Plastic debris is found absolutely everywhere, from the Arctic to Antarctica. It clogs street drains in our cities; it litters campgrounds and national parks and is even piling up on Mount Everest.
This July we have decided to empower our community by sharing the importance of refusing microplastics and single-use plastics, whilst emphasising on the power of adopting minimalist or circular economy approach to tackle waste. We do not say all plastics are bad or the ultimate solution to deal with planet crisis is to start buying plastic-free alternatives only. We think an ideal solution to tackle waste is to reduce, reuse, recycle and refuse those types of plastics that cannot be reused or recycled, such as microplastic inside your products and single-use plastic. Yes, you heard this right. There are microplastics inside your products too. With over 1.5 million microplastics found in popular anti-aging products, the beauty industry plays a big part in plastic pollution and marine debris.
When we look to buy ‘plastic free’ beauty, we are usually thinking of single-use plastic packaging, plastic microbeads in glitters, body scrubs and exfoliating products. But no one seems to think about hidden Plastic inside our ingredients– synthetic polymers in liquid or semi-liquid form that are equally undesirable.
Do you know substances like Teflon, Nylon, Polypropylene and Polystyrene which we only associate with non-stick frying pans and packaging can also be found in cosmetics and personal care products?
We believe when it comes to clean beauty, we need to think about the product in its entirety. It’s not enough to stick a ‘clean’ logo onto a product but not consider the thousands of microplastics inside that are just as damaging to the environment. Its what’s inside that counts too! That is why we have decided to share the concerns around microplastics this July, as this is something not many people are aware of, yet it needs great attention.
Whilst we do encourage people to refuse single-use plastic items and microplastics inside their products, we do not say that plastics are inherently bad as they can present a plethora of opportunities to solve environmental concerns in certain cases. Plastics that are made up of recycled materials and are fully recyclable are the best option to prevent waste when handled, reused and disposed appropriately. The problem lies where most of it does not get recycled due to negligence, or the issues with current infrastructure.
In our opinion, an ideal solution includes Refuse, Reduce, Continue to Reuse and then Recycle after making the most of it!
It also includes things such as,
Avoiding excessive packaging – Always question whether you need something excessive that comes with your products? Such as, do you really need to buy the vegetables and fruits that come in a plastic bag, or can you take your own reusable bag on a trip to grocery and look for loose alternatives?
Adopting Minimalist Buying Habits/Less is More – This includes minimising your consumption of new virgin materials and choosing multipurpose solutions whenever possible. Minimalism doesn’t only avoid unnecessary waste, but it is also a better option to save you time and money.
Preventing your existing products & purchases to make their way to the landfill – This includes upcycling, meaning reusing your existing items as many times as possible by giving them another life instead of buying a new one. Upcycling is the process of transforming by-products, waste materials, useless, or unwanted products into new materials or products of better quality and environmental value. Such as turning your empty cosmetic jar into a plant pot, are some of the other examples of reduce & reuse! Moreover, instead of buying new items, you can also think about renting or buying second hand options.
The concept of circular economy is perfect for controlling general waste, but the problem is that it is not quite relevant to single-use and microplastics. Also, it isn’t actually happening or, it will take at least a decade to be implemented properly due to our current infrastructure. Circular economy involves rethinking and redesigning the way we make stuff in first place so it can be reused again and again & keep circulating until it gets recycled as a last resort. Designing products that can be ‘made to be made again’ and powering the system with renewable energy is great, but it isn’t applicable to single use plastics.
In order to deal with the catastrophic effects associated with plastic waste, we have to address the wasteful consumption habits and always try a minimalist (reduce) approach.
Single-use plastic products can easily be criticised from the perspective of circularity; their functionality and value to the economy are very limited in time, and when they are littered their value is totally lost.
We know from 276 beach counts across the EU (the best indicator for marine litter) that single use plastic items constitute about 50% of such litter, while fishing gear represents a further 27%. For single use plastics, there are some most found single use items. Together these constitute 70% of all marine litter items.
Most common single-use plastics found in EU beaches are as below:
According to a report from the Guardian, an estimated 8.3 billion tons of plastic have been produced since the 1950s — that’s equivalent to the weight of more than 800,000 Eiffel Towers. And only 9% of it has been recycled.
Consumption & Production still hasn’t minimised to the level it should have by now: This might seem like an unbelievable number, but according to Ecowatch, between 500 billion and 1 trillion plastic bags are used worldwide annually.
Additionally, more than 90% of all birds and fish are believed to have plastic particles in their stomach. It’s because plastic breaks up into tiny pieces in the sea, which are then consumed by fish and other sea animals.
We cannot argue about reusing or recycling those ingredients that contains microplastics and end up in landfills through our drains. The only solution for microplastics is to refuse those products that contains them in the first place.
Almost all major beauty brands still add microscopic plastic particles or even liquid plastics to their cosmetic products – often used as cheap fillers. Through our showers, baths and sinks, microplastics in our everyday products (laundry detergent, skincare and so much more) flow into sewage systems, slip through the filters in water treatment plants and reach our rivers and oceans. Once there, they become a part of the plastic soup. The plastic breaks down further and further. Marine animals mistake these microplastics for food. These particles end up on our plates because we are part of the food chain! It’s a vicious cycle.
All of this shows that we need to alter our approach with sustainability and put more emphasis on the Reduce, Reuse part of the equation whilst refusing microplastics and single-use plastics. Note: The ‘reduce’ part is same as minimalism.
A study conducted by the University of Queensland in Australia, based on data collected since the late 1980s, found that Green sea turtles now ingest twice the plastic they did 25 years ago.
73% of beach litter worldwide is plastic.
According to the United Nations, ingestion of plastic kills an estimated 1 million marine birds and 100,000 marine animals each year.
Recent research proposed that plastics in the oceans become covered with marine algae that release a natural sulfur compound, dimethylsulfoniopropionate (DMSP), when they die or become damaged. This chemical is detected by hungry seabirds and other marine creatures, which are attracted to it and then they mistake plastics for lunch.
Not even microscopic animals, collectively known as zooplankton, are safe from ingesting plastics, the only difference being that they consume microscopic plastic bits. Similar to plastics consumption by larger animals, microplastics can result in reduced feeding, energetic deficiencies, injury, or death of zooplankton — A huge concern since zooplankton are part of the essential foundation upon which the entire marine food web rests.
What we need to avoid waste as a consumer is the reduce and reuse approach (minimalist) to everything we do & refuse single use plastics. For organisations, they need to create a “New Plastics Economy” which must be a circular economy that eliminates waste, maximises value, and uses plastic efficiently. In doing so it will help protect our environment, reduce marine litter, greenhouse gas emissions and our dependence on imported fossil fuels.
We need a system in place that separate collection and landfill charging systems and make it viable to invest in recycling capacity. We will then arrive at the point where waste will be regarded as valuable, because it is collected and sorted.
We need to address all parts of the circle, from extraction to design and production, from use to re-use, from disposal to recycling and return to the economy as secondary raw materials. It also means dealing with the plastic that escapes from proper circular management into our environment, particularly the marine environment, such as single-use plastics.
For now, the best you can do is;
REFUSE products made up of single-use plastics,
REFUSE products that contain microplastics inside them,
and REDUCE, REUSE & RECYCLE as much as possible (With a great focus on reduce and reuse part of the equation)
Please let us know in the comments below if you found this blog helpful for your plastic-free journey this year!