This Mother’s Day, I want to draw attention to the mother of all mothers: Mother Earth. She plays a vital role in our lives, so let’s begin to play a vital role in hers and clean her the f*ck up, because there is no doubt each of us want a cleaner earth for ourselves, for our children, and for our children’s children.
I decided to write this post because as I was perusing social media this weekend, I felt like I was experiencing Mother’s Day through a new lens. So many of my friends have created beautiful families — families I have watched grow and develop, and come to love over the past few years. As I was watching tributes, I began to fill with severe anxiety for what the world will look like as they age into adults. The reason? plastic.
Plastic dominated each Mother’s Day Instagram story I watched. You know, the “self-care” gifts straight from a Sephora wish list. In our best effort to appreciate the mothers in our lives, we seemed to limit ourselves in our ability to give gifts that consider more than just a single moment of gratitude.
Believe it or not, those single-purchase decisions have a huge impact. Plastic pollution is one of the most dominant and pervasive environmental problems that we face today. Let’s look at how it impacts just one part of our daily lives.
In 2017, almost 80 billion pieces of plastic packaging was produced by the beauty industry alone. That’s only 365 days of data — over 200 million pieces per day. This data omits accessories such as application tools. This is not limited to a single gender; men use hair, skin, sun and perfume products, too.
So, what if we not only tried to purchase less (because no, we don’t need to buy that new face cream that will ultimately end up under our sink until it’s expired), but opted against products packaged in plastic because every single one of these aforementioned products is sold in a zero waste alternative? Yes, even deodorant!
If you are sitting there reading, wondering “um, plastic can be recycled so what are you even talking about?” Consider that just because a product can be refilled, recycled, or composted doesn’t mean it will, especially when it comes to plastic. In fact, less than ten percent of plastic thrown into recycling bins is actually reused in some capacity. The rest ends up in the landfill. In Portland, Oregon, you can only recycle plastic larger than 6oz — so instantly, that omits many beauty industry products. And what we have recycled, has put Portland into a state of crisis because we’re doing it wrong, which has led to severe contamination. (Don’t try to recycle used diapers, folks.)
Additionally, plastic production is also a huge contributor to carbon emissions. I am sure we could have guessed that, though. After all, plastic is just a form of fossil fuel. Prachi Patel writes that plastic production will soon make up 15 percent of our carbon budget if we continue to produce at a business as usual rate. That’s 56 billion tons, or almost 50 times the annual emissions of all of the coal power plants in the U.S.
Oh, and guess what: these plastic containers leech into the products you are putting on your skin and into your mouth (hi, toothpaste). Often, you’ll find the containers that carry your shampoo and makeup are filled with toxins that not only infect the product as you are using it, but also infects the waterways the containers inevitably end up in after you have discarded them.
If personal health isn’t a reason, perhaps it is the very imminent reality that in the next couple decades there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean, meaning no more whale or dolphin watching on vacations or worse; no more whales or dolphins in general. Enter all of those awful stories of washed up animals whose stomachs are full of plastic.
Glass isn’t perfect, but if we transition correctly, it is damn near close.
Although glass can have greater emissions cost on the front end, it is infinitely recyclable. Additionally, glass recycling is a closed-loop system, so it doesn’t create any additional waste or by-products. If glass manufacturing facilities used 50 percent recycled content to make new glass, there would be a 10 percent decrease in GWP (global warming potential). Meaning, it would remove more than 2 million metric tons of CO2 from the environment (the equivalent of 400,000 cars’ driving emissions per year).
So if the chances are that high that it will end up in a landfill, shouldn’t we be more responsible with our purchasing choices? A huge bonus I’ve noticed is that companies who prioritize zero-waste packaging also tend to value all-natural ingredients. Better for you and better for the environment. Glass is also far easier to up-cycle. Whether you use it to refill with new products (glass can hold anything for essentially, forever), fill with plant starts and herbs, or tidy up by using as small item storage — the possibilities are endless — you’re keeping it out landfills and our oceans.
The bottom line: personal care products will remain a huge part of our daily routine.
Making changes on a micro level can deeply influence our world at a macro level. Someday in the future, near or distant, our governments will implement policy to curb our burgeoning use of plastic. Until then, it is important to implement change on a personal level. It is also crucial to note that you do not need to wait until you’ve planned perfect execution to begin making changes in your life.
You can lead by example.
There is no perfect path to zero waste — our system as it exists is not setup to achieve zero waste — but you can begin to slowly phase out plastic waste within your own home. Take inventory of what you can feasibly transition as it runs out and do a little research on what you can purchase instead. Already, we have so many options for both budget and high-end, sustainable, zero waste options on the market.
We unequivocally vote with our dollar. So let’s do that by buying responsibly and repurposing more.