UNCOVERING... Packaging

Updated: Jan 23, 2019


Image from https://www.behance.net/gallery/68617375/EMVY-Cosmetics


1. What is the problem?

From paper carton boxes enveloping your jar of cream to extra layer of plastic labelling on your sunscreen. Is all that extra packaging in your beauty products really necessary?


According to the Ministry of Environment and Water Resources, packaging makes up about one-third of all household waste in Singapore, and more than half consists of packaging for food and beverages. Most packaging for consumer goods, such as food, beverages, and electronics, is used only once before being thrown away.




We generate more than 1,000 truckloads of waste every day. Out of this amount of waste generated, plastics constitutes the lowest recycled material. 94% of 815,200 tonnes of plastic waste generated in Singapore in 2017 was not recycled. Plastics are also used for the majority of packaging in beauty and personal care products, ranging from polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles and jars, to polypropylene (PP) bottle covers and low-density polyethylene (LDPE) tubes!


Zero Waste Week, an international environmental awareness campaign held annually, reported that more than 120 billion units of packaging are produced every year by the global cosmetics industry. The cardboard that envelops perfumes, serums and moisturisers contribute to the loss of 18 million acres of forest each year. (The Stylist, 2018).


What happens to the waste I dispose of?

While non-recyclables are sent for incineration and the ashes transported to landfills, recyclables are collected by a dedicated recycling truck and sent to a Materials Recovery Facility (MRF). The recyclables are sorted into different waste streams, baled and sent to local and overseas recycling plants.



However, if these recyclables are contaminated, it will mean that they cannot be recycled. As Mr Wong from the local recycling firm Impetus Conceptus states, “Once plastic is contaminated, the cost of recycling will shoot up because you have to do cleaning and sorting,”



2. Why should I be concerned?


At the rate that Singapore is producing and burning waste, Semakau Landfill will run out of space by 2035, according to the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources (CNA, 2018). Unnecessary packaging is not only a drain on resources, but it also adds to waste. Given the lack of space for another landfill in Singapore, we need to reduce the amount of waste we produce to prolong the lifespan of our landfill.


Many of the beauty products that we purchase over the counter use a huge amount of packaging, from the exterior cardboard boxes to the plastic containers that are used to contain the product. Apart from aiming to reduce wastage by reducing consumption, it is also important for us to understand if these materials can be recycled and how we can do so.


What are the types of materials in my beauty products that can be recycled?

Aside from paper used for boxes, here are some common plastics that are used to package your common beauty products.


Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET) Common forms for cosmetic packaging: bottles, pump dispensers PET is cheap and lightweight and is often intended for single-use products such as plastic bottles. Since repeated use increases the risk of bacterial contamination, it is recommended to avoid reusing such packaging and recycle them instead.


High-density Polyethylene (HDPE) Common forms for cosmetic packaging: jars, tubs, pump dispensers HDPE is a more rigid, cost-effective and safer form of plastic. It is better at preserving the product as compared to PET. Thus, cosmetic products such as essential oils, retinol products and Vitamin C serums tend to be packaged with HDPE as it helps prevent oxidation. Many shampoo and body wash bottles also tend to be made using HDPE, so you can recycle them as well!


Low-density Polyethylene (LDPE) Common forms for cosmetic packaging: tubes, squeezable bottles LDPE is another flexible plastic used for making tubes in cosmetic products. They are a common packaging for many products including cosmetics, though they are not ideal for packaging products that are filled at high temperatures. LDPE is relatively safer than other plastics and can be reused.



Polypropylene (PP) Common forms for cosmetic packaging: covers for tubs, jars, airless pump bottles/containers PP is tough and lightweight and is slightly more rigid than PET when made into bottles. It is also often used in packaging for materials that are hot, such as wax or balms, due to its heat resistance. PP is also safe for reuse, though only a small proportion is currently being recycled.



3. How to play a part

Here are some easy steps for you to follow to start becoming an ethical consumer!



  1. Buy what you need Most of the time we buy many things that we want but don’t need, thanks to the constant barrage of ads and cues to shop. But being a more environmentally aware consumer means getting what we need, and not more than that.

  2. Check and look Look out for symbols on the packaging that tell you if the packaging is recyclable or made from recycled materials. We've identified some of them for you: https://www.instagram.com/p/BrSHLT1H8O9/

  3. Support brands that love the earth Purchase from brands that encourage eco-conscious efforts. Here are just a few brands that often have packaging made from recycled materials or provide eco-friendly refills that help in reducing packaging waste. Some of them include: Kiehl's, LUSH, L'occitane, Neal’s Yard Remedies, Muji, Innisfree and more!

  4. Clean Contamination is one of the key reasons why most recyclables cannot be recycled. Local recycling company, Impetus Conceptus told CNA that “Once it’s contaminated, we’re not able to do anything else because it deteriorates the quality of the pellets.” The best way to recycle would be to ensure that recyclables are clean and packed properly before disposing them into the recycling bin.

  5. Reuse and recycle! Some ways of repurposing your beauty empties include:

  • Using it as small pots to grow your plants

  • Using it as an accessories case

  • Using it to store other beauty products


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