Plastic packaging – cosmetics

Filed in by on June 12, 2008 9 Comments

toiletries and cosmetics packaging
How much toiletries and cosmetics packaging does your household throw away?

What with deodorant, shaving foam, shampoo, hairspray, moisturisers and shower gel containers, not to mention everything else that keeps us young, beautiful and smelling fresh; this adds up to a lot of plastic going into the landfill each year.

Plastic can take up to 1000 years to degrade. Looking at this another way, if King Henry VIII had used shower gel and deodorant packaged in plastic, his containers would still be sitting in the landfill somewhere.

Here are seven tips to help you reduce the amount of non recyclable plastic packaging you use

1- Reduce

Do you really need all the products you buy? Do you need a shower gel in three different fragrances, a moisturiser for your face, another for your hands and another for your feet and do you really need shampoo, conditioner, hair packs and hot oil treatments?

Take an honest look at your bathroom cupboard – are there products in there that promise miracles but deliver disappointment? Look at your shopping habits, look at marketing of products and see if you can cut down the ones you use.

You can double up on some products – use hair conditioner as shaving oil for example or a general body moisturiser for body, hands and feet. Some shower gels can be used as shampoo too.

2- Reuse

For people like me who make their own products the packaging is one of the most expensive things to buy! Clean your empty containers and offer them to a toiletries-making friend. If you don’t know of anyone, offer them on your local Freecycle group and you might just find a grateful taker.

If you have children, they love plastic containers to play with in the bath – nothing is so much fun as making farts in the bath with a plastic squeezy bottle now is it?

Plastic bottles and jars with lids are handy around the home too. If you’re a beader, then they can be useful for storing beads, wannabe artists can store watercolours in them for when inspiration strikes, if your child has cringe-worthy hama beads, then a lidded container will keep them from escaping around the home and getting between your toes.

3- Refill

Sadly, the days of Body Shop refills are long gone, thanks to health and safety laws. But a few companies will take back your empties and offer you a discount on your next purchase – just like the old Krona 10p deposit days! More about these companies in a future article

4- Recycle

Flip your plastic bottle over and take a look at its bottom. Hopefully, you’ll see a small triangle with a number inside it. If you have a 1 or a 2 then you’ve struck lucky. Go henceforth to your nearest plastic recycling facility and pop your container in with all the bottles that can be recycled.

If your packaging has anything other than these numbers then you cannot recycle it at the moment. In this instance you could contact the manufacturer to find out what recycling plans they have for the future.

5- Switch brands

Some brands offer more recyclable packaging than others. This can be a minefield though. Before writing this article I went through my bathroom cabinet and checked the plastics codes on two shampoo bottles. One was a 1 (fully recyclable in our local plastic recycling receptacle) and one was a 4 (non recyclable). So it’s not even as clear cut as ‘All shampoo bottles can be recycled’ – you have to take the time to check each brand.

I’ve been rummaging around different companies recycling policies and have some information to share on which brands score particularly well. There will be a new article on this coming soon.

6- Lobby your council

Make your voice and concerns heard by contacting manufacturers, the head office of the store you shop in, your local authority and your local MP.

It’s ok to complain that there ‘is no choice’ and it can be really tough at times to make the right choice as a consumer, but unless those in power know what you want, you have no hope of getting it.

If enough of us ask, then we might just get. It can feel a huge task at times, but think of all the important issues that the public have changed throughout history: The freeing of slaves, votes for women and more recently, the banning of certain food additives. Together we CAN create change and you have the power to vote with your money.

7- DIY

Why not have a go at making your own products with household ingredients? Almond oil makes an effective make up remover; you can even use it around your eyes. A drop or two (emphasis on the DROP here!) of olive oil, warmed between your palms acts as a hair conditioner for taming thick, frizzy hair. A mixture of natural yogurt and oats can be used as a gentle facial exfoliator.

There are many fab books on this subject. My personal favourites are:
“Feeding your skin” by Carla Oates and “The ultimate natural beauty book” by Josephine Fairley.

About the Author ()

I am a long time supporter of the Green and Sustainable lifestyle. After being caught in the Boscastle floods in 2004, our family begun a journey to respect and promote the importance of Earth's fragile ecosystem, that focussed on reducing waste. Inspired by the beauty and resourcefulness of this wonderful planet, I have published numerous magazine articles on green issues and the author of four books.

Comments (9)

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  1. Gemma says:

    One of my favorite companies is Neal’s Yard Remedies. Their products are packaged in beautiful glass jars. Once you’ve finished your product, you can either reuse the jar or Neal’s Yard will give you 10p for each jar/bottle you bring back. They then reuse/recycle them.

    I’ve been making more and more of my own toiletries recently. It’s great because you don’t have to worry about any packaging waste and many of the ingredients can be found in your kitchen already. Scrubs can be made from olive oil, some sugar and a bit of fruit peel. I save my Neal’s Yard jars for the products I make myself 🙂

  2. Poppy says:

    With so many extra people looking in on your site for help, inspiration and information, it’s a little misleading to say only plastic bottles marked with a 1 or 2 can be recycled. In Cheltenham we can recycle any bottle that previously held a liquid; any liquid 🙂

    I wish there was a national recycling policy and the same rules applied everywhere. It would make life sooooo much easier!

  3. Mrs Green says:

    Hi Gemma, I like some of the neals yard stuff too and I agree about the packaging. I squirrel mine away for when I make our own toiletries.

    Oh Poppy; this is just so frustrating isn’t it? It’s very difficult to try and help people when their area might be totally different. I’m really hoping that in the not too distant future there will be less conflicting advise……
    Thanks for bringing this up, it’s a very important issue we are all facing.

  4. osnat says:

    the author who is passionate about the environment should be seriously considering Replacing bath with Reduced time showers. maybe evn Reusing the bath water for washing floors, car and the like. not wasting fresh water is just as important or more as recycling packaging.

  5. John Costigane says:

    @osnat: Water is useful but plastic packaging waste is totally useless, with all its environmental negatives, landfill, EfW, hazard to creatures(land and sea). threats to human health.

    I agree that water should be used as efficiently as possible, especially in areas of the world where water shortages exist. This is sustainable whereas the unthinking use of plastic packaging (waste) can never be sustainable, far better to stop using it.

  6. Mrs Green says:

    @osnat: Hello Osnat; welcome to the site. I agree completely with you about not wasting water – it’s a precious resource and we try to be as mindful of this as we can here. It’s something I personally feel very strongly about.
    However, this website focuses solely on landfill waste which is why we don’t discuss the use of water within the articles and pages we create 🙂

  7. I hope they stop all plasic tubs and bottles and bags because soon we are going to run out of oil and bring glass bottles back as there easy to recycle and also people show bring their own bags as that would help not having plasic bags and this plasic tubs should be at recycle papper bag. Come on help this world before we go under before is to later.

  8. Cate B says:

    I realise some of these posts are rather old now but it is worth noting that Neal’s Yard has moved to plastic packaging for their shampoos, shower gels etc. When I asked why, I was told it was because they are less dangerous for children to use. I have since discovered that Neal’s Yard has been bought out by the guy behind Dorling Kindersley books and he is, understandably, reducing his overheads by starting party plan selling rather than opening any more shops so I suspect the move to plastic came at the same time. I have also noted that there is less choice in size of products with the smaller packaging still being offered but larger quantities discontinued thus meaning more waste in the long run, this apparently makes the production cheaper as there is no need to keep changing the process/machinery to suit different sized packaging. Additionally they no longer accept the ’empties’ saying that they only throw them in the recycle bin so we should just recycle them from home. This all seems rather a step backwards for Neal’s Yard but given the current economic climate many businesses will, shortsightedly, seek efficiencies at the expense of the environment.

  9. Mrs Green says:

    @Clare Jane Mcvety: Hello Clare, another option is for recycled plastic bottles; these are good because they are lightweight, whereas glass is heavy to transport. Getting rid of plastic bags, however, WOULD be a good thing in my opinion.

    @Cate B: Thanks for the update Cate – even though posts are old, we still appreciate up to date information for people who are new to the site. I didn’t know Neals Yard had been bought out, nor that they had switched to predominantly plastic … As you point out, current economic climate dictates many of these changes.

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