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climate change

Polluting our planet: The carbon-heavy cost of the beauty industry revealed

Climate change is devastating the planet, and with it the lives of some of the most vulnerable people across the globe.

We see this first hand here at Islamic Relief, with communities left battling the effects of climate-induced disasters such as droughts, famine and flooding in Kenya, Bangladesh and Pakistan.

That’s why we’re committed to fighting climate change and helping to protect the planet, our wildlife and our brothers and sisters in humanity across the globe.

We’re not only lobbying governments, we’re also working to create critical change at home. Because: every single action counts!

Yes, how we eat, shop and spend our money is having a massive impact on the environment.

From fast fashion, high meat consumption and failing to recycle our waste: everything we do has an impact on the planet. Including the make-up we wear and the toiletries we buy.

Today, in an increasingly climate-conscious world, when we think of cosmetics or the beauty industry, we’re often met with terms like, ‘organic’, ‘natural’ or ‘clean’.

However, how much of the slogans and factoids plastered as marketing brands are actually true?

This blog looks into just that and questions how environmentally friendly the cosmetics industry really is and how you can help protect the planet.


The beauty industry: Environmentally friendly or carbon heavy?

The beauty industry is a $532 billion business expected to grow further and further through time.

However, this growth comes at the expense of the Earth. The beauty and cosmetics industry is impacting greatly on global carbon emissions and as a consequence are incredibly harmful to the planet.

To begin with, annually around 120 billion units of cosmetic packaging is produced and much of this is either too small to recycle, contains mixed materials so ends up in landfill or is left collecting dust eventually to be binned and replaced.

However, research has shown that 70% of carbon emissions ascribed to this industry could be reduced by just using reusable bottles.

What’s more, is that plastic is also directly harming the environment and animals. For example, it’s been estimated that by 2050 the amount of plastic items in the sea will outnumber fish.

This is alarming for a number of reasons.

Firstly, the plastic in the ocean releases harmful toxins which can be dangerous to the sea’s ecosystem and the animals within them.

Many cleansers, exfoliators and other cosmetic products also contain microbeads – small plastics made from the chemical polyethylene also known as microplastics.

Tragically, because of this, 100 million marine animals die each year from plastic waste alone. In fact, 500 marine locations worldwide have now been declared as dead zones.

Dead zones are low-oxygen areas known formally as hypoxic areas in oceans and lakes. Because most organisms need oxygen to live, few organisms can survive in a hypoxic habitat, hence the name dead zones.

What’s more, many cosmetics and daily essentials such as toothpaste, deodorant and lipstick also contain palm oil.

Palm oil is still one of the greatest culprits when it comes to deforestation. This has an impact on the forest ecosystem and the animals that call this habitat home.

Sadly, this is affecting already vulnerable species such as the orang-utan and Sumatran rhino.

Deforestation often involves damaging peatlands which can cause the release of carbon at a faster rate. Damaged peatlands are a major source of greenhouse gas emissions, annually releasing almost 6% of global CO₂ emissions.


Moving forward: How to sustain change

What we have seen in recent years is the “greenwashing” trend within the beauty and cosmetics industry. Here, the promotion of additional natural ingredients masks the toxic chemicals already in the product.

So, as consumers how do we ensure we don’t fall for the trap and purchase products which are harmful to the environment?

Here’s how!


1.  Be a mindful consumer

When out shopping, it’s important to not look at just one or two components of a product. Ideally, we need to look at the carbon footprint of the whole supply chain.

Although admittedly this can be difficult given the vague messaging by companies and a lack of information, there is a new wave of cosmetic products which are now carbon neutral or negative.

In essence, carbon-neutral brands are offsetting their carbon emissions across their entire production lines, from ingredients sourcing to packaging – and have the credentials to prove it. Carbon negative brands also go a step further by sequestering more CO₂ than is emitted.

Micaela Nisbet, Founder of Neighbourhood Botanicals – the first UK beauty brand to go carbon negative says:

It’s not enough for a company to be simply ‘recyclable’ or ‘sustainable’. You cannot be sustainable without thinking about the whole life cycle of your product so a proper emissions audit by a third party assessor is an important step for companies to take.

This is the only true way we can ensure that a product is indeed good for the earth.

Here’s a list of carbon neutral / negative brands where you can shop.


2. Reuse and recycle

Another way to reduce global carbon emissions and protect animals is quite simply to reuse and recycle.

Indeed, it’s estimated that buying a refill instead of a new product saves 70% CO₂, 65% energy and 45% water – not to mention it’s cheaper!

This makes for some compelling stuff in combating climate change and reducing the carbon footprint of the beauty industry.

Give it a go! Take a look at just some of the many brands that offer a refill option.


3. Make your own!

Finally, why not go au natural and make your own cosmetics and essential toiletries?

Whether it’s a face mask, lip balm or shampoo, the internet is full of guides to help you create your own cosmetics.

This is not only a more environmentally-friendly option but is a great way to get creative and have some fun in the process.

Using foods we often have at home such as oats, honey and fruits, as well as fragrant natural essential oils, you can make some beautiful products without the carbon-heavy price tag.


So, next time you’re due to shop for your cosmetics and essential toiletries, try out our tips!

Do some research and ensure that your beauty regime is not at the expense of the planet.

In Islam, being climate-conscious is an act of worship. So, why not reap the reward and save the planet in the process?

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