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Lesser Known Tips and Products to Shop More Ethically


1. Palm Oil = Deforestation & Exploitation

While binging a series of Skincare by Hyram YouTube videos, the skincare specialist who took social media by storm in the last few months, he mentioned in one of his videos the unethical practices behind palm oil. Palm oil, a type of vegetable oil, finds itself on the ingredient lists of most supermarket products from shampoo to chocolate. Many unethical practices emerge from the production of palm oil, starting with deforestation, most notably in Indonesia; the largest producer of palm oil. Palm plantations get built on the graves of burned down rainforests to plant oil palm trees in the necessary climate for them to grow. This results in big cat and primate species losing their habitat, leaving them vulnerable, or killed in the destruction of their home. The unethical practices behind palm oil do not stop at animals and the environment, as slavery also exists within the palm oil business.

You can find the statistics and facts of this reality here, where Amnesty International, an organization that raises awareness of human rights violations and campaigns per current laws and regulations, outlines the overworked and underpaid plantation farmers. The article also summaries the exploitation of children, discrimination against women, overworked, and poor working conditions. To avoid consuming palm oil, be sure to check product labels and ingredient lists to ensure you evade this component.

2. Polyethylene: A Fancy Word for Plastic

The first thing people learn in Ethical Consumption 101 is plastic, especially single-use, should get avoided as much as possible. While avoiding plastic straws and cups comes as an easy task, plastic seems to find a home almost everywhere. This rings true when it comes to beauty items where companies use the ingredient Polyethylene. While this microplastic lives in many products and the most commonly used plastic worldwide, many people do not consider this in the “Plastic is bad” conversation. In skincare, Polyethylene makes up microbeads used for exfoliating and smoothing of the user’s skin. Cosmetic products like mascara, also contain this ingredient because of its ability to increase the thickness of oils in cosmetics. Unlike other plastics, like straws and cups, microplastics can seem harder to avoid at first glance. 

Like with palm oil, checking the labels and ingredient lists will allow you to ensure that what you purchase does not contain Polyethylene. Most skincare lines, like Simple and Neutrogena, offer a variety of similar products (exfoliators, balms, etc.) without Polyethylene in them so consumers can avoid this ingredient. Cosmetics on the other hand can come as more difficult to avoid microplastics due to the beauty goals of different cosmetic products relying on microplastic properties (volumizing in mascara). Prefacing ingredients online can always guide you to a more environmentally friendly product, but sometimes finding a cost-friendly, environment-friendly cosmetic cannot be done. Luck for Mother Earth though, more companies recognize the need to properly dispose of things made up of plastic! The companies Terracycle and Garnier partnered to create a free recycling program with locations across the country for discarded skin, hair, and cosmetic packaging. You can find more information about Terracycle here

3. Single Use Make-Up Wipes & Cotton Pads

Single-use anything tends to harm the environment, and these products do not get exempted. Most makeup wipes do not get made with materials that allow them to get recycled for compostable due to their synthetic ingredients. Some beauty brands, such as Simple, do sell biodegradable makeup wipes but they still come in plastic packaging just like cotton pads. Like most makeup wipes on the market, cotton pads cannot biodegrade, and some consumers opt for flushing them down the toilet which causes them to end up in our oceans on top of the rest ending up in landfills. Switching to reusable makeup wipes to take off makeup and reusable cotton rounds to apply skincare not only saves excess waste in landfills and our oceans, but it also saves you money! Rather than spend money every month on single-use products, reusable versions of the product allow you to use them hundreds of times with proper care and washing!

4. Fair Trade Products

If you ever took a few extra seconds to read the labels on fresh produce, containers of coffee and spices, and/or bags of rice and sugar, you may see a sticker or label that reads “Fair Trade”. Fair Trade means that the products under this certification ensure that profits earned by a consumer’s purchase go back to the hardworking farmers and artisans producing the goods. The process for a company to earn Fair Trade status can take anywhere from six to nine months to ensure that no exploitation takes place in the chain of production and distribution. Aside from the ethical treatment of workers, the Fair-Trade committee also opens up bank accounts, or “Premium Funds”, to benefit an area based on it and its workforce’s needs. As mentioned, products with the literal Fair-Trade sticker of approval can give consumers peace of mind, but prescreening companies through independent research can ensure that their products come down an ethical production line.

5. Say No to Amazon

The list of Amazon’s unethical business tactics does not come as a short one. In the last few years, workers and delivery drivers shed light on how they get overworked and underpaid, can get fired for just about anything, and lack of disability requirements as outlined in the following article from The Guardian. Aside from the grueling working conditions, Amazon’s infamous Amazon Prime option for free two-day delivery results in more carbon emissions than regular delivery or simply going to a store to buy a product as explained here. By now, it seems like canceling any affiliation with Amazon seems near impossible. Aside from its convenient and often cost-effective shopping options, its services extend to things like streaming platforms and grocery shopping as well as now owning Whole Foods and Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s CEO, ownership over The Washington Post. This does not even begin to touch on the company’s politics and those who run it, but that conversation would need its article.   

Ethical consumption can come with challenges in a capitalistic society when ethical production does not sit high on the priority list of most companies. That said, the demand for ethically sourced products continues to rise, causing more companies to supply it every year. Millions of people making small changes to their every day not only increase this demand, but the planet and its inhabitants will get to recover from a long history of pollution and exploitation.

Alicia Chabin

West Chester '21

English Literature major, hopeful author, current and future editor, omnilegent bibliophile, consumed by wanderlust, animal lover, food and coffee connoisseur, film aficionado, advocate for the Oxford Comma, and a firm believer that every single voice and story matter in this world.
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