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Is it actually sustainable? Greenwashing in the Beauty Industry.


What is Greenwashing?

With the increased public interest in stopping climate change also comes an increased interest in consuming products that are environmentally friendly. Especially big corporations that do not want to make the actual changes needed will use marketing to paint their products as more sustainable than they actually are. This happens in all industries, no less in the beauty industry than any other.


Greenwash

noun

disinformation disseminated by an organization so as to present an environmentally responsible public image.


With the industry actively lying to you it's really hard to make sustainable choices. Even independent brand owners are being a sold a false bill of goods and sometimes greenwash their own products unknowingly. The common types of greenwashing we will talk about in this article is the following:

  1. Plastic Recycling

  2. Recycled Plastic

  3. Biodegradable Plastic

  4. Sugarcane Plastic

  5. Carbon Footprint

  6. Carbon Compensating



1 - Plastic Recycling

Recycling was invented by the big oil corporations to take the responsibility and blame of dealing with plastic waste away from big corporations and putting it on the consumers. As long as people believe that plastic recycling works they wont be as worried about the environment. The fact is that plastic recycling doesn't work.

"As of 2015, approximately 6300 Mt of plastic waste had been generated, around 9% of which had been recycled, 12% was incinerated, and 79% was accumulated in landfills or the natural environment. If current production and waste management trends continue, roughly 12,000 Mt of plastic waste will be in landfills or in the natural environment by 2050." - source

Some additional issues with recycling plastic is that there are only a few types of plastic that can be recycled. Small pieces of plastic and flexible packaging can not be recycled. All plastic that is recycled gets degraded, so usually it can not be used for the same purpose it was before. Even with the best of conditions for something to get recycled, more recycling is not going to solve plastic pollution.


2 - Recycled Plastic

Since recycling plastic isn't really the solution to any problem the use of recycled plastic is just taking the plastic for another spin and then it only has 9% chance of being recycled again. Even if it is it the plastic degrades as I mentioned above. Most products using recycled plastic are not 100% recycled plastic even, it's usually a mix of recycled and virgin plastic. I think that highlighting recycled plastics just gives people an unrealistic sense of the effectiveness or plastic recycling.


3 - Biodegradable Plastic

No plastic is actually biodegradable, at least not yet. Some issues with so called biodegradable plastic is that it get's missorted and contaminates recyclable plastics, they end up in landfills where they last as long as any other plastic or when actually composted (industrial/chemical composts) they still leave microplastics in the soil.


4 - Sugarcane Plastic

Sugarcane can be turned into oil that can then be turned into plastic. Once it has been turned into plastic it is exactly the same as any other plastic. It is not easier to recycle, it does not biodegrade and it is not cleaner in any way.


5 - Carbon Footprint

The term "Carbon Footprint" was both created and popularized in year 2000 by a $250 million advertising campaign by the oil and gas company BP. The goal of the campaign was to move public attention away from restricting the activities of fossil fuel companies and instead moving the attention to individual responsibility for solving climate change. The purpose of the idea of Carbon Footprint is to make people believe that individual actions cause climate change instead of the real cause, which is large corporations. I think some companies use the term knowing this and probably a lot of them without being aware that they are spreading the propaganda of the oil and gas industry.


6 - Carbon Compensating

It builds on the previous section that if carbon footprint is an invention of the oil and gas industry then the idea of carbon compensating is also likewise fraudulent, if not more. Carbon Compensating is like cheating on your spouse, then you pay someone else to not cheat on their spouse. You don't know that they were going to cheat on their spouse, you actually don't even know that they wont. Others cheaters may also have paid the same person to not cheat on their spouse. Then you go on cheating on your spouse while claiming that it's all even, cheating neutral, you might say. Carbon Compensating is a sham.



Conclusion

I'm not saying that no brands can use plastic (though I think it's better when brands don't). What I'm saying is that if all your packaging is made of of plastic don't claim that it's sustainable. Don't claim that bioplastics are sustainable, it's still plastics.




Sources and further learning

Articles


Videos



Thank you for reading! //Jennifer Carlsson

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Portrait photo of Jennifer Carlsson, short neon green hair and rainbow colored eye makeup
Jennifer Carlsson
The Beauty Brand Expert

I'm Jennifer Carlsson, a 30 year old strategy consultant, competitive market researcher, data analyst and designer from Stockholm, Sweden. I know more about more beauty brands than anyone else and I'm an expert in what it takes for beauty brands to succeed.
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