Put an extra wastebasket (or any basket) in your bathroom to hold recycling. “Most people only have one recycling bin in their home, usually in their kitchen,” says A Tianna Scozzaro, the director of the Gender, Equity, and Environment programme at the Sierra Club, a national environmental non-profit. “So when you unwrap or use up a product in the bathroom, you put it in the trash without thinking.”
In an ideal world, you could track the route of every face oil to your bathroom sink—and perhaps even walk it. (Products that arrive on planes are often packed in layers of Styrofoam and plastic.) If you can’t buy goat’s milk soap from a local shepherd, try shopping locally rather than online—it reduces shipping burdens and cuts down on bubblewrap, boxes, and bags if you bring your own tote.
Beauty brands are becoming more conscious about the sustainability of their ingredients: Many companies have moved away from putting plastic (in the form of scrubbing microbeads) in their formulas. State legislatures are also making strides to protect the planet from questionable beauty ingredients. Hawaii has moved to ban two common sunscreen ingredients—oxybenzone and octinoxate—that can harm endangered coral reefs. (When you go swimming, sunscreen washes off your skin into the ocean.) “We need to begin rethinking how we act in the sun for the good of our skin and the planet,” says Elizabeth Hale, a dermatologist and a senior vice president of the Skin Cancer Foundation. Zinc sunscreens offer broad spectrum protection without known risks to marine life, and UPF clothes, like rash guards and wet suits, leave the ocean when you do.
Recycling is good, but it’s not perfect—the truth is, a lot of our recycling centres are so overloaded that they can’t keep up and are forced to send plastics to landfills at times. The absolute best thing you can do to keep your environmental impact small is to reuse and refill items. Look for packaging that’s so practical or pretty, you’ll want to repurpose it. Glass bottles and candle holders can hold cotton balls, hair ties, or pins. Smaller containers, like eye cream jars, are the perfect size for travel— decant creams or cleansers into them. Use your candle holders as water glasses—pop it in the freezer, then use a butter knife to crack the wax and it comes right out.
Water is a precious commodity, made more precious as annual droughts increase in intensity. And the Environmental Protection Agency estimates that letting your faucet run for five minutes (say, while you wash your face) can waste 10 gallons of water a day—yes, we said a day—and brushing your teeth with the tap running can waste an additional eight. The average bath uses 36 gallons, and the average shower uses five gallons every minute. Pop on a water-saving showerhead to reduce the loss to two gallons per minute (try a Waterpik EcoFlow Showerhead), and maybe rethink the baths.
If you’ve been wondering, this is what happens to your favoured beauty products after you’re done using them.
They’ve ushered in an era of convenience, but they’re made of synthetic particles that will remain in landfills for 100 years. Look for biodegradable alternatives, like RMS Beauty The Ultimate Makeup Remover Wipes and Klorane Make-up Remover Biodegradable Wipes.
All of these are compostable (unbleached cardboard is ideal, and cotton that’s not saturated with nail polish remover) and degrade in as little as three months. Many cities have composting centres— find your nearest one—or compost in your backyard.
They can be non-recyclable, because they’re often made with multiple resins. As for plastic containers, look for a triangular arrow and number, and consult your local city recycling rules to see if the plastic is accepted for recycling in your town. Plastics are categorised into seven types; categories 1 and 2 are the easiest to recycle; 3 through 7 are often diverted to landfills. Or opt for brands that use recycled plastic—The Body Shop recently started using Community Trade recycled plastic in its 250ml haircare bottles and has in-store recycling programmes in India that encourage customers to return empty plastic packaging in stores for recycling.
These should be recyclable as long as they’re empty. If you can’t rinse out a bottle or jar (this goes for plastic, too), soak it in water and dish soap overnight, and then shake it up to clean it, says Kate Melges, an advocate for cleaner oceans at Greenpeace. (Some recycling plants accept aerosol cans as is, since it’s too hard to clean them at home.) If that sounds like a lot of work, you can also consider buying carbon offsets for your landfill waste (a reduction of greenhouse gases in one area to balance emissions in another), but research them first on Climateactionreserve.org to make sure the offsets can’t be delayed or aren’t a straight-up scam (which exist).
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Some of these bottles can, to be perfectly blunt, be problematic. Their labels may be stuck on with humidity-proof adhesives that are so strong, they don’t come off quickly at recycling plants—and that means the bottles you diligently sorted can wind up getting tossed into landfills, where they may never fully break down. So choose products without stuck-on labels if you want to be on the safe side, like skincare brand Organic Riot, which also uses only recycled paper for their outer packaging.
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