Sustainability in the beauty industry is a hot topic (heating up, hopefully, faster than the planet is (I’m sorry, were you not prepared for puns?)).
At this point I imagine you’ve seen the stats, read the articles, maybe even watched the documentaries —so I’ll skip my intro to why Earth Is Doomed And We Need To Colonise Mars, and why Big Beauty has a lot to answer for. Actually, credit where it’s due, Big Beauty does get some points here. Large conglomerates have fat wallets which means they can put money towards environmental projects, which in turn puts resources and power into the hands of sustainability experts. Of course, smaller brands tend to be better at directly making sustainable changes themselves instead of relying on carbon offset schemes, and a lot of them make sustainable living their focus. (I’ll avoid calling anyone a “green” beauty brand because I still don’t know if that’s green for natural ingredients (don’t get me started, or do) or green for eco-friendly, which aren’t the same thing.)
“Plastic-free” is a popular claim for eco brands who, curiously, tend not to mention if they’re also using renewable energy providers (fairly easy) or evaluating the full environmental impact of their supply chains (fairly difficult). Plastic is so demonised that most of us don’t blink when brands say they’re using glass and metal because it’s better for the environment— but as with most things in life, it’s not that simple.
Glass, metal and plastic all come from limited natural resources. Of the three, glass has the highest carbon footprint, largely because it’s so heavy to transport (ever tried going on holiday with a skincare routine all in glass?), while aluminium is lightweight but produced with hazardous waste material, which has to end up somewhere. Plastic — well, we already know. Plastic became such an unavoidable part of our lives because it’s a great material for making things — it’s waterproof, lightweight, and generally pretty durable (I thank the skincare deities I’ve never smashed a cleansing balm jar on the bathroom floor), which also means it doesn’t need maintenance or replacement as much as other materials. But when we toss plastic out, it’s only recyclable a few times, probably gets exported to other countries for processing, and might end up inside a whale.