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Plastic 101: Microplastics and Pollution

Plastic has become a constant element in our lives, with billions of plastic items being created and briefly used daily. Our reliance on plastic has started the course of mass pollution, leading to an array of planetary issues; but the path we are currently on isn’t irreversible. Small, simple changes in our lifestyle can make leaps toward righting the ship, cleaning our oceans, and saving our planet.

With an estimated 11 million metric tons of plastic ending up in our oceans annually, it’s important to know the “what, why, and how” of plastics so we can help each other lessen the impact we make. In this blog, we’ll discuss how plastic is made, the problem with microplastics, and tips for those who want to use less plastic, along with casting a spotlight on plastic-free brands with excellent products to make going zero-waste easier than ever.

How is Plastic Made?

To make plastic, scientists must take base materials, such as crude oil, and transform them with additives, heat, manipulation, and time into a workable polymer. Though the main component of most of these plastics is crude oil, other materials, such as salt, cellulose, natural gas, and coal are also sometimes used.1

Process of Plastic from Crude Oil

Pictured: The processing of plastic from crude oil   Source: Plastic Collectors

The base ingredients are refined during the plastic-making process into ethane and propane, which are heated in a process known as “cracking” until they transform into the monomers ethylene and propylene. As monomers, ethylene and propylene can then be converted into subsequent polymers via a catalyst.2

Transforming ethylene and propylene into polymers can release toxic emissions into the air and may include potentially dangerous chemical compounds like benzene, ethylene oxide, ethylbenzene, and nickel.3 

Two primary plastics come out of the plastic-making process: thermoplastics, which can be melted, cooled, and molded until they harden, and thermosets, which are not meltable once they have been cooled. Examples of thermosets are epoxy, polyurethane, silicone, and phenolic, while common examples of thermoplastics include acrylic, polyester, polypropylene, polystyrene, nylon, and Teflon.4

Thermoplastics vs. Thermosets

Pictured: Thermoplastics vs. thermosets   Source: Buzzle 

Despite popular belief, not all plastics are recyclable. The bulk of plastic recycling is downcycling, meaning plastic degrades with each turn through the recycling process. During this process, though, most thermoplastics break down into microplastics, which can cause an abundance of planetary and health issues.

For a more in-depth look at the plastic-making process, click here

The Problem With Microplastics

Microplastics, as the name implies, are tiny plastic particles. Officially, they are defined as plastics less than 0.2 inches in diameter, which is smaller than a standard pearl. There are two categories of microplastics known as primary and secondary.

Primary microplastics are tiny particles designed for commercial use, such as microfibers shed from clothing and other textiles. Secondary microplastics are particles that result from the breakdown of larger plastic items like water bottles. This breakdown is caused by exposure to environmental factors like the sun’s radiation and ocean waves.6

Primary and Secondary Microplastics

Pictured: Primary and secondary microplastics    Source: The European Food Education Council

The problem with microplastics is that they don’t readily break down into harmless molecules. In fact, microplastics have been detected in marine organisms and our drinking water; standard water treatment facilities cannot remove all traces of microplastics. To further complicate matters, microplastics in the ocean can bind with other harmful chemicals before being ingested by marine organisms.7, 8

Many countries are taking action to reduce microplastics in the environment. A 2017 United Nations resolution discussed microplastics and the need for regulations to reduce this hazard.9 Additionally, going into 2022, the California Ocean Protection Council approved the first comprehensive microplastics strategy in the nation, which identifies early actions and research priorities to reduce microplastic pollution in California’s marine environment.

Plastic Stats and Facts

Undoubtedly, plastics have helped make a number of commodities more affordable, adding vitality to many economies, but the world’s plastic appreciation has turned into a reliance that’s damaging our planet. Here are a few interesting plastic stats and facts to take note of:

  • Nearly 380 million metric tons of plastic waste are produced yearly, which is equivalent to the weight of the human population.
  • Plastic waste is growing at an annual rate of 9%.
  • The US is the world’s top generator of plastic waste.
  • Around 70,000 microplastics are consumed by an average person each year.
  • One million marine animals die due to plastic pollution every year.
  • 75% of all plastic produced has become waste.
  • It takes around 500 to 1,000 years for plastics to decompose.
  • 73% of all litter on beaches worldwide is plastic.
  • About 91% of plastic is not recycled.10

Tips to Help You Use Less Plastic in Your Everyday Life

When we read about the scale of plastic waste in our landfills and oceans, it’s tempting to feel overwhelmed and question whether anything we can personally do would make a difference. However, the truth is that even the smallest changes of habit, accumulated over time, add up to a massive difference. Here are our top six tips for living with less plastic:

  • Try using a reusable produce bag, such as these from Purifyou, as a single plastic bag can take nearly 1,000 years to degrade. 
  • Try to avoid using plastic straws and instead purchase reusable stainless steel or bamboo ones. You can also try compostable straws like the EQUO Grass Straws.
  • Grab your own reusable water bottle, considering that plastic bottles are one of the most common sources of plastic pollution, and are frequently found on beach cleans globally. The Tree Tribe Stainless Steel Water Bottle, for example, is insulated, indestructible, and eco-friendly.
  • Composting is a great way to reduce your waste overall. When you throw away less food, you’ll use fewer plastic garbage bags and storage dishes. Check out this beginner’s guide to composting for tips, tricks, and an easy how-to.
  • You can reduce plastic waste by eliminating plastic bottles of body wash each month. Instead, try switching to soap bars wrapped in paper or cardboard, like these from ECO Amenities, for an easy zero-waste swap. 
  • Disposable plastic razors are not typically recyclable and therefore sit in landfills without ever completely decomposing. The good news is that there are plastic-free options, such as these from Preserve POPi.  

Plastic-Free Brands to Take Note Of

We all face slightly different obstacles when it comes to going zero-waste. Maybe you find it hard to kick the habit of getting your caffeine fix in a takeaway coffee cup? Or perhaps you tend to end up with excess food that finds its way into the trash? These plastic-free brands provide sustainable solutions to help you succeed on your zero-waste journey:

KeepCup

When siblings Abigail and Jamie Forsyth started a café business in Melbourne in 1998, disposable cups were being introduced into the public landscape; but as their business grew, so did their concerns about the volume of packaging being consumed, particularly disposable cups as they were lined with polyethylene and non-recyclable.

The first KeepCups were sold to in 2009 at an independent design market. People recognized KeepCup as the solution to single-use packaging and the volume of waste entering the environment. KeepCups are now used in more than 75 countries around the world and have been named a B-Corp company.

The KeepCup Reusable Tempered Glass Coffee Cup

The KeepCup Reusable Tempered Glass Coffee Cup

Made from durable tempered glass with a recovered corn band manufactured from agricultural waste in Portugal, the KeepCup Reusable Coffee Cup is designed to enjoy coffee’s craft and sensory pleasure on the go. It’s easy to pour with a press-fit sipper lid that can be removed.

To shop the KeepCup Reusable Tempered Glass Coffee Cup, click here

David’s 

After seeking out healthier alternatives for the everyday bathroom staple, Eric David Buss set out to create his line of premium, natural toothpaste made without fluoride, sulfates, artificial flavors, or preservatives. Instead, David’s toothpaste is formulated with locally-sourced, naturally-derived ingredients that safely and effectively keep your teeth healthy.

David’s, an EWG-Verified and Leaping Bunny Certified brand, is dedicated to sustainability and giving you an excellent toothbrushing experience. The brand’s toothpaste packaging comes in a recyclable metal tube that’s FSC certified. Additionally, its products are fluoride-free due to health concerns surrounding the ingredient.

David’s Natural Whitening Toothpaste

David's Natural Whitening ToothpasteDavid’s Toothpaste has eliminated many common toothpaste chemicals and replaced them with healthier high-performance ingredients to create a premium toothpaste that effectively removes plaque and naturally whitens and freshens breath. In addition, this product is formulated to restore a healthy PH balance and support your mouth’s natural oral microbiome.

To shop David’s Natural Whitening Toothpaste, click here

Pela Case

Pela Case began with Jeremy Lang, its founder, seeing firsthand the damage plastic was doing to our oceans while on a family vacation in Hawaii in 2008. Jeremy spent years experimenting with new materials to try and find an alternative to plastic that could be used in everyday products.

Pela Case has designed the world’s first 100% compostable phone case. Once they nailed down phone cases, they added AirPod cases, smartwatch bands, and other accessories. At the end of its life, no matter how short or long, you can toss your Pela accessory into the compost, and it will return to the earth. 

The Pela Phone Case for iPhone

Pela Phone CasePela cases are made from flax plants, which provide great protection from drops and scratches, as the flax creates a natural shock absorption. Additionally, when you no longer need your case, you can compost it or send it back to Pela, and the brand will turn it into a new Pela product. Pela also makes cases with cute designs to meet everything aesthetic.

To shop the Pela Phone Case for iPhone, click here

Suds & Co.

Suds & Co. carries all-natural shampoo and conditioner bars and accessories. A 3.5 oz Suds & Co.bar is equivalent to at least two plastic 16 oz shampoo bottles, and with several different types of scents and bars, you’ll be able to find one that works best for you.

Beautifully boxed with the minimalist in mind, each bar comes completely packaged in biodegradable and compostable materials. The brand has been featured in Buzzfeed, Going Zero Waste, Yahoo Lifestyle, and Health Magazine. 

Suds & Co. Solid Shampoo Bar

Suds & Co Solid Shampoo BarSuds & Co.’s shampoo bar hydrates all hair types with nutrient-rich ingredients, such as hemp seed oil and jojoba oil. The bars are always free from parabens, dyes, synthetic fragrance, SLS and GMOs; each bar delivers botanical nutrition to maximize hair’s growth, strength, and shine. 

To shop the Suds & Co. Solid Shampoo Bar, click herWe

Humanist Beauty Is Committed to Zero-Waste and Responsible, Plastic-Free Packaging

At Humanist Beauty, we believe that beauty should live forever – not its packaging, which is why we use the most environmentally conscientious packaging options we can. We’ve also committed to becoming a zero-waste brand through the help of TerraCycle’s Zero Waste Box platform.

Most of Humanist Beauty’s packaging is made of glass and paperboard, which is recyclable. We only use post-consumer recycled paper-based packaging for our shipping materials with no plastic void fill or tape. Humanist Beauty also minimizes the use of virgin plastic while seeking to avoid virgin plastic componentry further as we grow.

To participate in our TerraCycle partnership, you can send us your bottles, tubes, and makeup palettes. The packaging doesn’t have to be from Humanist Beauty; it can be from any brand. We’ll even pay and provide your postage to make sending your empty packaging to us easy and seamless. Once we receive your packing, we’ll hand it to TerraCycle to be broken down, recycled, or repurposed.

To learn more about our pledge to go zero-waste, click here

Which tip mentioned above will you employ to reduce your plastic usage? Let us know in the comments!

 

References

https://plasticseurope.org/plastics-explained/how-plastics-are-made/#:~:text=Plastics%20are%20made%20from%20natural,%2C%20of%20course%2C%20crude%20oil. [1]

https://www.britannica.com/science/ethylene-propylene-copolymer [2]

https://www.aiche.org/resources/publications/cep/2015/september/making-plastics-monomer-polymer [3]

https://www.woodlandplastics.com/understanding-thermoset-plastics.html [4]

https://romeorim.com/thermoset-vs-thermoplastics/#:~:text=Common%20examples%20of%20thermoplastics%20include,to%20carpets%20and%20laboratory%20equipment. [5]

https://www.plymouth.ac.uk/discover/are-microplastics-a-big-problem#:~:text=Microplastics%20are%20of%20concern%20because,small%20invertebrates%20to%20large%20mammals. [6][7][8]

https://news.un.org/en/story/2017/02/552052-turn-tide-plastic-urges-un-microplastics-seas-now-outnumber-stars-our-galaxy [9]

https://seedscientific.com/plastic-waste-statistics/ [10]

Single-Use Items Need to Go

The convenience of single-use items comes with a massive environmental cost. Unknowingly, your day is probably filled with single-use items that will eventually fill landfills and the ocean. The disposable coffee cups you grab in the morning from your local shop are made with hard-to-recycle materials such as styrofoam, polyethylene, or polypropylene. And the plastic straws? They’re just as dreadful for the environment.

We are producing over 380 tons of plastic every year, and it’s estimated that 50% of that is for single-use purposes.1 However, other materials besides plastic, such as paper, cardboard, styrofoam, and more, are just as bad. It’s time to become more aware of these materials and the single-use items we use regularly. That way, we will help to create a more circular economy for a far more sustainable future.

The Truth Behind Single-Use Plastic Items

Around 40% of single-use plastics are consumed and then discarded.2 Additionally, between 5 and 13 million tons of plastic is estimated to end up in the ocean every year. Single-use plastics need hundreds of years to break down in landfills. Disposable plastic items, such as plastic straws, coffee stirrers, food packaging, bags, and water bottles, never break down completely.3 Instead, they degrade and become microplastics. Plastic has an abundance of negative effects on the environment:

Wildlife Is Suffering

Every year, animals are killed by plastic. Approximately 700 species, even some that are endangered, have been affected by the material.4 Also, more than 100 aquatic species have been found with microplastics inside them, which can lead to pierced organs or digestive tract issues that can potentially lead to death.

Many seabirds, turtles, fish, and marine mammals are found with plastic bags or fishing gear in their stomachs. Currently, marine litter is 60% to 80% plastic, leaving these animals to constantly be ingesting toxic seawater that is full of chemicals from plastic decomposition.5

Our Oceans Are Full of Trash

The oceans are filled with trash, especially single-use plastic items. Our throw-away lifestyle is negatively affecting almost all areas of our ecosystem, especially the ocean.

Every year, 8 million tons of plastic enter the ocean, which is equivalent to one truckload dumped into the ocean every minute of the day. Currently, unless it’s burned, almost every piece of plastic that’s ever been created still exists today. When these plastics enter the ocean, their effects can be felt for centuries.6

The Pacific Trash Vortex, which is in the North Pacific Ocean, holds an exceptionally high concentration of single-use plastics that have been trapped by currents. It is estimated to be twice the size of Texas, and according to research, its contents are rapidly accumulating.

A map of the plastic trash vortex

The Span of the Pacific Trash Vortex. Source: Wikipedia

Greenhouse Gas Emissions Are No Joke

When disposable plastics degrade in the environment, they emit greenhouse gasses. After the plastic is exposed to sunlight, it produces methane and ethylene. These two gasses are detrimental to the environment. It is reported that emissions from the life cycle of plastic accounts for 3.8% of global greenhouse gas emissions.7 Once released, these gasses can be toxic and have adverse effects on the animal and plant habitat.

It is estimated that in 2050, carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from plastic could grow to more than 2.75 billion tons. Additionally, this also means that plastic will be responsible for up to 13% of the total “carbon budget,” which is equivalent to 615 coal-fired power plants.8 The plastic binge we’ve been on is threatening the Paris Agreement, which is a legally binding international treaty on climate change.

Source: WWF

Other Harmful Single-Use Materials

Single-use items aren’t always packaged in plastic. There is a multitude of other unsustainable materials that are also heavily used and just as detrimental to the environment. A few of these materials that you likely come across daily are:

  • Cardboard: Think about how many boxes you receive on your doorstep step every month. It’s probably more cardboard than you think. Cardboard comes from wood pulp, which contributes to methane emissions while breaking down.9 Plus, imagine all of the trees cut down to create cardboard. Additionally, those juice, milk, soup and other liquid-filled cardboard packages we buy are lined with plastic or wax. This helps them retain the liquid without breaking down, but unfortunately renders the packages unrecyclable.
  • Paper: A paper bag takes 4 times the amount of energy to produce than a plastic one. Also, the energy required for paper is significantly greater than that needed to recycle the same weight of plastic.
  • Styrofoam: Styrofoam is a trademarked brand name that has come to refer to the material made from expanded polystyrene foam (EPS) or plastic foam. Styrofoam doesn’t break down properly, as it takes around 500 years to decompose.10
  • Aluminum Foil: Many food products and face masks are packaged using aluminum foil. Clean aluminum foil can be recycled, however much of the foil packaging that is used for personal care tubes, wipes, sheet masks, frozen foods, snacks, and coffee is multilayered with plastic fused to the aluminum. Some packaging is made of up to seven layers of plastic and foil. Currently, there is no machinery to separate these layers, so it becomes completely unrecyclable.
  • Glass: While glass includes some natural materials, it also requires sand. Unfortunately, we are running out of sand around the world. When these elements are removed from wildlife habitats, ecosystems can be disrupted. Glass production also releases carbon into the atmosphere.11

A chart showing the top countries that consume single-use plastic. China is #1, the US is #2. Other countries are far below.

Source: Financial Times

What Are The Most Offending Single-Use Items?

Avoiding extra waste is key to reversing the environmental crisis we are currently facing. It is hard to avoid single-use items these days; however, many companies are creating innovative alternatives. By becoming aware of the negative impacts of single-use packaging and how commonly we succumb to them, the change can begin.

Here are a few of the worst offending single-use items and their alternatives:

Plastic Water Bottles

Did you know that around 25% of bottled water is actually just tap water?12 80% of plastic water bottles end up in landfills. And for each bottle, it takes 1,000 years to fully break down. As they decompose, they leak harmful chemicals into the atmosphere.

Alternatives: Opt for a reusable water bottle and invest in a tap filter at home or a filtering jug. Check out this reusable water bottle that is made out of 50% recycled material!

Paper Coffee Cups

Each paper cup, taking into account the paper, the sleeve, the production, and shipping, emits around 0.11 kilograms of CO2.13 Additionally, paper cup production results in ecosystem degradation, a reduction of the planet’s carbon absorption capacity, and the loss of trees. 4 billion gallons of water are wasted every year to produce single-use cups and enough energy to power 54,000 homes.14

Alternatives: Bring your own reusable travel mug to your favorite coffee shop in the mornings. Here’s one that is insulated and has a handle so the barista can pour your drink of choice with ease.

Disposable Utensils

It is estimated that in the United States alone, 40 billion plastic utensils are wasted every year. Plastic utensils, even when put in the recycling bin, don’t often get recycled because of food contamination and incompatibility with sorting equipment due to their small size and light weight.15

The #CutOutCutlery campaign is asking many businesses, such as Grubhub, Postmates, and UberEats, to include an option on apps for customers to decide if they want utensils included with their delivery. This would make opting out of disposable utensils the default choice.

Alternatives: There are lots of biodegradable utensils available, such as this set that’s made out of 100% untreated bamboo that’s cultivated without pesticides and fertilizers. The utensils are also BPA-free and recyclable.

Menstrual Products

Around 20 billion tampons and pads are dumped into the landfill every year. Conventional pads contain the equivalent of about four plastic bags! Additionally, the polyethylene plastic in pads can take hundreds of years to decompose.16

Alternatives: Invest in reusable pads. Try grabbing some from Rael, which is a great mission-driven brand. You can also try a menstrual cup from DivaCup if you aren’t a fan of pads.

Plastic Straws

You’ve probably seen the viral video of the sea turtle that had a plastic straw stuck in its nose. It was horrible to see, but it probably made you rethink using plastic straws. As it is, 500 million straws are used daily in the United States.17 Due to the chemicals that most straws are made of, they can’t be recycled. Additionally, the majority of plastic straws are not biodegradable and cannot be broken down naturally by bacteria and other decomposers into non-toxic materials.

Alternatives: FinalStraw created an innovative alternative to plastic straws by making a reusable silicone and stainless steel hybrid straw. It also collapses to make keeping it on hand easier.

Tips to Avoid Single-Use Items

Making simple swaps, like purchasing a reusable water bottle, coffee container, or straw, can spare the environment tons of unsustainable waste each year. Here are a few tips for ridding your life of single-use items for good:

  • Always have reusable bags on hand, especially for grocery shopping.
  • Cook at home more often to avoid plastic take-out containers.
  • Buy in bulk to keep away from individually packaged items.
  • Walk, bike, or take public transportation to buy items and avoid unnecessary packaging used during shipping.
  • Ask for non-plastic alternatives at restaurants.
  • Avoid plastic wrap by using reusable containers to keep your food fresh.
  • Speak out and let companies know that you care about packaging!

We’ve Signed the #StopSingleUse Petition

The Human Beauty Movement and Humanist Beauty have had the last straw. We’ve signed the #StopSingleUse petition and pledged to not sell or distribute any items that are used once and thrown away, such as sheet masks, pads, wipes, sample packets, and other single-use products. We are very aware of how single-use items negatively impact the environment and are actively striving for a cleaner, more sustainable planet.

Join us and Credo Beauty, the creator of the petition, to get rid of the items we use for minutes and then toss in the trash. Sign your name here to show your support.

https://www.google.com/search?q=how+many+plastics+are+used+yearly+for+products&rlz=1CAZLOS_enUS930&oq=how+many+plastics+are+used+yearly+for+products&aqs=chrome..69i57j33i160.10495j1j4&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8 [1]

https://www.wwf.org.au/news/blogs/10-worst-single-use-plastics-and-eco-friendly-alternatives#gs.3q5ser [2]

https://www.columbiatribune.com/news/20190107/ask-scientist-why-is-it-so-hard-to-decompose-plastic#:~:text=Most%20plastics%20in%20use%20today,bacteria%20cannot%20break%20them%20down. [3]

https://cbmjournal.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13021-018-0115-3 [3]

https://www.biologicaldiversity.org/campaigns/ocean_plastics/ [4]

https://plastic-pollution.org/ [5]

https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2018/11/chart-of-the-day-this-is-how-long-everyday-plastic-items-last-in-the-ocean/ [6]

https://theconversation.com/plastic-warms-the-planet-twice-as-much-as-aviation-heres-how-to-make-it-climate-friendly-116376 [7]

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/may/15/single-use-plastics-a-serious-climate-change-hazard-study-warns [8]

https://cbmjournal.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13021-018-0115-3 [9]

https://sciencing.com/facts-about-landfill-styrofoam-5176735.html#:~:text=According%20to%20Washington%20University%2C%20Styrofoam,major%20ecological%20impact%20is%20great. [10]

https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/17583004.2018.1457929?journalCode=tcmt20#:~:text=Glass%20is%20one%20of%20the,large%20quantity%20of%20CO2%20emissions.&text=CO2%20emissions%20from%20fossil%20fuel,potential%20exists%20for%20emission%20reduction. [11]

https://www.nrdc.org/stories/truth-about-tap#:~:text=In%20fact%2C%20an%20estimated%2025,be%20relatively%20clean%20and%20pure. [12]

https://ourworld.unu.edu/en/storm-in-a-paper-cup#:~:text=According%20to%20one%20study%20on,about%200.11%20kilograms%20of%20CO2. [13]

https://ourworld.unu.edu/en/storm-in-a-paper-cup#:~:text=According%20to%20one%20study%20on,about%200.11%20kilograms%20of%20CO2. [14]

https://www.forbes.com/sites/lauratenenbaum/2019/07/16/plastic-cutlery-is-terrible-for-the-environment-and-we-dont-need-to-have-it-delivered/#:~:text=Some%20estimates%20put%20the%20number,put%20it%20in%20the%20recycling. [15]

https://friendsoftheearth.uk/sustainable-living/plastic-periods-menstrual-products-and-plastic-pollution#:~:text=One%20estimate%20is%20that%20pads,)%20and%20polypropylene%20(PP)  [16]

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07MGVXFWJ?tag=dotdashtreehu-20&linkCode=ogi&th=1&psc=1&ascsubtag=5087056%7Cn057b7a156a374946b49aa4bf9af0226522 [17]

Beauty Waste and Eco Buzzwords

The beauty industry generates up to $532 billion in revenue every year, but this demand comes with a massive environmental impact. With more than 120 billion units of packaging produced globally, only 9% of those products produced are recycled, 12% are incinerated, and the remaining 79% end up in landfills.1 Additionally, many of the 120 billion units are not recyclable at all.

Our ocean is becoming a sea of trash with plastic bottles, grocery bags, lipstick tubes, and powder compacts floating within the waves. Data has proven that by the middle of this century, the ocean will contain more plastic by weight than fish.2 However, many organizations within the beauty industry are becoming more conscious in terms of product packaging, sustainability, and misleading buzzwords, such as Allure and yours truly, Humanist Beauty. By becoming aware of beauty waste’s impact on the environment, you’ll see why joining the packaging revolution is necessary.

Beauty Waste Isn’t Pretty

Since 1960, plastic packaging is now used 20 times more often. 7.9 billion units of rigid plastic were used for beauty and personal care products in the United States in 2018.3 According to National Geographic, there are over five trillion pieces of plastic in our oceans. These are astounding numbers, proving that we aren’t recycling beauty products as much as we think.

In the past, many beauty and personal care products weren’t made with plastic. Soaps came as a bar, perfume was packaged in luxurious glass bottles, and hair care products were usually a pomade or powder in a tin. So why does the beauty industry rely so heavily on plastic today? The answer is simple: the plastic explosion of the mid-20th century.

During this time, the beauty industry switched its packaging methods to plastic. This is due to plastic being cheaper and easily moldable, while also being light and sturdy. Additionally, many products had to be created for different conditions. For example, soap and hair-care products began being sold in bottles so they would float to the surface of the water in bathtubs or rivers. 4

Microplastics

Microplastics, which are tiny globules, are used to add grit to beauty and self-care products, like exfoliators, toothpaste, and even glitter for extra shine. Essentially, microplastics are made of many plastic particles that are smaller than five millimeters in diameter.

Water filters are not designed to sift elements that are smaller than five millimeters. This is why microplastic particles are contaminating our oceans and being consumed by birds and marine wildlife. Humans are no exception to the microplastics issue, though, since particles have been found in water bottles. Consuming microplastics can eventually lead to cancer.5

The United States banned microbeads with the Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015. However, many manufacturers have found loopholes in the ruling by changing their plastic particles to biodegradable plastic. While biodegradable plastic is more environmentally friendly because of its faster natural breakdown, the particles still end up getting consumed by animals.

Here are a few natural alternatives to microplastics:

  • Ground Fruit Kernels
  • Nuts
  • Honey
  • Sand
  • Beeswax
  • Seeds
  • Sugar
  • Oatmeal
  • Ground Coffee
  • Salt

Excess Packaging

Packaging is the number one contributor to plastic production in the world and offender for plastic waste pollution.6 Additionally, research has found that packaging accounted for 146 million tons of plastic every year.

Plastic is not the only waste that’s created by the beauty industry. Cellophane, cardboard, and paper waste are also problematic. For example, paper boxes used as outer packages for toothpaste and large cream jars – items that have space for legal copy and don’t require another layer of protective material – contribute to deforestation, increased water consumption, and CO2 emissions.7

While many beauty and self-care products come in glitzy and luxurious boxes, the fact of the matter is that it’s just not necessary. Cutting out waste pollution is crucial, and the extra packaging needs to go.

Recycling Plastic Products

Plastic packaging that is necessary should always be reusable, recyclable, and compostable. Necessary plastics are containers that could potentially be dangerous to our health and safety. For example, plastic is used in shower packaging because glass bottles (with their tendency to break when dropped) are not practical.

By making sure packaging can be recycled responsibly, our environment will move towards a more circular economy, which is a way for us to imitate the cycles of nature by making something, using it, and reintroducing it into nature as a nutrient or something else. The loop of a circular economy entails the elimination of waste, regeneration of natural systems, and keeping materials and products in use.

TerraCycle, an American recycling company that recycles products like coffee pods, contact lenses, and other types of waste, is tackling the recycling issue from many angles. The company recognizes that almost everything can be recycled. TerraCycle collects typically hard-to-recycle items through natural, first-of-their-kind programs. Many beauty brands, such as Garnier, Colgate, Weleda, and now, Humanist Beauty, have worked with TerraCycle to offer a free recycling program for beauty waste.

How You Can Help Cut Down Waste Pollution

Cutting down the beauty industry’s waste production will take time, but there are a few things you can do to aid in the quest for a healthier environment:

  • Avoid buying or using single-use items, and consider the life cycle of your purchase.
  • Choose products that have reusable and recyclable packaging. Also, take advantage of refill and recycling initiatives.
  • Read ingredient labels to see if they contain any enviro-damaging material in the form of microbeads or glitter (look for polyethylene or polyurethane). If they do, don’t buy them.
  • Replace short life cycle items, such as plastic shower sponges, for more natural options like plant-based loofahs.
  • Use all of a product before buying more.
  • Download the Beat the Microbead app to check your products at home.

Allure’s Sustainability Pledge

On Earth Day, Allure affirmed their commitment to choosing their words with clarity and certainty when reporting on “sustainable” packaging. Allure addressed that many significant strides are being made to eliminate beauty waste; however, there is more that needs to be done to fully understand the realities and impacts of beauty waste on the planet.

Allure will now be more conscious when it comes to sustainability buzzwords that they’ll no longer employ, or will only use with careful consideration of qualifications. Here is its pledge further in-depth:

  • Allure will no longer mention the word “recyclable” when it comes to any type of plastic. Considering that only 9% of plastic waste has ever been turned into something that can be used again, it’s obvious that the term “recycling” isn’t being utilized correctly. Using less plastic is the only way to solve the problem.
  • What does “green” mean? Who knows. Allure won’t use the word “green” unless it’s describing something verdant in color.
  • Allure will only use the word “biodegradable” with vast specifics. The word is defined as “of a substance or object that’s capable of being decomposed by bacteria or other living organisms. However, most plastics are stable in landfills, due to petroleum being processed into plastic thus making them no longer biodegradable. Additionally, most landfills don’t have enough oxygen to break down the plastics.
  • The word “compostable” will only be used by Allure when describing a product that can be broken down by a residential composter. Additionally, the product must be broken down in around 90 days with zero soil toxicity. Many composting programs divert organic material into valuable products, but only 4% of Americans have access to curbside pickup to transport their compost. According to TerraCycle, only 10% of industrial facilities accept compostable plastics.
  • Allure recognizes the term “zero-waste” as being undefined, so they will no longer use the word. Instead, they will consult with the brand to explain exactly what “zero-waste” means.
  • Unless a product doesn’t exist, Allure promises to never describe a product as being “Earth-friendly.” This also goes for the terms “eco-friendly” and “planet-friendly.”

Humanist Beauty applauds Allure’s buzzword revolution. Allure’s pledge is clear, concise, and adequately evaluates all the problems with wrongful descriptors that are severely overused and lack truth.

Humanist Beauty’s Circular Movement and Zero Waste Program

At Humanist Beauty, we believe that beauty should live endlessly, but not its packaging. While we don’t call our product or packaging zero-waste, we do strive to use the most environmentally conscientious packaging options possible:

  • The majority of Humanist Beauty’s packaging is made from glass and paperboard, which is recyclable.
  • We use post-consumer recycled paper-based packaging for our shipping materials with no plastic void fill or tape.
  • Humanist Beauty minimizes the use of virgin plastic while seeking to further avoid virgin plastic componentry as we grow.

Humanist Beauty praises Allure’s assurances and will also spread the knowledge with our own Zero Waste Program that is in conjunction with the TerraCycle Zero Waste Box.

Send us your beauty boxes, bottles, jars, tubes and makeup palettes. The packaging doesn’t even have to be from Humanist Beauty, it can be from any beauty brand. We’ll even pay and provide your postage to make sending your empty beauty packaging to us easy and seamless. Once we receive your packaging, we’ll hand it over to TerraCycle to be broken down and recycled or repurposed.

Here are a few notes about the Zero Waste Program, because we promise to always be transparent:

  • As of right now, our Zero Waste Program is only accepting packages from 48 contiguous states.
  • Humanist Beauty is a small company, so right now we can only accommodate funding for a 1-pound package per customer per month.
  • If you’d like to pay for your postage if you have more than one pound of packaging, feel free to send it all to: Humanist Beauty x TerraCycle, 9400 Corbin Ave. #1065 Northridge, CA 91324.
  • We will keep this page updated with any further enhancements to our Zero Waste Program.

If you’re interested in sending us your packaging, you can fill out the form here to receive your prepaid return label. We are excited to take this step with you to help conserve our precious planet and its resources.

References:

https://www.beatthemicrobead.org/plastic-free-beauty-the-new-normal/ [1]

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2016/01/20/by-2050-there-will-be-more-plastic-than-fish-in-the-worlds-oceans-study-says/ [2]

https://www.allure.com/story/beauty-industry-packaging-waste [3]

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11059363/ [4]

https://www.treehugger.com/plastic-particles-are-raining-down-remote-areas-4855410 [5]

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/oct/30/us-and-uk-citizens-are-worlds-biggest-sources-of-plastic-waste-study#:~:text=The%20US%20and%20UK%20produce,plastic%20pollution%20in%20the%20oceans. [6]

http://www.gittemary.com/2020/03/how-sustainable-is-paper-cardboard.html [7]