Whether you diligently compost or bring your own bags grocery shopping, the impact you have on this earth is likely on your mind. It’s hard not to be! We think about it all the time too. To us, green skincare isn’t just about the ingredients that go into our products. We source sustainably and, whenever possible, locally. But the truth is that’s only half the battle. The impact our packaging has on the environment is a high priority as well.
That being said, recycling in the bathroom can get tricky. Have you noticed? Somehow it all gets as foggy as a bathroom mirror when you open a new bar of soap or finish a bottle of rosewater mist. Is shiny cardboard okay to recycle? Should you rinse bottles before recycling? What the heck do you do with pumps? In fact, one study shows that only 34% of people walk their bathroom recyclables to the bin.
When it comes to purchasing the most eco-friendly skincare products, it starts with knowing what to look for, like what materials products are packaged in and whether or not they’re recyclable. It can feel overwhelming, but some companies (like us!) keep it simple by providing as much information as possible on their website and FAQ section. Below, we’ve put together a guide so you can make smart, earth-friendly skincare decisions.
Jars and bottles
Well, well, well. The face-off of the millennia. In one corner, we have pretty plastic containers. In the other, shiny glass bottles. In an eco-friendly stand-off who wins?
Cons for plastic:
Producing plastic requires using crude oil, natural gas and lots of chemistry. The result is a polymer that gets shaped into soda bottles, fruit containers, and skincare packaging. As you may know, oil and natural gas exist in, well, the earth, which means creating plastic takes a lot of drilling and fracking that can have a negative impact on the environment.
Recycling is a great idea for these man-made bottles in theory, but around 91% of plastic isn’t recycled. Yep, you read that right. Even if it does end up in the blue bin, it has one or two more lifecycles at best, depending on what type of plastic it is. Plastic sitting in landfills or at the bottom of the ocean causes harm to wildlife because most leache chemicals when heated. If things continue this way, reporters for National Geographic estimate there will be 12 billion metric tons of plastic in landfills by 2050. That’s 35,000 times as heavy as the Empire State Building. It’s also estimated that by the year 2025 there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean. Point. One. For. Glass.
Pros for plastic:
On the upside, plastic is light. “If it’s single use, from a carbon-usage-during-manufacture perspective, plastic is actually best because it’s lighter than comparative glass packaging,” says Akhil, co-founder of Green Story and an expert in Life Cycle Analysis for assessing the environmental impact of products. Its weight and durability are also beneficial in shipping since plastics can be packed tightly and take less carbon emission to transport.
Pros for glass:
Now for glass. Old glass is part of all new glass recipes, meaning all glass containers are produced using some measure of cullet—chopped up, post-consumer glass. Recycling plants actually prefer cullet to pre-consumer glass (or virgin glass) for its ability to dissolve at a much lower temperature. To make more glass accessible, abundant earth elements like sand or limestone are used. Once recycled, glass never loses quality or durability meaning it has infinite lifecycles.
And glass is easier to recycle. Plastic containers that are fixed with other components, like metal springs or unmarked plastic, cannot be recycled. Glass, on the other hand, is 100% recyclable! Even if it doesn’t get made into another bottle, it can be used for things like tiles, sandblasting, or concrete. That being said, it’s always a good idea to check yearly with your town’s municipal rules to make sure you’re following their guidelines. Some require you to sort glass by color.
Cons for glass:
Glass has one major downfall—it’s heavy and fragile. This makes shipping difficult. In fact, a 2009 independent study suggested that plastic is superior to glass for this reason.
So what’s the verdict? When it comes to the recyclability, glass wins hands down. But what about the carbon footprint? Although glass has a higher carbon footprint than plastic, when you consider the full life cycle of glass and the recycling stream, glass actually has a lower carbon footprint. Plus, dark glass, such as our amber bottles and jars, do a better job at keeping natural ingredients fresh and potent—win-win!
Pumps, misters, droppers
Liquid soaps, cleansers, lotions, toners, mists, oils, serums and the list goes on. You may not be able to tell from the outside, but pumps and sprayers are made of many different pieces of plastic and metal. “They are complex and require a lot of effort to break apart into components so most waste handling centers won’t accept them,” says Akhil.
It may be painful, but pumps, misters, and droppers need to be placed in the trash. We looked into it, and the only eco-friendly option for skincare packaging is screw-on caps, which don’t help you to apply the product. We are working on finding an alternative, but for now, try to get creative. “If you want to be eco-friendly, reuse the pumps around the house and buy refills.” You can also look into companies like Terracycle and return these non-recyclables via a Zero Waste Box.
When it comes to making eco-friendly choices it doesn’t stop at product packaging. Before purchasing from a company question the materials they use to ship. Styrofoam packing peanuts and bubble wrap sit in the landfill for a long time, so best to choose a company that uses biodegradable peanuts or recycled tissue paper. Also, look for the use of biodegradable and recycled materials, un-coated cardboard boxes (shiny boxes are coated in polymers and cannot be recycled), and paper tape instead of plastic.
Labels and boxes
Post-Consumer Waste (PCW) paper is made from recycled envelopes, copy paper, or shredded material and made into new goods, like tissue paper and labels. Consider looking for products that use this over new pre-consumer or glossy packaging.
For example, our boxes are made from 50% PWC paper, our soap packaging and adhesive labels from100% PCW paper. Everything is recyclable accept adhesive labels. So at the end of your Apoterra products, you’ll have left little to no trace on planet earth. How cool is that?
Next time you’re looking to pick up some new skincare products and want to be as eco-friendly as possible, consider choosing glass bottles, PCW labels or boxes, and a company that puts the earth first. Glass is the way to go as it can be recycled over and over again and unless you upcycle pumps, sprayers, and droppers, they must be tossed in the garbage. Know that we’re over here tipping our hats to your eco-friendly practice!
Akhil, co-founder of Green Story and an expert in Life Cycle Analysis for assessing the environmental impact of products.
Photo credits from top to bottom:
Myles Tan (eucalyptus in jars)
Kelly Sikkema (brown glass bottles)
Chuttersnap (bottles in packaging)