Energy Diet

Becoming an Ethical Consumer

This week I found myself visiting a Vegan Free Food Fayre and it got me thinking about the issue of ethical consumerism and cosmetics.

The cosmetics and perfume industry is internationally important, being worth €67 billion (roughly $90.6 billion) in Europe alone (2010) and is very competitive.

People feel the need to always look their best but with so many different products on the market it can be very difficult to decide on the right one. For this reason, I am forgetting all about advertising to draw up my own set of priorities.

A quick guide for buying environmentally ethical cosmetics:

  • Think first – Do I really need it? Do I really want it?
  • Buy locally produced products where possible – less fuel wasted on miles and supports local businesses, reducing the demand for 24-hour hypermarkets; less energy is wasted in lighting and keeping the shop open.
  • Think organic – no chemicals are used in production, reducing soil and groundwater pollution.
  • Consider vegan – raising of animals is high input for minimal output; there is no such thing as a harmless by-product.
  • Buy natural – Not only will you reduce your exposure to harsh chemicals, but less chemical residue will be left to go down the drain. This is especially important with shampoos and hair-dye.
  • Non-animal tested – fewer animals reared for testing.
  • Reduce packaging – less packaging going straight to the landfill. Is it recyclable or biodegradable?
  • Boycott – avoid companies and brands that are involved in environmental catastrophe; exert economic pressure on companies to up their carbon credentials.

Taking all of this into consideration, I went out onto the high street to find myself some ethical deals. With big names such as Boots and Superdrug out for their exploitation of rainforests and tar sands it can be difficult finding a place to start, but luckily on this occasion I was able to follow my nose.

Lush, a UK-based handmade cosmetics company, smells as good from the outside as it does from the inside. With over 70 percent of its products collectable without packaging (the rest 100 percent recycled and recyclable) it is definitely my prime pick for best ethical company in my area, and with 600 stores in 43 countries perhaps it could be yours.

After only a couple of minutes in the shop I found myself the basic essentials I was looking for, only with a slight twist. Toothpaste in tablets and deodorant in a bar; a somewhat strange concept potentially, but I wanted to give the two products a try to see how they compared to regular brand products packaged in a more conventional way.

Starting first with the toothpaste tablets ‘toothy tabs’, the tabs themselves small, hard tablets made from Sodium Bicarbonate, natural ingredients and essential oils. No water is added to the mixture (no preservatives either) so they take up less space – a 0.3g tab is equivalent to 2 grams toothpaste. This lack of water also means that the packaging can be made out of recyclable cardboard compared to the traditional aluminium-lined plastic tubs that cannot usually be recycled and take roughly half a millennium to decompose. As far as taste is concerned they are a little different but far from being unpleasant and come in a range of flavours.

The deodorant bar, or T’eo, comes without packaging and is comparable to a dry bar of soap made of bicarbonate of soda, blue cornflower petals, apricot oil and fresh grapes that is applied to the underarm area leaving trace residue that doesn’t block the pores (or stain any clothes so far) but is effective at absorbing sweat whilst leaving a nice smell. It seems to work fine during light to medium exercise but I am afraid I haven’t had the chance to test it to its limits.

The above examples are just picks from a selection of alternative products that are on the market today and have started to make me think about the products in my bathroom; what else can I replace (upon emptying) with low packaging, ethical alternatives.  Not only ‘essential items’ but also some that we might consider ‘luxury,’ like perfumes, spar and hair dye.

Hair dye indeed is the thing that has left my hair brittle and my ends an unnatural colour that I am trying to grow out. I don’t even want to think about the amount of waste I had contributed due to my obsession, but just as I was about to leave the shop to catch my bus home I noticed a display of henna blocks. No packaging, no synthetic chemicals and promises of deep conditioning I just had to give it a try. Now I have the most beautiful deep red hair, softer than it has been for a long time. The process itself was remarkably simple, if time-consuming – the block segments have to be melted down, applied than left for 1-3 hours before being wash about again, so it is not something that can be done on a day with multiple appointments. The best point of it is of course the way it is produced and packaged in a solid block reducing waste, space and weight compared to conventional hair dyes.

Comments

  1. Christina Nunez
    November 21, 2011, 5:36 pm

    Is that your henna hair in your new profile picture? Looks good! I too have a lot of concern/conflict about cosmetics and beauty products and the potential effect they have not only on the environment, but on my skin. I rely on this database quite a bit: http://www.ewg.org/skindeep/

  2. Samanta
    November 22, 2011, 12:26 pm

    Yes it is, thank you.

    What I was hoping to talk about in this post was alternatives to products that we think are pretty essential in our everyday lives but are not necessarily very eco friendly or indeed good for us in the long run and my experience with these products so far.

    These alternative products might not always be the most convenient to use so it is also important to consider what the company you are purchasing from get up to behind the scene.

    I have spent a lot of time lately on the Ethical Consumer (http://www.ethicalconsumer.org/) website, it’s full of free information and tips giving advice on being a more ethical consumer, if you subscribe (4 weeks free trial) you can get access to full buyers’ guides, product details, company information and research data (for the UK).

    Animal Rights is something as it very important to me and I hope I was successful in not bringing too much politics into this post but if you or anyone else is interested take a look at the following sites for lists of non-animal tested products:
    http://www.vegansociety.com/afssearch.aspx (nothing registered with the VS as been animal tested), http://www.leapingbunny.org/shopping.php (Europe + America), http://www.peta.org/living/beauty-and-personal-care/companies/default.aspx, or http://www.aavs.org/site/c.bkLTKfOSLhK6E/b.6534461/k.A0FD/Compasionate_Shopping_Guide.htm

    And no, as much as I would love to work at Lush, I wasn’t paid commission for the article.