Cameron Bruns is a part-time educator at Follain in Boston and our team’s resident eco-expert. When she’s not at Follain, Cameron is the Southern New England Marketing Manager at The Nature Conservancy, the world’s largest environmental nonprofit. She also authors two blogs - Just Us Gals and Boston Green Blog where she shares her passions for conscious living and entrepreneurship. Her goal is to promote ethical, stylish, and sustainable lifestyle choices. In honor of Earth Day, she is sharing three ways that our beauty products affect the natural environment.
Though we may not always realize it, our personal care products can have a significant impact on the environment while we use them. For example, conventional face and body scrubs contain “microbeads” made from plastic. These beads are so small that they aren’t able to be cleaned out of wastewater, which means they end up in rivers and oceans. And since these beads look an awful lot like algae, fish eat them, and then of course, we eat the fish! Yuck! [Ed. note - luckily these nasties are officially banned from use effective July 1, 2017 thanks to a bill that Obama passed in late 2015.]
Triclosan, an ingredient found in many drugstore products including toothpaste, soap, and antibacterial gel, also has negative impacts on wildlife. Like microbeads, triclosan ends up in our waterways, but what makes this especially scary is that when triclosan and water is exposed to sunlight it creates a carcinogenic byproduct that poisons fish, birds, and other creatures that depend on these water resources.
Many synthetic ingredients from consumer products end up polluting the environment. Even when an ingredient is safe for people to use, we might not know how it affects the greater ecosystem.
Packaging is another big one when it comes to the environmental footprint of your personal care products. Excess packaging is thrown away immediately but can take hundreds of years to biodegrade. This trash just sits in landfills and emits methane - a potent greenhouse gas. Consumers have the power to prevent this by looking for items with minimal packaging and by composting, recycling, and reusing as much of the packaging as possible. Look for brands that use post-consumer recycled plastic and paper packaging to further minimize your impact.
Did you know that the average t-shirt goes through 4-5 countries for different steps of the manufacturing process before reaching the store it will be sold in? It’s a similar story for personal care. Ingredients are sourced from all around the world and then processed, mixed, packaged, and shipped out to retailers all around the globe. This much transportation - by plane, truck, train, and ship - emits a lot of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, contributing to climate change. This is why the “buy local” movement is just as important for all of your purchases, not just food. If you want to go a step further, look for brands with responsible sourcing policies.
Every Day is Earth Day
Though there are a lot of environmental problems posed by the beauty industry, there are still many ways to develop your perfect beauty routine with minimal environmental impact. Becoming a conscious consumer starts simply with asking questions: Where did this come from? Where is it going? This inner dialogue is an important part of protecting our Earth for generations to come.
Ed. note - none of the views expressed in this article represent the views of The Nature Conservancy.