Are Organic Cosmetics Sustainable?

The beauty industry does not have the best record when it comes to sustainability, this is mostly due to the use of non-recyclable plastic packaging. According to Zero Waste globally the cosmetic industry produces more than 120 billion units of packaging. The good news is that change is happening with many brands and buyers of cosmetics making sustainable, eco-friendly moves that can make a big difference overall however there is still a long way as there is more to this story than just the way cosmetics are packaged.

What are we doing wrong?

RECYCLABLE PACKAGING // 120 billion units of packaging are produced every year by the global cosmetics industry, unfortunately most of this is not recyclable. Plastic, which houses many of the cosmetics can take 1,000 years to decompose. Lets not forget the plastic wrappings, cardboard sleeves and boxes, paper inserts, foam and for some beauty products mirrored glass - the list goes on!

Research has shown, the product packaging we can recycle, half of us don’t because of the inconvenience. If these bottles and boxes are not recycled and given a second life, they end up in landfill – or pollute our environment including waterways. Eight million tonnes of plastic (not all from cosmetics) are dumped into our oceans every year, polluting the aquatic sea life and ultimately contaminating our diets. I have written a BLOG covering this topic Are Cosmetic Ingredients Polluting our Waterways & Oceans?

WATER // Water is the beauty industry’s most used ingredient, there are concerns that demand for water could outstrip supply with UK based market research company Mintel estimate that by 2025 "1.8 billion people will experience absolute water scarcity, and two-thirds of the world will be living under water-stressed conditions" Water is therefore set to be come a precious commodity as consumptions outstrips supply. While some brands are responding by formulating with richer ingredients and less water, there’s also a ‘cleansing reduction’ movement concerned with showering and bathing less. I have written a BLOG covering the topic of Waterless Cosmetics.

INGRDIENTS // Are the ingredients within the beauty products you choose to buy biodegrade or are they causing environmental and or aquatic toxicity? A product that is biodegradable is something that can overtime break down (degrade) back into it’s original components by natural, (bio)logical organisms, environments, or processes; thus, (bio)(degrade). Biodegradable ingredients are made out of anything that is natural or naturally derived.

Synthetic polymers in cosmetics care chemicals can be cheaply made and have a variety or uses:

  • Thickening & gelling polymers: Increase thickness in products like shampoos, conditioners, creams, and lotions. Examples: Polyethylene glycols (PEGs) and carbomers.
  • Silicones: These are polymers that contain silicon atoms or silicates. They help protect, condition, moisturise, thicken, and emulsify. They are also added to cleaning products to reduce the irritation of harsh surfactants.

These polymers are not necessarily unsafe in small doses, but we are using so many of them today so frequently, that they can be harmful to our environment. Synthetic polymers—plastics are now one of the most common and persistent pollutants in ocean waters and beaches worldwide, plastics are known to absorb pollutants, creating unknown health hazards.

Pillars of sustainability 

With the use of sustainable packaging, organic ingredients, ethical manufacturing standards, along with biodegradable raw ingredients we can create sustainable cosmetics. Our pillars are:

  • Ethical sourcing - of natural raw materials
  • Cosmetic production - energy and water consumption, waste management
  • Packaging - compostable, biodegradable, recyclable
  • Biodegradability of the finished productbiodegradable cosmetic formulations

  • Sustainability of ingredients used in products is a big area of environmental concern, from how they’re sourced to the long-term impact of farming them for cosmetic purposes. One example is Palm Oil, which is estimated to be used in half of all consumer goods. This unsustainable practice causing widespread deforestation plus the extinction of many animal species.


    The equivalent of up to 300 football fields an hour are being cleared to make room for palm plantations, some harsh realities we need to consider when deciding which cosmetic product to buy:

    • Clearing a hectare of forest can release around 6000 tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Felling of trees has contributed to climate change and global warming
    • Clearing for palm oil plantations in the tropics has destroyed vast areas of rainforest
    • Depletion of forests in Indonesia is particularly concerning because these forests store more carbon per hectare than any other ecosystem in the world
    • Air, soil, and water pollution
    • Soil erosion
    • Robbing indigenous people of Malaysia and Indonesia of their land and livelihoods.


    1. Choose Cosmetic Brands that have been certified Vegan - if you want to completely avoid the use of Palm Oil in your cosmetics
    2. Choose Cosmetic Brands that contain certified Organic ingredients - This guarantees organic farming principals, resulting in healthy soil and sustainable practices.
    3. Palm Oil - Identify if a product’s ingredients have been sustainably sourced by looking for the Fair Trade and Rainforest Alliance logos on the packaging.
    4. Choose products that have a better end of life - A toothbrush, hairbrush, body brush or make-up brush that is made with sustainably sourced wood or bamboo are the best options. When these products have reached the end of their life, they can be thrown into the compost to biodegrade.

    5. Choose Sustainable Cosmetic Brands -  Look for products made of recyclable materials, such as glass, plant based plastics and natural cork, and those that are biodegradable.

    CONCLUSION: Biodegradable cosmetic formulations are paramount to ensure sustainability, plant and mineral based ingredients that are from natural and or renewable resources, are biodegradable and have the lowest hazard rating in terms of health and environmental safety. We consider the long term environmental impact of each ingredient we are formulating into our products. This covers where and how it is grown and harvested, how it is processed and its lifecycle once it is released in the environment.

    Until next time

    Be human, be kind, be you.












    Zero Waste Europe

    Plastic Oceans

    Sustainable Palm Oil

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