“Sustainability” is an ambiguous, ever-evolving concept. In the beauty world, it encompasses many things, but one of the biggest concerns is the bottles, jars, and tubes that accumulate in our medicine cabinets, our showers, our makeup bags — and then our trash cans.
On this Earth Day, we at Allure want to affirm our commitment to choosing our words clearly and carefully when we report on “sustainable” packaging, and we call on the beauty industry to do the same. Important strides are being made, but we need to do much more to understand and address the realities of the beauty waste problem — and a good place to start is with the way we talk about it.
Here is our pledge to you on the sustainability buzzwords we will no longer use, or use with very careful qualification, as outlined below.
We will never refer to any type of plastic as “recyclable.” Yes, many plastics are capable of being recycled — but most of them never are (yes, even when you carefully clean them and place them in the correct bin). Only 9 percent of all plastic waste ever produced has actually been turned into something that we were then able to use again.
That is why we’re not going to use “recyclable” as a crutch to let us tell ourselves — and for packaged-goods companies to tell themselves — “but it will be used again!” Nope. It will most likely live in a landfill or our oceans for a very long time. So, yes, do your damnedest to sort your trash. But do not pass off all the responsibility to a blue bin. It’s on you — and, above all, it’s on manufacturers — to use less plastic, period.
We will only use the word “green” to describe something that is literally verdant in color. Otherwise, what does it mean exactly? (We certainly don’t know!)
We will never use the word “biodegradable” without being extremely specific about what we mean. While the word defines “a substance or object that is capable of being decomposed by bacteria or other living organisms,” there is no specific time limit — even plastic will break down in a few thousand years — and most landfills don’t have enough oxygen to get the job done.
We will only use the word “compostable” to describe a product that can break down in a residential composter in approximately 90 days, creating zero soil toxicity in the process. Only 4 percent of Americans currently have access to curbside pickup that will transport their compost to an industrial facility — and, according to a recent study by TerraCycle, only 10 percent of those industrial facilities actually accept compostable plastic.
We will never describe a product or its packaging as “zero-waste.” Instead, we will ask the brand using that descriptor to tell us exactly what they mean by this undefined term.
We will not call any type of product packaging “Earth-friendly” (or “eco-friendly” or “planet-friendly”) — unless it is nonexistent.
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