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Progressing Towards a Sustainable Beauty Routine

The environmental impact of the beauty industry is significant, sourcing its carbon footprint from many different avenues. These avenues include sourcing of ingredients, shipping and packaging. It is also important to consider whether products are cruelty-free and/or vegan. Because the industry is so saturated with non-sustainable practices, it is difficult, and often impossible, for the average consumer to go zero-waste. It is essential to acknowledge socioeconomic and geographic barriers that may restrict access to sustainable products. 

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Dependence on plastic packing has led to a tremendous amount of plastic waste ending up in landfills, and often spilling over into waterways and other environmental areas. Although much of this packaging may, in theory, be recyclable, much of it bypasses this opportunity due to consumer convenience and limited capabilities of the recycling industry. According to one estimate from the Environmental Protection Agency, about 70% of plastic packing on U.S. products ends up in landfills. Additionally, microplastics are used as an ingredient in products such as toothpaste, face soap and body wash for exfoliation. These microplastics cause pollution by infiltrating waterways when washed down the drain. 

The low cost of shipping plastic has compounded the industry’s reliance upon the material in recent years. The characteristic lightness and durability of plastic are easier to ship than more traditional materials such as glass. However, water composes more than 90% of the weight of many products, effectively creating a massive carbon and water footprint when shipped. Eliminating water from these products, as many creators have begun to do, could make shipping significantly more sustainable. 

The beauty industry also impacts the environment in other ways, including ingredient sourcing and shipping costs. Ingredients are not always ethically sourced, with the costs of attaining them environmentally costly. For example, harvesting palm oil, common in cosmetics and other personal care products, has contributed to deforestation on a global scale. While ingredient sourcing remains a considerable concern, many companies have taken positive steps to counter this issue, attempting to inspire industry-wide change. Knowing whether a company follows cruelty-free practices should also be a factor when deciding whether to support a company. Consumers have the ability to stand for animal welfare by using their buying power.

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One of my personal goals for 2021 is to make my beauty routine more sustainable. Since January, I have started to research different companies regarding their commitment to sustainable products and practices. Some of my favorite brands so far have been Lush, Honest Beauty and Love, Beauty, and Planet. These companies publish sustainability commitments on their websites, ensuring consumers of the practices used by the company in the production of their products. Products I have begun using include shampoo and conditioner in bar form as well as makeup brushes made of bamboo. I have also started gravitating toward paper-based, rather than plastic, packaging. In my experience, these products have worked comparatively to more traditional ones, and cost differences were not significant long term. However, I have noticed that many of these products are more readily available online, which may create issues surrounding accessibility and convenience. 

make up
Photo by Emma Bauso from Pexels

Even with these adjustments, I recognize I still have a long way to go before having a completely sustainable routine. This will take a concerted effort over a longer period of time. However, I believe I can fulfill my main goal in undertaking this experience, which is to become a more knowledgeable consumer. By the end of the year, I hope to have a deeper understanding of the beauty industry and how best to support sustainable and ethical practices in my everyday life. 

Emma Meyer

Wisconsin '24

Emma Meyer is a freshman at The University of Wisconsin-Madison. She is from Minneapolis, MN and this will be her first year as a writer for Her Campus.
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