Beauty and the Beast - The Years Project

Beauty and the Beast

By Caroline Logler

How the cosmetics industry is negatively impacting the planet.

The cosmetic industry is colossal, raking in over $530 billion in 2018 alone. From hair care to skincare, and everything in between, cosmetic products have become cemented in our daily routines. But what if the products we use to look and feel beautiful have an ugly impact on the planet? To truly understand the damage we are doing, we have to look beyond the contents of the bottle and look at the bottle itself. 

The cosmetic industry alone produces over 120 billion units of packaging every year. To make matters worse, research shows that only 20% of Americans recycle items in the bathroom. That means there could potentially be 552 million shampoo bottles dumped into landfills each year – over 18,000 tons of plastic. And if that’s just shampoo, imagine the amount of waste the rest of your routine creates. Even if you fall in that small percentage that keeps a recycling bin in the bathroom, the actual act of converting it into new materials is not so simple.

Brightly colored plastics may look great on shelves, but they’re the most difficult to recycle, leaving some facilities no choice but to simply dispose of them. Colored plastic has little value as far as recycling goes, due to its inability to be completely stripped of color. Think of it this way: you can turn clear plastic (the most “valuable” plastic), blue or red or green, but you can never make that dyed plastic clear again. As environmental issues have become increasingly more pressing and prevalent in society, companies have begun to capitalize on consumer fear for the future by rebranding with buzzwords like “natural” or “botanical.” These supposedly eco-friendlier products are often then packaged in green or blue bottles, designed to give customers an “all-natural” or “greener” feel. Yet paradoxically these vibrant bottles will most likely end up in a landfill, causing even more harm to the planet.    

In order to entice buyers, most cosmetic companies count on eye-catching colors, elaborate packaging, or cheap tricks that may look great on the shelf, but ultimately come at a cost for the planet. For example, did you know that some lipstick companies add more, unnecessary plastic to their packaging so they feel “more expensive,” but instead become un-recyclable? 

The beauty industry’s overuse of plastic is a tremendous problem, but the solution is relatively simple. Cut out unnecessary single-use plastic, and opt for reusable or sustainable containers instead. According to a recent study, roughly 70% of carbon emissions attributable to the cosmetic industry could be easily eradicated, simply by people opting for refillable containers. Brands like Lush, Elate Cosmetics, and Kjaer Weis have hundreds of options to increase your cosmetics collection while decreasing your carbon footprint. If you don’t want to give up your favorite products in favor of more sustainable options, take the proper measures to dispose of them. Tera Cycle, a company whose main mission is to recycle hard-to-recycle waste, partnered with Garnier to begin a personal care and beauty recycling program. They collect skincare, haircare, and cosmetic packaging, and can help make sure your beauty routine keeps our planet beautiful too.