Single-use plastic is plastic that is created for one specific purpose and then discarded. Since 2020, the impact of coronavirus globally has caused a surge in the use of single-use plastics for hygiene purposes. Yet this pandemic has helped to highlight the differentiation between necessary and unnecessary use in stark clarity. While single-use plastic has its place and purpose for hygiene (in PPE - personal protective equipment, for example), its use can be excessive when it comes to personal care products. Yet we have become so conditioned to single-use plastic we may be numb to its presence. Let's talk about plastic: where it is obvious, where it is not obvious, and ways to reduce it.
How plastic abounds in beauty products
Apart from the obvious plastic containers used to hold your beauty products like bottles, pouches, labels, tubes, caps, and boxes, there are also components that can miss your gaze. One of the major problems with reducing plastic waste is that plastic is integrated into our products in multiple ways.
Microbeads. Microbeads belong to the category of microplastics, which are plastic pieces less than five millimetres long. The tiniest specks are known as nanoplastics which measure less than 1 micrometre. While the term microplastic' broadly describes all the broken down plastics that end up in our oceans, microbeads are deliberately manufactured. Microbeads first appeared in patents in the USA in the 1960s and became popular in the 1990s as an addition to personal health products. They appeared en-masse in cosmetics, lotions, face wash, toothpaste, shampoos, sunscreens, shaving creams and exfoliators. Used for creating texture, as a bulking agent, or to prolong shelf life by trapping and absorbing biodegradable ingredients, microbeads have been banned in the UK since 2018. Yet consumers outside of the UK may still need to be cautious when choosing products. Just one shower alone with a bath scrub containing microbeads is thought to send 100,000 microbeads down waterways and eventually to the ocean, harming marine ecosystems and ending up in human food sources.
Plastic Parts Connected to Biodegradable Components. The journey toward full sustainability is one that many businesses are now embarking on, but they may be doing it one step at a time. It is important as a consumer to remain mindful of the work still needed for products to be 100% sustainable. Consider most cotton swabs— while the cotton is sustainable, the piece of plastic connecting the cotton buds is not. Wooden hairbrushes or toothbrushes also fall within this category. While the wood may be high quality and sustainable, are the bristles biodegradable? Many affordable hairbrushes contain nylon bristles that cannot be easily broken down, and the majority of toothbrushes contain plastic bristles. While it can be impossible to find products made entirely of biodegradable components, being aware of which plastic parts of an everyday product can be swapped out is essential.
Makeup and Wet Wipes. A report by the World Wildlife Fund found that in 2018, the UK used 10.8 billion wet wipes, the vast majority containing non-biodegradable plastic. Just one year prior in 2017, a 250-metre-long (820 ft) fatberg weighing over 130 tonnes (140 short tons) was found in the sewage system under Whitechapel, London. This monstrous mass was rock-hard and shovels were used by city workers over a period of several months to break it apart. It was created from a combination of fat, grease, oil and... wet wipes. Wet wipes may look like paper, but they are not— some studies state they can take up to 100 years to be broken down because they contain synthetic polymers.
Nested Plastic Packaging. You may have seen them before— Matryoshka dolls are a set of Russian wooden dolls of decreasing size placed one inside another. This pattern of nesting is within all of our modern products. When you purchase a hair gel, the gel itself is nested within an initial plastic bottle. Plastic tape or packaging then seals the bottle. The hair gel bottle is sold within a mixed paper-plastic box. Your hair gel is then perhaps carried out of the store in a disposable plastic bag. That's 4 layers of plastic at minimum!
Plastic Fill Used in Shipping. Whether you receive large or small deliveries, plastic is often used to fill the box. From plastic packing balloons filled with air, to non-biodegradable styrofoam, every online order is introducing more single-use waste into the environment.
What can be done?
Cutting back on or eliminating plastic in our personal care items is a true challenge. It is highly difficult because it is not solely a consumer solution. Even for the most dedicated of us, dissembling plastic packaging and sorting it is not always successful. Some plastic parts cannot be recycled, are not labelled appropriately, or are fused with other parts.
But you can do a lot more than you think. Now that you are more mindful of where plastic is found, you can alter your daily life in simple ways to stop generating single-use waste.
Combine online orders. You can give single-use plastic no reason to be used for delivery by bulking your orders or picking up items in-store with a reusable bag.
Purchase larger sizes. Love a certain cream? Get it in a bulk or larger size to prevent smaller bottles from hitting the landfill.
Recycle when you can. Explore the recycling rules of your area and take advantage of actual recycling options in your community.
Choose products free from packaging. Soap bars, shampoo bars, bulk lotions, and refillable products are available. Explore products that are made consciously and leave no plastic footprint.
Avoid wet wipes. Due to the fact they cannot break down and their ability to clog up the sewage waste system, avoid these entirely. Opt for sprays packaged in recyclable bottles.
Minimise your beauty routine. We recently published a guide on the 7 Way to Make Your Beauty Routine Sustainable. It is a big step to being mindful of your impact on the environment.
Be choosy about your products. Reduce waste by using up what is on your bathroom shelves and only repurchasing those items that you truly love and that truly work for you. Yuty can match you to the right products, so that you never waste a drop again.
Where you and beauty meet. Yuty takes into consideration your genetics, lifestyle, environment and preferences when providing you with personalised recommendations. Take the YUTY Advisor™ today to find your perfect match.
Lim, X. (2021, May 04). Nature. https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-021-01143-3
Perschbacher, E. (2016, February 22). History and Evolution of the Microbead. from https://www.ijc.org/en/history-and-evolution-microbead
Gov.uk. (2018, June 19). World leading microbeads ban comes into force. https://www.gov.uk/government/news/world-leading-microbeads-ban-comes-into-forcemicrobeads
Alex, P. (2020, 06 17). 5 Great Things You Can Do on Plastic-Free Day. Dazed Digital. https://www.dazeddigital.com/beauty/head/article/49540/1/5-great-things-you-can-do-on-plastic-free-beauty-day-sustainability
Engelhaupt, E. (2017, August 16). Huge Blobs of Fat and Trash Are Filling the World’s Sewers. National Geographic. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/article/fatbergs-fat-cities-sewers-wet-wipes-science
Allen, V. (2016, November 7). Wet wipes could take 100 years to break down: Products contain plastic that is 'virtually indestructible'. Daily Mail. https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3911606/Wet-wipes-100-years-break-Products-contain-plastic-virtually-indestructible.html