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Let's Be Honest, Episode 27: Makeup Product Waste

Let’s be honest is a Food Circle project to open up the conversation about the challenges when being or becoming a member of the SC (Sustainability Club). This series will shine a light on the different approaches to making life more sustainable and the step-backs and difficulties that arise. Being more kind and understanding, instead of critical, will hopefully help to encourage us to try instead of giving up when facing a step-back or failure. This is made possible thanks to Sapient, the mother company of Food Circle, which every year offers internships to students from all around the world, creating a uniquely multicultural environment.

Let’s celebrate the achievements and give room for honesty and struggles!

Let's Talk Makeup: the Industry, the Expiration, the Waste

The beauty industry is ever-growing. A sprinkle of fragrance, a dab of makeup and a touch of moisturiser has become an essential part of daily routine for many. Industry analysts estimate that the USA is the biggest consumer of beauty products globally based on product value [1]. Trends of the industry influence what cosmetics are purchased and how they are used.

However, the more vast the use of beauty products, the more waste is accumulated. Consumption of haircare, skincare and makeup products requires not only the knowledge of how to apply the cosmetics, but also when and when not to best use them. Not only is the great majority of personal care products packaged in single-plastic containers, but also cosmetics have expiration dates, which often results in the product being thrown away before it is used up.

The lifetime of a product is labeled usually on the backside of the container, with a little symbol of an open jar referred to as Period-After-Opening or “PAO” for short [2]. The number on it is the indication of the amount of months of the product's “shelf life”, meaning, the time period that the product is good for use after being opened. An expired product might just have lost its effect, but it also might become a vessel for harmful bacteria that can cause irritation, acne, rash or bacterial infections [3].

How to Minimise your Makeup Waste

When talking about cosmetic products we deal with two kinds of waste: the plastic container of the product and the contents of it, the product itself. Shampoo, soap, body lotion and other treatment cosmetics empty out rather quickly. But what about decorative cosmetics? Powder, blush, eyeshadows and even lipstick - their shelf life often runs out before the product is fully consumed. Eyeliner and mascara expire in 3 months; lip glosses, eyeshadows, foundations and concealers are advised to be discarded a year after being opened.

So, the next time you take on the necessary decluttering of your makeup drawer, you might want to consider some of these solutions to minimise the excess of your personal care items.

1. Start using waste-free cosmetics

While this might appear as a challenging change, zero-waste and plastic-free makeup brands have seen a rise in popularity and have become generally more accessible.

2. Use old skincare products as a synthetic leather cleaner

That's right. Expired face toners and cleansers may not be used for your skin anymore but they sure can dust off and make synthetic leather shoes and furniture glossier [4].

3. Create art from old eyeshadows

Eyeshadows and powder blushes contain pigmentation that, if not used on the face, can still serve as paint for a quantity of artworks. Mix the eyeshadow with an acrylic medium and you get acrylic paint. Add a water soluble binder and you get watercolour paint [5]. But combine crushed up eyeshadow with clear nail polish, and you can customise and create new coloured nail polishes [6].

4. Find new ways to reuse the packaging

Clean out the container and use it as a jewellery box, a vase or decor. Or pour new contents in it, such as air freshener or cleaning solution. The mascara wand is also something you can wash and use as an eyebrow brush.

5. Use one product at a time

You may want to avoid collecting products with the shortest “life span”. Specifically eye makeup that can become causal to pinkeye after expiration. It could be beneficial to not make room for more than one of these products and not have to throw away half-empty containers [6].

6. Resell or donate unused products

Allergic reaction to the product? Skin irritation? It often transpires like this - the product sits its life away on the shelf, awaiting its inevitable disposal. When in reality unused makeup products can find a new user.

7. Reconsider if the product is necessary

The “R” that stands for “reduce” in Waste Management tells us to think through if what we wish to consume is really needed. Makeup can be artistry, a form of creative expression, and just like for any type of art the tools are of importance. But these tools create a better and more sustainable result if chosen more carefully. Reading customer reviews of products, looking up the brands and educating yourself on the do's and don'ts of makeup use might actually help avoid the accidental mishap of buying something unsuitable for your wishes and needs.

To sum up

Cutting back on cosmetic product waste may not be the first thing that comes to mind when we think of personal waste management. But believe it or not, waste of cosmetics could be handled more efficiently both on the part of the individual consumer and the industry. Sustainability in the beauty industry, or lack thereof, is something yet to be addressed by most beauty brands. Good news is: there are ways to use and dispose of cosmetics in a mindful way.

Author: Liva Puka


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  1. Leading Beauty Consumers Worldwide | Statista

  2. This Tiny Symbol Tells You When Your Makeup Expires

  3. Is Using Expired Skincare Dangerous in Any Way | GreenMatters

  4. Solutions For Your Cosmetics Waste | Waste4Change

  5. Turn Your Eye shadow Into Watercolours