Life In A Cup: Pandemics, Plastic & The Skincare Industry
Cooped up at home, this pandemic has altered our reality. What was once considered normal has now become a novelty and this ‘new normal’ has brought out more than just our hidden talents, you can now see clearer skies, bluer oceans, happier animals and the silver lining behind this all. While the pandemic has surely given the earth a face-lift, some cracks are still left to be filled…
- The Plastic Conundrum: Can’t Live With, Can’t Live Without
The ugly truth about our current situation is that single-use plastic is one of the very few materials that can prevent the spread of diseases like Coronavirus. From masks, gloves, food packaging containers, gowns to medical equipment like syringes, IV tubes and IV bags single-use plastic is an inevitable material to help curb the spread of the disease but at the same time disposing of this material has proved detrimental to our environment and the waste caused by such personal protective equipment has been dubbed as “COVID pollution”.
Environmentalists are concerned that this short-term solution could impact our long-term plans. With countries lifting plastic bans, altering policies, and ramping up demand for single-use plastic products, all respite that this pandemic has brought to our oceans is likely to get washed away. The need of the hour is of course to manage the situation with all available resources but at the same time governments and countries must take measures to avoid another disaster.
“The petrochemical and plastics industry, which is in large part an extension of the oil and gas industry, is exploiting the crisis as well. It has lobbied the federal government to declare an official preference for single-use plastic bags and suggested that more fresh produce should be wrapped in plastic.”
- The Oily Problem: That Sticks To Everything
Plastic and oil stick together like an airtight container! Since plastic is made out of crude oil, a change in oil prices can alter the prices of plastic as well. With oil prices going below zero, the price of manufacturing plastic also drops, thus making renewable, recyclable and biodegradable plastic comparatively more expensive. This gives recycling systems and recyclers no incentives to function because for a recycling operation to make financial sense they need to make more money than what it costs to gather the waste and process it.
- No Skin In The Game: Profits Over Pollution
Why Plastic? Plastic for clothes and plastics for cosmetics, plastic to cover food and plastic in fashion, plastic for packaging and plastic for pandemics. Yes, plastic is everywhere because it’s cheaper. But is it always the best solution? Not really.
Other than just single-use plastic used to package your products, synthetic plastic in the form of tiny, exfoliating microbeads in your favourite body wash ends up in the drains and in the oceans. Other beauty products – from eye creams to hair gels also contain synthetic polymers/plastics because not only are they cheap and allow companies to make a lot of profit possible but they also give the *illusion* of all the things people want:
- Thicker creams and conditioners that feel more luxurious.
- Create an outer layer on the skin that feels silky and makes hair look healthy and shiny.
The ugly truth is that silicones and synthetic polymers in cosmetics make you think that the product is working even though it is just temporary. These materials in cosmetics can form a barrier on your skin which could trap dirt, sweat and bacteria in your pores and lead to congested skin. This, in turn, can cause acne and breakouts. Not only that, but it could also leave your skin feeling dull and dry as it is unable to shed dead layers and hydrate itself. Further, these can slow down the production of new cells which slows down the healing of fine lines and pigmentation. Lastly, a cleanser or serum that contains a synthetic polymer could block the absorption of any treatment or cream that you apply after.
From the multiple different types of synthetic polymers used in cosmetics, here are the most common ones:
- Acrylates copolymer
- Ethylene/propylene/styrene copolymer
- Phenyl trimethicone
- Polybutylene terephthalate
- Polymethyl methylacrylate
- Polypropylene terephthalate
- Polyethylene glycols (PEGs)
- Polytetrafluoroethylene (Teflon)
- Sodium polyacrylate
- Styrene acrylates copolymer
Wrapping It All Up: (Not In Plastic!)
On the one hand, this pandemic has given nature a chance to reset but on the other, it has also led to an increase in plastic pollution and a reduction in the cost of plastic production. Relaxation in government policies towards single-use plastic and a reduction in its cost gives further impetus to brands to use plastic for their packaging and for their ingredients. At such a time the onus to bring about a change lies with consumers like you and me.
So what do you do? Change starts with you.
- Look at all your beauty products from your bathroom to your dressing room and make an informed decision about what to use and what to not use.
- Stick to sustainable brands that are honest and transparent.
- Download the Beat the microbead app to make an informed decision and avoid buying products that contain these plastics.
So, let’s use this pandemic as a wake-up call and change our habits to prevent another pandemic.