There is often concern about how health and beauty products, such as cosmetics, soaps and perfumes, impact our health – but they can also impact the health of the environment.
Health and beauty products are made of chemicals. The chemicals have to be manufactured, or sourced, to create the product. These processes have environmental impacts, whether it be by-products from manufacturing activities, energy consumption, clearing of forests for larger feedstock crops, or landscape degradation from mining.
Once the product is made, it has to be packaged and transported to the point of sale. Packaging that cannot be reused or recycled is returned to the earth. In many cases it will go to landfill, to sit for hundreds of years. In others, it will make its way to our oceans and add to areas like the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Meanwhile, transport emissions contribute to climate change concerns.
After use, health and beauty products are generally rinsed off. This can happen immediately (for example, with soap) or at the end of the day (for example, with cosmetics). When you do wash them off and down the drain, the water – and the chemicals – usually go to a wastewater treatment plant. Once treated, the treated water – and any remaining chemicals – is released back to the environment.
It can be easy to forget how our lives depend on a healthy environment. Degrading our land reduces biodiversity, carbon storage capacity, and agricultural potential. Contamination of our waterways jeopardises our drinking water, fish and other seafood, and irrigated crops.
It is unrealistic to suggest that everyone should stop using health and beauty products. However, everyone can make choices to reduce the environmental impact of their health and beauty product use.