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19 Apr 2019 - Shampoo, lotion, deodorant: They all come swathed in plastic. But some companies are trying to change that.

FOR TARA PELLETIER, it came down to deodorant.

Her company, Meow Meow Tweet, had developed a formula for deodorant that she loved. It worked, it smelled great, and it was ready to make its way out into the armpits of her eager customers. The hold-up? The packaging.

Most deodorants on the market come in hard plastic cases with many tiny components, each of which is made of a different type of plastic, and most of which are not readily recyclable, even if a customer were dedicated enough to dismantle the whole thing.

Why, she thought, should a deodorant that she’d use for a few weeks or months come in a plastic case that would be around for longer than she’d be alive?

So she searched and searched for an alternative. Glass jars with metal lids worked fairly well, but some people objected to scooping the paste out with their fingers. Bio-based plastics and biodegradable plastics had their own sets of environmental drawbacks. It seemed like all the packaging options she could find were some variant on bad.

Eventually, after months of searching, she found a company that made sturdy paper tubes that cradled the product neatly. Finally, a solution, she thought.

She and her coworkers have to hand-fill each tube, and their profit margins are thin because the cardboard tubes cost 60 times as much as mass-produced plastic options. And the tubes aren’t quite as convenient to use as the plastic cases familiar to most consumers. But it’s worth it, she says, not just because it makes ethical sense but to help demonstrate to others across the industry that there are alternatives—workable, functional, creative alternatives—to the plastic that has infiltrated every aspect of modern commerce.

The booming $500 billion per year global personal care industry relies on plastic. That shampoo? Housed in a plastic bottle—often fully or partly unrecyclable. That body wash? Same. But for some producers, the pervasive, often excessive plastic packaging is too much. To pare down their plastic footprint, they’re trying to reconsider the nature of the products, packaging, and supply chain itself.

How did we end up with so much plastic?

In the not-too-distant past, personal care items did not involve plastic packaging. Soaps came in bar form. Perfumes, a symbol of luxury, were packaged in elaborate glass containers. Hair-care products were powders or pomades packaged in tins or jars.

After World War I, the United States emerged as the most prolific producer and consumer of personal care and beauty products, while the European market was recovering.

During the war, the military had imposed strict hygiene codes as a way to prevent disease from spreading amongst the troops, and when those soldiers returned home, they brought with them ingrained habits of washing, shaving, and tooth-brushing. By the mid-1920s, a whole industry of “personal care” popped up; in 1926, the Lever company (which would later become Unilever, a major multinational personal care product company) kicked off an ad campaign outlining the damage “body odor” could do to one’s career and social prospects.

Simultaneously, the market for face creams, cosmetics, and other personal care products marketed to women exploded, in tandem with the rise of Hollywood movies and the invention of American glamour and beauty standards. During World War II, the U.S. government went so far as to declare lipstick a “wartime necessity,” a critical component of cultural life and morale-building.

CONTINUE READING ONLINE: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/2019/04/beauty-personal-care-industry-plastic/

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Publication date: 
Publication Organisation: 
National Geographic
Publication Author: 
Alejandra Borunda
Thematic Area: 
Marine pollution