It's unavoidable when walking into your favourite Drugstore, Sephora or Ulta.... you go to pick up a new palette, lipstick, moisturizer or face cleanser and there you have a perfectly marketed product contained in a plastic package.
Have you ever wondered why this industry is so reliant on this packaging or when it all started?
The History of our Personal Care industry
The cosmetic and beauty industry makes 500 billion dollars a year, and the majority of their packaging is not Sustainable. The National Geographic article by Alejandra Borunda, delves into the history of the American beauty industry and outlines where the shift to hyper consumerism and waste occurred.
WW1 highlighted the importance of good hygiene which was the catalyst in transforming the beauty and personal care industry. This hygiene movement also coincided with the rise of the FILM industry, which could also align with the rise of popular culture and the promotion of cosmetics. The transition to plastic is echoed throughout a variety of industries, but this material was praised overall for its durability, light weight, sleek, cheap production cost and easy transport. The beauty packaging industry has become so profitable that they make up $ 25 billion in sales (1).
Plastic in Feminine Hygiene
The 1920s was also the rise of plastic female hygiene products. Did you know the base of pads are made of Polyethylene and polypropylene (polymers that make plastic)? These polymers are also used in tampons, to bind the core and also used in the string. Marketing has furthered the use of plastic packaging as a method to hide hygiene products or make them "more discrete" (2). This could be by using marketing ploys of "quieter plastic packaging" or "colourful covers" for our hygiene products.
Figure retrieved from National Geographic Article by Alejandra Borunda. TANIA VELIN
Why are plastics needed in our personal care products?
The increased awareness on climate change and our impacts on the environment has challenged consumers to transition away from plastic based products. If you look at the ingredients list of your bottled shampoo, what do you find? The top ingredient isn't a moisturizing compound or a sulfate, it's WATER. The water content in our personal care products is why they are packaged in plastic bottles. Companies like Lush, have already noticed the faults in current gel formulations and have created a variety of shampoo and conditioner bars. How interesting... to witness the Resurgence and Rise of the SOAP and Solid Bars.
What can you do?
The easiest changes you can make in your personal care items to reduce plastic waste is using more solid based products. These can include body soap bars, shampoo bars and solid conditioners. Cosmetics are a bit more challenging, some companies like Elate which use sustainable bamboo for packaging. Kjaer Weis is a company that uses stainless steel packaging, which is 100% recyclable. You also don't have to buy the whole product again when you've finished, you simply order a refill that you can put back into the original packaging.
Feminine hygiene swaps:
Some lower waste options for feminine hygiene products are Diva Cups or any silicone menstrual cup (I personally love them <3), cotton re-usable pads (Luna pads) and period undies (Thinx). If you are more comfortable using tampons, look for reusable tampon applicators (Dame).