Every Earth Day, we launch a new product or promotion. This year, we're ditching our lipsticks in plastic tubes, instead.
This means as of April 22, 2022, we're officially 100% plastic free.
Our beloved 10-ingredient lippies will be making a come-back in snazzy, new plastic-free packaging.
Why go 100% plastic free?
Plastic is a huge problem. Literally. The beauty industry creates 120 BILLION UNITS of plastic every year. Every. Year. And so much of it ends up in the ocean that there will likely be more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050 if we don’t do some serious course-correcting now.
The issue with all of this plastic in our oceans is that it is killing millions of animals a year and those animals that don't die are found to have plastic in their stomachs. We live in an eco-system. What affects one of us affects all of us. In fact, a recent study found microplastics in human blood which causes all kinds of health issues. So, plastic pollution is causing near-unfathomable harm to people, wildlife, communities of color, and the planet. More details on all of this down below.
It's already working.
Our everyday lives are filled with plastic, and it can sometimes feel like an insurmountable problem. But it's not! All of our small choices matter, and here's some proof: So far, our Axiology community of plastic-ditchers has kept more than 25,000 plastic tubes from going to landfills just by shopping plastic-free Balmies. Teamwork makes the dreamwork!
And it's not just individuals making plastic-free choices. The move toward more sustainable packaging is also happening at every level of the supply chain, with more brands, big and small, working to reduce and reuse packaging. Innovation from all angles will be key to reducing our plastic consumption.
But wait, isn’t plastic recyclable?
Well, not really.
Problem #1 — When it’s not recycled.
About 91% of all of the plastic ever created has never been recycled. That’s why we started using post-consumer-recycled (PCR) plastic for our lipstick tubes — it gives second life to the tiniest fraction of the 6.3 billion metric tons of single-use plastic already sitting in landfills. But it's still plastic.
Problem #2 — When it can’t be recycled.
Part of the reason that nearly all beauty and skincare plastics ends up as trash after the first go is that small pieces can’t be recycled in municipal systems. Every system is different (which is part of the problem), but, for the most part, the small pieces that make up beauty products are a no go. Pretty much, the prettier and more convenient packaging is, the harder it is to recycle. (See the bottom of this post for personal care recycling tips.)
Problem #3 — There’s a limit to plastic’s recyclability.
Even if these little pieces do manage to get recycled, there’s a limit. Did you know that a piece of plastic can only be recycled 2, maybe 3, times before the quality degrades to a point that it becomes unusable? So, all plastic is just a few steps away from the landfill (or ocean), no matter how diligently its recycled.
Is there a place for plastic?
Arguably, yes, but not in consumer products.
Originally, plastics were — and still are — essential to the medical and health industries, but the rise and appeal of throwaway culture means that single-use plastics are now ubiquitous and massively problematic. And, really, there’s just no excuse to be using plastic in personal care products when alternatives exist.
Consumers and businesses alike are guilty of prioritizing convenience over durability and long-term impacts—so much so that, globally, 400 million tons of plastic are produced annually; of that, 40% is single-use. That’s about the weight of the planet’s entire human population, every year.
Plastic is bad news all around.
Plastic in the oceans kills millions of marine mammals, sea turtles, fish, and seabirds every year. Whales are often found dead with bellies full of plastic waste. Some beaches have so much plastic that it’s impacting sea turtle reproduction by altering the temperature of the sand where eggs incubate.
As if the literal mountains of plastic litter weren’t enough, plastic never actually breaks down—it just breaks up, becoming microplastics over time.
Microplastics now invisibly pollute and contaminate much of our Earth: Beaches, waterways, drinking water (tap and bottled!), and the food chain (up to people, too). Ingestion is a real problem because plastics are known endocrine disruptors and exposure may be behind hormone imbalances, reproductive difficulties, and cancer for humans and wildlife.
A Product of Oil & Gas
We often get so worked up about all the damage done at the end of plastic’s life cycle, that we forget the harm at the start.
As a product of the petroleum industry, plastic production is a huge problem for the planet at every point in its life-cycle: Extracting oil and gas is associated with methane leaking and flaring, and often involves clearing carbon-sequestering forests and wetlands, and refining crude oil into plastic is one of the most greenhouse-gas-intensive industries in all of manufacturing.
These facilities that turn oil into gas and gas into plastic resin aren’t just a problem for climate change. This process releases massive amounts polluting toxic chemicals into the air that have been linked to cancer.
In 2018, the EPA’s National Center for Environmental Assessment confirmed that this particulate matter air pollution disproportionately affects people of color. One 85-mile stretch in Louisiana between Baton Rouge and New Orleans has one of the highest cancer rates in the country, earning it the name “Cancer Alley.” The communities closest to the 150 offending plants and refineries are predominantly Black.
Cancer Alley is just one example of the disproportionate burden of plastic-related air pollution on BIPOC communities. An article published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences estimates that Black people bear a “pollution burden” of 56% — meaning an excess exposure of 56% compared to consumption. Pollution-induced poor air quality has also been linked to the death rate from COVID-19 being three times higher for Black people compared to whites.
Plastic burden is a problem internationally as well. Southeast Asia imports high volumes of plastic that destroys land and poisons residents when it's burned in illegal facilities.
When it comes down to it, there needs to be a really damn good reason to create a piece of plastic.
What Can We Do?
We can all make choices to improve this plastic-induced bad dream.
The easiest place to start is to change consumption. This means stop buying fancy packaging that’s pretty to look at but ugly in the trash. Instead, choose zero-waste products like our Balmies, or products in aluminum or glass, which can be recycled nearly endlessly.
Pact Collective offers beauty-industry-specific recycling via mail-in programs and in-person drop-off at Credo Stores, and TerraCycle has options for nearly everything.
Our plastic problem is steep, but, together, we can make changes for the better.