Shark Week reminds us that sharks aren’t the monsters of our nightmares and although these are apex predators, a greater evil may be lurking in the deep… plastics!
This year marks the 30th anniversary of Shark Week, which is the week the majority of us are reminded of how cool sharks are. Despite some of the “crazier” shows that run during this block (including this year’s episode of “Naked & Afraid of Sharks”) and the letdowns (*AHEM* the fact that Michael Phelps didn’t ACTUALLY swim with a shark last year!!), I’m a pretty loyal viewer of the program.
One of my favorite programs of this year was the special episode of “Shark Tank” where the Sharks (the people… not the sea creatures) pitched their ideas to each other to win $50k to their chosen shark conservation organization. Some of the figures that stood out to me were that while sharks kill 6 people a year, people kill 1,000 sharks an hour (Daymond John) and that between 70-100 million sharks are killed each year from finning (Mark Cuban).
In more recent years, consumers have been made more aware of the damaging effects that plastics have on the ocean, so much so that cities (such as Seattle and NYC) and corporations (such as Starbucks and Disney) have been outright banning things such as plastic straws. As an avid straw-user myself, I’ve recently made the switch to reusable stainless steel straws, which are not only surprisingly affordable, but they make it seem like your drinks are extra cold and they cut down on plastic waste.
If you’ve been paying attention to all this plastic talk, a buzzword you might have heard is “microplastics,” a term that refers to “those that are less than five millimeters in length.” Plastic microbeads, such as those commonly found in exfoliating products, are considered microplastics and were banned by former President Obama in 2015 in the Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015. When it comes to sharks specifically, The Guardian reports that a study has shown that some sharks and even whales and rays are increasingly at risk from microplastics due to the way they feed by filtering for plankton in the ocean, causing them to accidentally ingest indigestible plastics.
With Shark Week (or Shaq week) coming to a close, I thought it might be a good time to talk about ways consumers can help aside from donating money to conservation groups. Discovery Channel’s efforts to “Change the Tides” lists 10 things to do in order to help save the oceans, and two are geared towards actual purchasing itself, and it’s no wonder that one of them addresses the plastic issue:
4. USE REUSABLE PLASTIC PRODUCTS.
Plastic debris in the ocean degrades marine habitats and contributes to the deaths of many marine animals. Because floating plastic often resembles food to many marine birds, sea turtles and marine mammals, they can choke or starve because their digestive systems get blocked when they eat it. Help prevent these unnecessary deaths—use cloth grocery bags and reusable water bottles.
8. BUY OCEAN-FRIENDLY PRODUCTS.
Avoid products produced through unsustainable or environmentally harmful methods. For example, avoid cosmetics containing shark squalene and jewelry made of coral or sea turtle shell. These products are directly linked to unsustainable fishing methods and the destruction of entire ecosystems.
So… here’s the tea: I’m actually VERY afraid of the ocean – I have a fear of open water and fish touching me (and a pretty grandiose fear of sharks), but at the end of the day, the ocean really hasn’t done anything to harm me (aside from RUDELY knocking me down at the Jersey Shore once or twice), so there’s no beef between us. Plus, environmentally-friendly alternatives are becoming more and more widespread and easy to find. With some Googlin’, I found a few “swaps” for products that might be less environmentally-friendly that I either use today or plan to try out in the future:
1.) Shampoo Bars
The concept of the shampoo bar isn’t exactly new to me – I’ve been using Lush’s shampoo bars on and off for a few years now (they’re great for travel!), and to me, they were the OG. I’m not sure if I’ve just become more aware of this kind of product now or if more companies have caught onto it (or maybe both), but I feel like there are tons of brands producing shampoo bars, and Amazon actually has a pretty large selection.
One of the more interesting ones I found is by the company The Yellow Bird – not only is the product itself zero-waste by nature, but the box it comes in is also recyclable. Plus, at $9.50 on Amazon, this costs slightly less than the Lush alternative and if you have Prime, you get free two-day shipping. Win-win, IMO.
2.) Essential Oils
Unlike most moisturizers that come in plastic bottles, essential oils come in glass packaging (with the exception of the top), which is generally much easier to recycle. I myself use rosehip seed oil as a nighttime moisturizer instead of a more “traditional” night cream due to its many benefits, including evening out skin tone and fading scars.
Other things that normally come in plastic packaging that you can “swap” with essential oils include leave-in conditioner (jojoba oil is reportedly really good for this) and body butter (here’s a really simple DIY coconut whipped body butter)
3.) Sugar/Salt Scrubs
Microbeads are so 2015, and sugar/salt scrubs are not only better for the environment, but they’re cheap and easy to make yourself. According to Happi, when it comes to your face, you should probably stick to using sugar due to the fact that the granules are rounder and are less likely to tear the skin. Furthermore, sugar granules dissolve more easily making them less abrasive than salt, are better suited for most skin types and conditions due to the gentler nature, and the glycolic acid content of sugar helps to protect skin against harmful toxins. Salt is still a good option when it comes the body, especially areas such as feet and elbows where there is more dead skin.
Other things to do?
1.) Glass is the new Plastic
If you might not have noticed, it’s best to avoid plastic when you can. One of the reasons why I like my nightly rosehip seed oil is that it comes in a glass bottle that can either be recycled or reused more easily than its plastic counterpart.
I covered this more extensively in my how to recycle your makeup post, but the blog Zero Waste Wisdom highlights companies that offer “alternative packaging” made from paper or glass or refill containers when they run empty. Some of these companies listed in the post include:
2.) Try re-usable brands
As I just touched upon above, there are some companies that offer refillable makeup so you don’t have to go out and buy the whole thing again. Tree Hugger has a pretty good list here, which include:
- Ecco Bella – powdered eye shadows, face powder, and eye liner refills in paper packages and can be put in a magnetic compact
- Elate Cosmetics – compacts, tools, and palettes are made from bamboo, which is a self-regenerating natural resource, and refills are packaged in seed paper that can be planted
- Kjaer Weis (also seen on Zero Waste Wisdom’s blog above) – products are made out of “quality metal” that can be refilled “again and again and again”
- Zao Organic Makeup – packaging is made from controlled harvested bamboo and uses an innovative refill system for many of the products
3.) Recycle responsibly!
You might have noticed I keep saying plastic is “more difficult to recycle,” and that’s because it really is! I know I also keep mentioning my own post about recycling makeup, but it’s because in researching for that post, I learned a lot about the right way and the wrong way to recycle.
There are seven “numbers” when it comes to plastic, and not all of them can be recycled. In fact, if you throw a number that can’t be recycled into the bin, you run the risk of contaminating the whole thing. In general, #1 and #2 can be recycled, while #4 and #5 can often be recyclable, but not always.
Furthermore, some products have recycling symbols on them. This is discussed in Beautiful With Brains in her own post about recycling cosmetics, where she talks about “Mobius Loop,” “Tidyman,” and “The Green Dot”:
This means that an object can be recycled, but not that it will be accepted by all recycling plants. When the symbol includes a %, followed by a number, in the middle, it means that the packaging contains only that percentage of recycled material.
This symbol doesn’t tell you if a container can be recycled, but only that you should dispose of it carefully and thoughtfully.
The Green Dot
This symbol can be seen on the packaging of products sold in European countries and signifies that the producers and suppliers have made a financial contribution towards the recycling of packaging. But it doesn’t mean that the container itself is made of recycled material or that it can be recycled.
There are also programs, such as Terracycle, which is actually a partnership with Garnier, and Origins that can actually help you out when it comes to recycling so you don’t have to do the guesswork yourself when it comes to doing it curbside. Fashionista has also compiled a list of companies that have recycling programs already set up:
…again, not to toot my own horn, but you should really check out my recycling post for more info on all this!
Basically, sharks are cool, and while Shark Week gets us (understandably) hyped, we should be making an effort year-round to try to protect our oceans, which are being polluted by plastics and microplastics. One of the more simple ways to do this is to cut down on the amount of plastic we use in our beauty routines as personal care and beauty products account for a third of all landfill waste and that we discard our own weight in packaging every 30-40 days.
One way to do this is to ditch packaging altogether, such as in the case of shampoo bars. Other alternatives include going the glass route. In cases where avoiding plastics isn’t possible, try to recycle as responsibly as you can, making sure to check what numbers your plastics are and if your local recycling facilities accept them. It may be worth it for you to also check out companies that have recycling programs in place, or companies that do refillable products to minimize as much waste as possible.
I just want to reiterate that I am in no way a zero-waster, but I have slowly been trying to incorporate less wasteful products in my routine bit-by-bit in order to minimize my own footprint on the environment. In my eyes, even the smallest thing helps, and the whole thing reiterates the idea of eliminating plastic straws mentioned in Business Insider as environmentalists say letting go of a single piece of plastic could be a first step in a much-needed larger behavior change. Plus… what would Shaq do?
- Business Insider // The real reason why so many cities and businesses are banning plastic straws
- National Ocean Service // What are microplastics?
- The Guardian // Whale and shark species at increasing risk from microplastic pollution – study // Thinking outside the box: unwrapping a massive packaging problem
- Discovery // Change the Tide
- Allure // Why Eco-Friendly Beauty Packaging is on the Rise in 2017
- tricks & trucco (*wink wink*) // How to Recycle Your Makeup!
- Zero Waste Wisdom // Cosmetic Companies with Recycling Programs
- Tree Hugger // 6 cosmetics companies with refillable packaging
- Beautiful With Brains // HOW CAN I TELL IF THE PACKAGING OF MY COSMETIC PRODUCTS CAN BE RECYCLED?
*Disclaimer: I am not affiliated with or compensated by any of the brands mentioned (I wish!). As always, all thoughts & opinions are my own (unless stated otherwise)!