Greenwashing in the cosmetics industry is rife. Big business, small business, synthetic, natural and organic. It's everywhere.
For those of you that are unaware of the term, it is used very commonly in the natural world where we all get up in arms at a brand or persons 'whitewashing' over their products actual ingredient, passing things off as more natural or organic than they actually are. Clever marketing and packaging can make us believe that a certain product is purer or greener thus it's 'eco' credentials are firmly cemented in our minds. Who hasn't purchased a natural, botanical looking bottle of shampoo or moisturiser that says things along the lines of 'naturally inspired' or 'made with organic ingredients' thinking it was the real deal? I know I have.
You only need to have 1% of organic ingredient in a product to pass it off as organic so the rest could be synthetic and really, the brand isn't lying, it is made with organic ingredients. Or ingredient. However, they are being economical with the truth.
The correct definition for Greenwashing is;
'Greenwashing is the practice of making an unsubstantiated or misleading claim about the environmental benefits of a product, service, technology or company practice. Greenwashing can make a company appear to be more environmentally friendly than it really is'
Greenwashing of ingredients and various other claims of brands such as their charitable work or business practices are well known, and rightly so come under intense scrutiny when someone stumbles upon the usually very much hidden truth, however, what isn't spoken about very much is the Greenwashing of packaging.
Specifically what products are packaged in and what they are shipped in to their customers as well as the materials the actual non ingredient products are made of.
There are many wonderful brands out there who I see making all sorts of claims with regard to their packaging such as biodegradable packaging, recycled plastics, the biodegradability of bioplastics and so on.
I'd like to think that these brands, some of which I myself hold in high regard, are not deliberately misleading us. They aren't out to pull the wool over our eyes intentionally, they just don't have the whole truth from their manufacturers perhaps.
Their packaging is still light years ahead of the standard virgin plastic recyclable bottle but it's not as good as they say, it's like everyone amps up their green credentials to the max in order to appear better than other brands, which yes, some are better than others, depending on what your requirements are.
A brand or business can't do everything, can't be everything so they have to pick a lane but I'm seeing more and more false truths on the packaging and physical product front. By physical product I mean a non ingredient led product. Yes I know an ingredient based product is a physical one also but its the only way I can differentiate what I mean in my mind so I hope you can follow me :)
So, for example, I would class our current dental range as physical products, we don't have any ingredient based products, yet.... so it's interesting to see other brands claims of what their toothbrushes and floss are made of and their green/eco credentials are.
It's what brands leave out that interests me. Take the bristles on our toothbrushes for example. We are extremely open that our bristles are nylon that is infused with a small percentage of carbon to brighten teeth and detoxify the mouth. In the case of our children's toothbrushes, they are nylon with a small percentage of bamboo to lift stains and detoxify the mouth. There are claims out there that a certain type of nylon such as nylon 6, is biodegradable. I can categorically say that scientifically, there is no evidence to suggest that this is true. Nylon 6 has indeed been able to biodegrade under scientific settings under extreme heat and monitored closely. What is has not been proven to do is biodegrade under normal settings in every day life, such as in the compost or in/on landfill.
Yet, many brands will market their toothbrushes as 100% biodegradable. Even after they know the above to be true. Which morally is not ok yet their customers do not question it. We have people who refuse to buy from us when they find out our bristles do not biodegrade, stating that they'll be buying from Jo Blogs (not a brand, I'm just using this as an example :) because their bristles biodegrade. We have not as yet told anyone they are wrong, I don't find this helpful or polite so I advise the team to not even go there, we don't bad mouth anyone's products or brand, there is room for everyone and I wholeheartedly believe that if someone isn't our customer now but they want a product like ours, they will be our customer in years to come so I don't want them thinking we are brand bashers, we aren't at all, as I've said, some brands who's claims are a bit wonky, I have great respect for on the whole.
We get the same with our floss as well, people want a vegan floss that is biodegradable but I'm afraid that the science as it is, there isn't one. The only biodegradable floss that I know of is silk and if you read up on how silk is made you'll realise why we don't stock it. Its purported that this Peace Silk, also known as Ahimsa Silk is not made with conventional silk processing methods, however, we have not found any evidence to suggest that the process is any less cruel than conventional silk. We are also licensed under PETA's beauty without Bunnies campaign so when we saw their blog on how Peace Silk isn't indeed as it claims, we decided that this was not for us as well. Please read their blog here.
Our floss has a small amount of polymer in it, any polymer is a plastic. Some breakdown faster than others but it's still a plastic. For now, it's the best we've got and far better than conventional floss so we are honest about our products capabilities and shortcomings. However, this again loses us customers who would prefer the silk or to be told that the floss was indeed biodgradable when it is isn't. Bending the truth isn't our bag so again, we say no problem, we hope you come back to us soon.
Bottles that are made of recycled materials are wonderful but what I didn't know until recently is that it doesn't need to have been made of fully recycled materials. It can be a mix of materials such as 30% recycled, 70% virgin plastics. Now I know why brands would do this. Cost. 30% is better than nothing but they don't tell their customers that, they say it's made of recycled materials. Which is the truth but not fully so. I also think why wouldn't you just go the whole hog and have it 100% recycled materials.
At the very least plastics should be recyclable, which most are in the cosmetic industry but the fittings may not be. IE the pump of a bottle, the dripper, the lid or the cap. It's a ruddy minefield.
Bioplastics have been heavily invested in by the packaging industry and from my extensive research they really are the sustainable packaging of the future. In some cased they can be carbon neutral or even negative depending on how you ship them, they are endlessly recyclable and made using materials that are otherwise unused and wasted.
Bioplastics are are plastics derived from renewable biomass sources, such as vegetable fats and oils, corn starch, straw, woodchips, food waste, etc. Bioplastic can be made from agricultural by-products and also from used plastic bottles and other containers using microorganisms.
A bioplastic that many brands, including ourselves, have been investing in and using is made of sugar cane. Sugar cane taken from the wastage in the food industry. It's a super exciting versatile material that can be used for literally every cosmetic product ever.
Bioplastics are being used by some heavy hitters in the industry, some marketing this fact heavily which is fab, and others not even mentioning it, or just a small tag line on their bottles, no marketing about their green credentials at all. Which I personally find strange but then perhaps their market doesn't care for bioplastics eh?
The one thing that frustrates me greatly about this wonderful material is that some brands are saying it will break down in your compost or in landfill, effectively saying it is biodegradable. It isn't. In strict conditions to do with heat and moisture, perhaps, however, from all the UK based manufacturers I've spoken to, they are quick to tell me that is is still a polymer mix and it is not biodegradable. The science isn't there yet to have a true product that does as it should hand breaks down without compromising the ingredients contained in the packaging.
So where are these brands getting it from that it is? who knows. I'm sure we will never learn.
However, the clever bods that make these things are working toward something like that, something that is as clean and green as we all wish. I just hope they get there soon.
Before I finish this blog, I thought I'd just outline below as well what materials our brands packaging is made of just incase you were thinking, hold up, what's their stuff made of then :)
Our dental products are made of sustainable bamboo, stainless steel, with nylon in our bristles and polymer in our floss. Our packaging is made of cardboard and craft paper and can be composted or recycled. Our floss packaging is made of glass, with an aluminium lid and can be used with our refills.
FULL DISCLOSURE. Our products are currently made in China. It took us a long time to partner with the right manufacturer who has certifications for good working practices, pays their workers a good living wage and does not invest in slave or child labour. The carbon footprint is an issue for me, however, bamboo based products are only found in China or India given the abundance of natural materials so this offsets the plastic waste. I'm also on the always on the look out for other suppliers and I'm currently researching options for materials closer to the UK.
When we launch our ingredient based products these will not be made in China for many many reasons. We will be using UK only based businesses for this process. Not only for the manufacture but for the ingredients and packaging as well.
Eco by Sonya
Their packaging is made of recycled plastics and where they can, glass (their glory oil, face tan water and new version of the face compost are all in glass packaging). Their plastic packaging is all made at a manufacturer in Australia who uses only wind and solar power as their renewable energy source. EBS are going to be switching their packaging to 100% recycled packaging and bioplastics as well. They are currently going through this process.
*EDIT I've just had news from EBS this morning (Monday 8th July) that they are working with a globally accredited and recognised body who work with companies to make sure they are carbon neutral. They are currently going through this process and will be putting things in place at their offices and shipping practices globally to make sure they are certified as a carbon neutral brand.
Their packaging is glass with recyclable lids. They have one plastic bottle for their moisturiser is made of recycable plastics. I believe their packaging manufacturer is based in Italy.
So, when you're looking for a product and if packaging is important to you, have a look at the brands website, see if they talk about their packaging. Or, if in doubt, question them about it. If it seems to good too be true ask for evidence. They'll give you it if they're open and honest about their practices.