1. Avoid throwaway items.
Makeup wipes. Daily contacts. Those tiny one-time-use toothbrushes bizarrely sized for Smurfs. They all go from your bathroom bin to the landfill, where they’ll fester for thousands of years. Why do that when it’s so easy to swap them out for items you’ll turn to over and over again? “I use reusable cotton rounds instead of disposable makeup wipes,” says Alden Wicker, the founder of Ecocult, a website about sustainable fashion and travel. “And I don’t use face masks – they’re basically just a lot of moisturizer on a piece of disposable cloth.” It’s easy to buy for the long-term, and you’ll save money as well.
2. Seek out sustainable and responsibly sourced ingredients.
The ingredient list of any product is part of a much bigger story. Take palm oil, for instance. It’s one of the most commonly used ingredients in cosmetics, and increasing demand has led to rampant deforestation in parts of Asia. That method of cultivation, in turn, destroys animal habitats, leading some species close to extinction.
While there are few simple solutions for complex supply issues, you can contact beauty companies to ask how their raw materials are grown, harvested, and sold. Not satisfied with the answer? Make it clear to brands what it’ll take to make you a loyal (and Earth-minded) customer. Try something like this: “Sustainable agriculture would help emerging markets avoid damage like deforestation, pollution, and carbon release – issues that will affect everyone through climate change in the long run,” says Magdalena Antuña, the editor of Selva Beat, an environmentally conscious lifestyle magazine for millennials.
3. Choose post-consumer recycled packaging.
The best packaging is none at all, but when that’s not possible, avoid “virgin” materials – especially plastic, which is made from fossil fuels and usually winds up in landfills. Instead, look for packaging that’s already on its second (or third, or fourth) life. For example, inside Seed Phytonutrient’s shower-friendly paper bottles is a liner made entirely from post-consumer plastic, which uses 60% less plastic than a traditional bottle. Which leads us to the next step:
4. Go the extra mile when recycling.
That means, for instance, cleaning out the last bit of product from your shampoo bottle before rinsing and recycling it. Or plucking out the bristles of a plastic makeup brush before tossing it into the recycling bin. Not sure where to recycle – or whether something can be recycled at all? Plenty of brands offer incentives (a free lipstick, for example) if you return a selection of empties in stores or through Terracycle, a company that turns even the trickiest items into new materials.
5. Think beyond shopping.
While you can certainly vote with your dollars, don’t forget about your actual vote. “The most powerful thing a consumer can do is become an advocate for more sustainable consumer products for everyone, not just highly educated women of means,” Wicker says. She advises contacting your representative to ask tough questions: What are they doing to help standardize recycling systems across the country? How are they working to improve chemical testing and safety? What are they doing about plastic waste? Without pressure from voters, most lawmakers are unlikely to prioritize the planet – so pick up the phone, speak your mind, and help effect change.