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Does the Beauty Industry Threaten our Oceans?

Updated: Mar 25

For many years now, the glamorous beauty industry has mainly prioritized earning huge sums of profit in a competitive environment, paying very little attention to its impact on the environment. Numerous beauty brands are quickly launching new products to keep up with the latest and ever-changing trends, with many influencers and celebrities unboxing endless beauty packages. However, the ugly truth is that this level of luxury that countless consumers enjoy leaves a concerning and detrimental footprint that threatens our oceans and the marine environment.



How much waste is created by the beauty industry?

The global cosmetics industry produces 120 billion units of packaging each year, consisting of mostly plastic, as a result of multi-layered boxes, plastic envelopes, bubble wrap, cellophane, and more. Many of these are simply unnecessary and are made from non-recyclable materials. This will most likely end up in our oceans, along with the 13 million tonnes of plastic thrown into the ocean each year. It was reported that in 2018, approximately 7.9 billion units of rigid plastic were manufactured for beauty and personal care products in the United States alone. If immediate measures are not taken to curb this problem, the amount of plastic flowing into the ocean by 2040 is projected to be almost three times the amount of plastic the ocean already has to 29 million tonnes per year.


The alarming consequences

Microbeads are tiny balls of plastic commonly found in facial exfoliators and body scrubs. Some products have over 300,000 microbeads in them. Because these fragments of plastic are too tiny to be filtered in a sewage treatment facility, it eventually flows into the sea and plastic has become a primary contributor to pollution in the ocean. Due to the low seawater temperature, plastic does not biodegrade and is ingested by a lot of marine animals. According to the Environmental Investigation Agency, more than 633 species are affected by this. Dolphins, whales, and seals ingest a staggering amount of toxic microplastics, increasing their risk of illness and death, as well as inhibiting their reproduction.

Larger plastics, on the other hand, cause suffocation of marine life. However, this problem could also be harmful to us humans. The fish we consume carry unprecedented amounts of toxins because of the plastic they ingest, and there’s a very high possibility that the water we drink is contaminated by plastics that contain harmful chemicals.


Wet wipes are almost entirely made up of polypropylene, a plastic that doesn’t decompose. Hundreds of thousands of wet wipes are being flushed down, causing sewage pipe blockages. As it is flushed down the drain, it breaks down into microplastic and is washed into the ocean, where it potentially kills marine life and clogs beaches. In addition to that, oxybenzone, a problematic chemical often found in sunscreens, is extremely damaging to coral reefs and marine ecosystems. This toxic substance consists of nanoparticles that can interfere with corals’ growth cycles which would eventually lead to coral bleaching.



How can the beauty industry become more sustainable and environmentally friendly?
  • Recycled Packaging

Since most plastic is generated from excessive product packaging, beauty companies should use plastic-free or biodegradable packaging. Refillable options are also a great idea. Packagings can be made out of glass or metal containers that can be returned to the manufacturer to replenish with the same product. Fortunately, some brands are already doing this. For example, Kjaer Weis offers cosmetics in refillable or compostable packages. The Canadian brand Elate Cosmetics packages its products using sustainable bamboo, recyclable aluminum, and glass, which can be recycled, composted, or reused.



  • Banning Toxic Chemicals

Beauty companies must strive to use only clean ingredients that are responsibly grown or manufactured and are free of harmful chemicals to ensure the safety of their employees and the environment. By choosing organic, vegan, and cruelty-free substances, beauty brands can create glamourizing products without posing any threats. Some states in the United States have passed laws that ban toxic ingredients, such as the Consumer Protection Bill 2762 implemented in California. Many countries have also banned the use of cosmetic microbeads.


  • Eco-friendly Manufacturing

Performing sustainable practices concerning the development of beauty products is equally important. This may include reducing the use of synthetic ingredients, using natural and sustainable products, and using clean renewable energy for manufacturing.


References

  1. Are microbeads and microplastics in beauty products a threat to the oceans? [Internet]. The Guardian. Guardian News and Media; 2012. Available from: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2012/dec/09/microbeads-microplastics-cosmetics-ocean-pollution

  2. Bailly J. Dear beauty industry: Enough already with all the packaging [Internet]. Allure. Allure; 2020. Available from: https://www.allure.com/story/beauty-industry-packaging-waste

  3. How can the beauty industry reduce plastic waste? - inside packaging: Issue 59: July 2021 [Internet]. Inside Packaging | Issue 59 | July 2021. 2021. Available from: https://inside-packaging.nridigital.com/packaging_jul21/beauty_packaging_plastic_waste

  4. How can the cosmetics industry become more sustainable? [Internet]. Sustainable Fashion - Eco Design - Healthy Lifestyle - Luxiders Magazine. 2020. Available from: https://luxiders.com/how-can-the-cosmetics-industry-become-more-sustainable/

  5. Lmi. How the Beauty Industry is promoting sustainability [Internet]. L Make Up School. 2022. Available from: https://lmi.edu/how-the-beauty-industry-is-promoting-sustainability/

  6. Our seas are swimming in wet wipes – it's time to take action [Internet]. Marine Conservation Society. Available from: https://www.mcsuk.org/news/our-seas-are-swimming-in-wet-wipes-its-time-to-take-action/#:~:text=When%20flushed%20into%20our%20sewers,and%20clogging%20up%20our%20beaches.

  7. Ourisman J. Circular beauty can end the industry's waste problem [Internet]. Harper's BAZAAR. 2021. Available from: https://www.harpersbazaar.com/beauty/skin-care/a37754699/emma-lewisham-jane-goodall-circular-beauty/

  8. Turner E, Hastings C, Winter L. How the beauty industry is tackling the ocean plastic problem - plus the brands making a change [Internet]. Glamour UK. 2021. Available from: https://www.glamourmagazine.co.uk/article/ocean-plastic-waste-beauty-industry

  9. Why Sunscreen is harmful for our oceans [Internet]. Manta Ray Advocates Hawaii. 2021. Available from: https://mantarayadvocates.com/why-sunscreen-is-harmful-for-our-oceans/

  10. Winter L. We looked at the effect of plastic on our oceans - and what we discovered will shock you [Internet]. Glamour UK. Glamour UK; 2019. Available from: https://www.glamourmagazine.co.uk/article/plastic-beauty-products-environment-ocean-impact



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