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Clean beauty

How to reduce packaging and plastics from your beauty and personal care routine

The tides are turning on plastics and excessive packaging – nowadays we don’t just think of our carbon footprint, but our plastic footprint and how we can reduce it. With millions of tons of plastic ending up in our oceans every year now is the time to make a change and invest in the future.

Environmentally friendly packaging

“Many manufacturers are reducing their environmental impact by switching from plastic packaging to glass or cardboard, and in some cases removing packaging entirely,” says Niamh Larkin, beauty specialist at health store Evergreen in Mainguard St, Galway. “Some brands striving to be ‘zero waste’, or as close to it as possible, have even switched the sellotape on their shipment boxes to paper tape which can be recycled. Plant-based, biodegradable cellophane is another popular choice in place of its plastic predecessor. Large scale reduction of plastic consumption seems to be a growing trend which is fantastic to see.”

“Many brands are now using cardboard as a recyclable alternative, other brands are using recycled plastic,” says Leanne Stephenson, beauty consultant with Pravera. “Some brands are using glass jars with aluminium lids which is also a great eco-friendly alternative. Not all products can be packaged in plastic-free packaging, such as liquid soap which still requires packaging in some form of plastic, therefore many brands have made the switch to recycled plastic. Recycled plastic that can also be recycled after use is a great eco-friendly solution.”

“It’s so important for companies to keep innovating and finding ways to reduce the amount of plastic in their packaging as well as ensuring that ingredients and packaging are sustainably sourced,” says Nicola Swan who works with Trilogy beauty products.

What about refillables?

“Several companies are now making their products refillable where possible, which is another great method of sustainability and waste reduction,” says Niamh Larkin. “Products ranging from shampoos and deodorants to hand soaps, and even make-up are all available to buy as refills. Some stores are offering refill stations where you can bring in your own container to be filled, eliminating the need for more plastic waste.”

“Refillables are not necessarily suited to all beauty products,” says Leanne Stephenson, “but in the case of liquid soap this is about to change. Coming on the market soon is a liquid soap in a tablet form - you add the tablet to a dispenser with water to make your own liquid soap.”

Are microbeads still a problem?

“Currently the sale of products containing microbeads has been banned (in Europe) due to the long-term environmental damage they cause to our oceans,” says Niamh Larkin. “Once a popular addition to face and body scrubs, these tiny beads are made from plastic which never biodegrades. Every microbead ever made is still on the planet now and will be forever! And as most of these would have been washed down the sink or shower, they are still polluting aquatic life, despite no longer being in production. Now that we know of the environmental impact they have, companies have reformulated the products which once contained microbeads so that they now contain biodegradable ingredients instead. Popular alternatives include ground almonds, sugar, salt, coffee, jojoba pearls, walnut shells and even bamboo.”

“Plastic microbeads were found in scrubs and body washes, and end up in our oceans,” says Nicola Swan. “This plastic pollution is completely unnecessary as there are plenty of biodegradable alternatives out there.”

Choosing greener brands

“First and foremost, don’t trust what you see on the (front) label,” says Niamh Larkin. “The laws surrounding labels, advertising and branding can be quite vague, so not everything that claims to be ‘natural’ truly is. If you really want to know how green a product is then check out the list of ingredients. There are also some certificates you can look out for on the packaging.

  • Natrue is a certificate given to products that have been independently tested and are confirmed natural.
  • The leaping bunny symbol guarantees that no animal testing has been done in the manufacturing of the product.
  • EcoCert is the European standard for certified organic products.
  • BDIH is a global certification of the quality of ingredients in a product – it guarantees the ingredients are non-synthetic, and of natural origin.
  • The Vegan Society logo certifies a product containing no animal derivatives.

So, depending on your individual preferences, concerns or requirements from a product, looking out for one or more of these logos can help you to make an informed decision when choosing your skincare.”

“Have a look for certifications such as Natrue,” says Nicola Swan. “Any product that carries their mark carries a promise that it is made without toxins, parabens and GMOs as well as being ethically and sustainably manufactured.”

“Sustainability is becoming a big trend and more consumers are looking for greener alternatives in their everyday products,” says Leanne Stephenson. “Buying products that are made from natural and organic ingredients is a good start. Looking for labels and certifications on products such as BDIH, Natrue and EcoCert ensures a product is natural and organic and doesn’t include any parabens, chemical or harmful ingredients. Products are produced in an eco-friendly and sustainable way, using ingredients from a sustainable climate. Packaging can be recycled or is made from recycled plastic.”

What is truly green?

“When shopping for beauty products it pays to do a bit of research, so that you can feel confident you’re choosing clean products that use environmentally friendly practices,” says Nicola Swan. “Look at the packaging - is it reusable, recyclable or biodegradable? Read the label, if you see ingredients that aren’t familiar, look them up online on a credible cosmetics ingredients database.”

“If a product is truly green it won’t contain parabens, mineral oil, petroleum or sodium lauryl sulphate,” says Niamh Larkin. “These are the main culprits added to skincare products to keep production costs low and profit margins high. Natural products are more likely to contain shea butter, aloe, natural plant extracts and essential oils.”

“There can be a lot of ‘green washing’ in the beauty industry,” says Leanne Stephenson. “This is when a product claims to be natural, eco-friendly, organic or environmentally conscious, when really, they aren’t any of those things. If a product promotes ‘green’ on the front of the packaging it is not necessarily true. It may include only 1% of ‘green’ ingredients. Therefore, it is essential to look for certifications on products such as BDIH, Natrue, EcoCert to ensure a product doesn’t contain any parabens, chemical or harmful ingredients.”

Green beauty tips

  • Choose a bamboo toothbrush instead of a plastic one.
  • Cotton buds need to go – there are non-plastic alternatives.
  • Use bars of soap or shampoo instead of liquid soaps in plastic bottles.
  • Choose eco brands that avoid plastic.
  • Ditch plastic disposable razors and go for a long lasting reusable safety razor where you replace the blade.
  • Buy less pads and tampons and use a menstrual cup or period-proof underwear.
  • Banish wet wipes and use a damp flannel instead.
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