order for it to be recycled.”

On top of that, beauty products are mostly packaged in virgin plastic, made straight from petrochemicals, so recycling them is not really getting to the root of the sustainability problem.

“Being recyclable is a good start but no longer the endgame,” says Australian haircare brand founder Kevin Murphy. “Because of that, we are seeing a really positive shift to a more preventative mindset. Rather than simply producing packaging that can be popped into a recycle bin, companies are being challenged to get resourceful with the materials they use and consumer demand is what is driving this change.”

Here, five tips to help you be a more responsible beauty fan…


1. Lose your virginity

… when it comes to plastics, that is. It’s possible to make plastic from renewable materials, such as sugarcane, like British men’s skincare brand Bulldog Skincare does. “For every 100 tonnes of sugarcane plastic used in Bulldog tubes, 309 tonnes of CO2 is taken out of the environment,” says brand founder Simon Duffy.

There are also plenty of brands using non-virgin, post-consumer recycled plastic for their packaging, including massive producers like Unilever, which recently announced a commitment to 50 percent recycled content in its North American packaging.

Taking things to the next level are L’Oreal’s new Source Essentielle vegan haircare line, which is in 100 per cent recycled packaging, and Kevin Murphy’s entire range, which now comes in 100 per cent recycled packaging from ocean waste.

“This initiative is a reflection of the company’s unwavering values, and represents an urgent call to action to help protect our vast oceans and marine life,” says Murphy.

Both brands also package their products in square, not round bottles, which uses less plastic and packing materials, and takes up less shipping space so the overall carbon footprint is reduced. 


2. Have your fill

Buy pretty refillable bottles (Homesense always has good options) and then fill, refill and refill once more. Some brands make this easy—L’Oreal Source Essentielle bottles can be refilled directly at salons, while brands like Kjaer Weis and Elate Cosmetics allow you to purchase refills of their makeup. Elate’s packaging is also made from sustainable bamboo, and refills come in biodegradable seed paper.


3. Get naked

Brands like LUSH are cutting the waste by reducing overall packaging, or in some cases, cutting it completely. Around 40 percent of its range is packaging-free (the brand calls it ‘naked’ (all packaging is made from materials that are recycled, recyclable, reusable or compostable) and each new range over the past year has been offered in a naked version. LUSH even has zero-waste Naked shops in Milan, Berlin and Manchester, and is touring a bath-bomb pop-up in North America soon. Another great low-waste brand is Calgary’s Unwrapped Life, which also offers home products like laundry soap and dryer balls.


4. Go a little further

Now that you’ve considered the more obvious beauty products, it’s time to examine things a little harder. Simon Duffy says that in 1990 (the most recent data available), the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimated that two billion razors were thrown away each year in the US alone.

“Stats like this are why we wanted to ensure our new Original Bamboo Razor was as environmentally friendly as possible,” he says. It has a handle made from sustainable bamboo, and the packaging is recycled and printed with environmentally friendly ink. The brand is also vegan and cruelty-free international certified.

Victoria-based BamBrush is taking a similar approach with toothbrushes—it makes the handles from 100 percent biodegradable moso bamboo. The nylon bristles can be removed when you’re done with your toothbrush so the handle can be composted.

Then there are plastic bottles: Sure, water is a big part of your beauty regimen, but stats from Earthday.org suggest that by using a reusable bottle, you can save 156 plastic bottles a year. Brita’s dishwasher-safe Premium Filtering Water Bottle contains a filter, fits into most cup holders, and best of all, is completely leak-free.


5. Go all the way

For products that can’t be recycled through your domestic program, there’s TerraCycle. You can buy a zero-waste box from them and fill it with toothbrushes, lipsticks and pump bottles, or you can also check out their brand partnerships.

Brita customers can return filters and old water bottles or jugs to them for free. TerraCycle also facilitates a program for L’Occitane, where you can return packaging from any brand, of virtually any type, in store and receive 10 per cent off products. The Body Shop is about to launch a similar program, Return, Recycle, Repeat where those who bring five of the brand’s products receive a $10 voucher, and any other brand’s packaging can also be returned.

Meanwhile, LUSH runs its own recycling scheme: when you return five of the brand’s little black pots, you get a face mask in return. And with M.A.C’s Back to M.A.C program, you get a free lippie when you give back six pieces of packaging.


6. Tell them what you want

These days, virtually every brand is accessible on social media and via their websites, so and ask them about their sustainability and recycling efforts. The good ones are responsive, transparent, and will explain their policies to you. After that, decide which brands align with your own values—whatever they are—and spend your money there.