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The truth is: plastic is everywhere, from the cover of your paper coffee cup to your tea bags.
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One place to start is your bathroom cabinet. Yes, that means ditching some cult favorites or tried-and-true products you’ve used forever. But doing good for the planet doesn’t mean sacrificing quality. That means finding what works.
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This process can take some trial and error and may not be earth-friendly. For less work (and waste), read on for a list of my favorites and some tips for finding sustainably packaged products.
Conventional plastics are made from crude oil, which is not very environmentally friendly. But looking beyond what it’s made of, plastic still gets zero brownie points for trying.
You might want to believe that the plastic industry is completely recyclable, but some types are not. Even types that are theoretically reusable are often not reusable in practice.
In fact, 2017 research estimated that only 9 percent of the plastic produced between 1950 and 2015 was recycled. Another 12 percent is burned and 60 percent ends up in landfills or elsewhere in the natural environment (hello, Great Pacific Garbage Patch).
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That research found that only 10 percent of the plastic actually recycled was recycled more than once. Every time plastic is recycled, it loses its integrity, so it cannot be reused forever.
Finally, plastics that end up on land or in the oceans never completely break down and disappear completely. Instead, it breaks down into smaller pieces called microplastics.
Honestly, the most sustainable thing to do is to avoid packaging altogether. For example, if you can find products in bulk and put them in reusable tins, bags and containers, you’re ace.
However, that’s not always possible, especially if you don’t live near a thrift store (or your thrift store is closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic). Not all bulking options work for every skin type or concern.
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So, shop in bulk when you can, but if you must buy something packaged, pay attention to the materials used.
Glass is not a perfect substitute for plastic. For starters, it’s usually made of sand, a non-renewable resource. It is heavier than plastic, which means it requires more energy to transport.
However, the great advantage of glass is that it is infinitely reusable. It does not lose its integrity no matter how many times it is melted and reused.
Still, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), only 31.3 percent of glass is recycled in the US. Most of it ends up in landfills, where it takes a long time to break down. But, unlike plastic, it does not emit harmful chemicals in the process.
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Aluminum is mined from the earth and, again, is not renewable. However, it is a better choice than plastic and sometimes even better than glass.
The obvious disadvantage of paper is that it is made from trees. Although trees are a renewable resource, deforestation is a major problem, and not all paper is produced responsibly.
Paper can be recycled and composted. It is recycled at a rate of about 68.2 percent. If it ends up in a landfill, it breaks down very quickly.
Be sure to recycle or reuse your packaging materials so they don’t end up in landfills. When you can, buy products made from recycled materials instead of new ones.
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In my quest to reduce personal plastic use, I spent some time replacing my skin care products with more sustainable choices.
Instead, consider donating unused or lightly used products to an organization like Project Beauty Share. As long as they meet several requirements, they are at least 3/4 filled with products.
I have to admit that I wasn’t too keen on switching from body wash to bar soap – partly because body wash smells really fun and partly because bar soap has a reputation for drying out a waxy coating. Skin
This bar from UpCircle is a complete game changer. It cleans with charcoal but smells like a dessert, thanks to the addition of cocoa and high-cycling tea spices. It definitely doesn’t make me feel dry or cracked.
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Plus, this bar lasts forever—longer than a bottle of body wash. I use this bar on my body and face and it works great for both.
What I love most about UpCircle is their commitment to sustainability, which shows in more ways than just their packaging. Their entire product line is almost entirely plastic-free (they use aluminum, glass and paper) and they use upcycled fruit pits, coffee grounds and tea spices.
Like all UpCircle products, this soap is cruelty-free and made with organic ingredients. It is free of the palm oil found in most bar soaps.
UpCircle is based in the UK, but they have a US version on their website. Ensure that their shipping materials are as plastic-free as their products. Even the tape is made from paper, recycled fibers.
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You can find some UpCircle products online at Ulta, including this one. Keep in mind that Ulta ships in plastic bubble wrap or plastic shipping envelopes.
This product from Cocokind is made with one ingredient: certified organic rose water. Rose water is a natural toner that removes excess dirt after cleansing. There’s an added bonus: it’s hydrating instead of drying.
This toner comes with a spray top (the only plastic piece in the bottle) so you can apply it directly to your face. I like to spray it on reusable cotton balls and apply it that way.
I find that this toner leaves my skin feeling soft and hydrated, and my moisturizer seems to go on more smoothly after using it. Has a nice light rose scent too.
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A woman-owned business, CocoKind manufactures all of their products in the United States. Even the glass bottles they use for packaging are sourced from the US rather than internationally, reducing the brand’s carbon footprint.
Thanks to a single organic ingredient, this toner carries the USDA organic seal. It is cruelty-free and the outer box is made from Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified forests, recycled materials and FSC controlled wood (FSC blend).
I am very new to facial oils but this has me sold. Not only does it brighten my skin, but it also smells delicious because of the added coffee oil from the high mobility flour. I like to layer it over my moisturizer. A little goes a long way, so you really only need a few drops.
Made with a blend of oils including sunflower seed, safflower, jojoba seed, rosehip and raspberry seed, this serum’s ingredient list is 98 percent organic and rich in vitamins and antioxidants. UpCircle suggests that it can also be used as a hair oil.
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The interesting thing about this serum is that although the tube has a rubber and plastic top, you can buy refills with just the aluminum cap. That way, you will never have to buy and use a pipe as long as you choose to continue using the product.
In addition to purchasing directly from UpCircle, you can find this serum online or in stores at Ulta and Credo Beauty.
I’m a big fan of sunscreen, especially on my face. I’ve been using the same one for years, but when I look for a plastic-free alternative, it’s almost impossible to find. Everything I found was sticky, chalky or impossible to remove – or it was chemical based.
This option from Green Goo is a winner. It is made with seven ingredients including coconut oil, sunflower oil and calendula oil (which has some sun protection properties).
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Thanks to all that oil, I’ll admit it’s pretty greasy. But it soaks up quickly, comes in a fully recyclable aluminum tin and is reef safe.
This moisturizer from Juice Beauty is light and hydrating. I have a habit of rubbing my moisturizer into my hands before applying it to my face, but this makes me want to apply it properly, à la Jonathan Van Ness.
If I apply it the other way, it’s almost gone when my hands touch my face – it soaks in quickly.
Instead of water, Juice Beauty uses their signature organic white grape juice as the base of this moisturizer. It’s also packed with other hydrating ingredients like aloe vera, shea butter, and jojoba seed oil. And, as the name suggests, it has its fair share of nutrients like vitamins C and E.
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