Updated: Jun 1
Last week, the Guardian reported a 'total monster' of a fatberg blocking part of London's sewage system. If, like me, you are unaware of the phenomenon that is a fatberg, well, it is pretty disgusting and a surefire way of demonstrating our need to relinquish our obsession with single use toiletries. A fatberg is a congealed (this word never sounds good, does it?) mass of fat, wet wipes and nappies. They are caused by fat, oil and grease washed down sinks and wet wipes flushed down the toilet. This particular fatberg is the largest ever seen, weighs the same as 11 double decker buses and stretches the length of two football pitches. Likened to breaking up concrete, it will take workmen equipped with jet washes and shovels three weeks to remove the fatberg. Not only do they cause big problems by flooding the sewage system and widespread disruption to surrounding areas, they also cause Thames Water about £1million per month to clear.
Wet wipes is yet another example of the beauty industry's obsession with the new and its need to produce the latest revolutionary and innovative product. These new types of products compel consumers to ditch any previous conceptions of cleanliness and adhere to the industry's latest standard. Seriously, do wet wipes every make removing make-up any easier? Do they ever feel as good as a freshly washed face? And, perhaps if you ask any beautician, do they say that wet wipes is one of the worst things you can use to cause spot breakouts? In light of this 'total monster of a fatberg', let's look at some ways that we can eradicate single use products from our beauty routine without compromising looking after our beautiful faces and our love of beauty!
1. Ditch the wet wipes
Do I need to tell you after these previous couple of paragraphs? Well, in all seriousness, yes you do need to ditch the wet wipes and it is not only to do with disgusting 'total monsters of fatbergs'. Wet wipes are not an effective tool for removing make-up and cleaning your face. They push dirt and old make-up around your face and they contain alcohol which dries your skin.
The problem of wet wipes and their 'flushable' (or I should say, non-flushable) nature has widely been reported over the last few years. The Marine Conservation Society launched a campaign last year to persuade retailers and manufacturers to clearly label wet wipe products with a 'Do Not Flush' message on their packaging. Dr Laura Foster, the Marine Conservation Society's Head of Pollution explained that as well as the fact that our sewage systems are unable to cope, wet wipes do not disintegrate like toilet paper; they contain plastic. Once they are processed through our sewage system, wet wipes will float around our oceans, slowly disintegrating and soon becoming microplastics, which can be ingested by marine life (causing much of the same issues associated with microbeads). And, the problem isn't going away; the problem is increasing. The Marine Conservation Society reported the between 2013 and 2014, the number of wet wipes found during their annual beach clean more than doubled. However, what if you dispose of wet wipes correctly i.e. in the bin? The problem remains. The plastic in the wet wipe will slowly decompose and the harsh chemicals leach and pollute soil as the non-plastic parts of the wet wipe decompose at a faster rate.
What can I use instead?
Flannels/face cloths. Bamboo flannels, specifically. Using a flannel is a relaxing experience and will leave your face feeling clean and fresh but not tight. Using your cleanser without water, massage the cleanser all over your face before wiping it away with a flannel. The flannel should be soaked in hand hot water and wrung out ensuring that it isn't soaking wet. Choosing bamboo flannels rather than conventional face cloths is a far more environmentally friendly option. Bamboo towels are very soft, more absorbent than standard cotton and they are naturally anti-bacterial and anti-fungal. At the end of their useful life, the fibres of the flannel will naturally decompose completely into the earth. You can purchase these flannels from a number of places online. I purchased my bamboo face cloths on eBay and I bought in bulk so that I have one for everyday of the week.
You can read all about how I use flannels as part of my morning cleansing routine in my recent post: What am I using now: Caroline Hirons Double Cleaning Part 1. Morning.
2. Swap your cotton wool pads
Cotton wool cleansing pads are extremely versatile and are probably included in most beauty routines. The disposable nature of this product make them not only wasteful but also harmful to the environment. If you are not using 100% organic cotton cleansing pads (which I imagine is most of us) then harmful pesticides are used in the farming of cotton. The non-organic cotton farming industry is a major source of environmental pollution using almost one quarter of all the world's insecticides and 10% of pesticides and the toxic chemicals involved in the production of cotton cause health problems for cotton workers and pollute wildlife and rivers. During the production of cotton cleansing pads, chemicals are used that will eventually leach into the sea, rivers and soil when the pad is disposed of. The argument for organic cotton and reduction in disposal of cotton is pretty evident so how can we encourage change?
What can I use instead?
Washable cleansing pads. The Love The Planet Washable Cleansing Pads were created by Laura McComiskie back in 2002 and she reached the final of the British Female Inventor of the Year for her creation of this innovative product. Although I haven't used them myself (I don't use cotton pads as part of my beauty routine), there are an abundance of rave reviews online and I plan to invest as a portable option to flannels while I am travelling. These cleansing pads come as a pack of five with a mesh bag for easy washing and are far softer than conventional cleansing pads.
3. Replace your cotton buds/Q-tips
We all know that we shouldn't use cotton buds to clean our ears. Cotton buds do not remove wax. They push it down the ear canal so that it impacts on the ear drum. Also, we do not need to remove wax; it protects our ears from infection and damage, traps dust and dirt, and has antibacterial properties. I suppose this should be end of my point about cotton buds; do not use them because they are bad for you. However, I do use them in other ways and I know that many people have a plethora of other uses as beautifully demonstrated by this article: 25 life-changing ways to use Q-tips. I use cotton buds mainly to remove eye make-up. I take some coconut oil and tidy up my application of liquid eyeliner. Applying liquid eyeliner can be likened to searching for a perfectly ripe avocado or banana; it's all about timing and mostly luck. Using coconut oil and a cotton bud gives you a little bit more leeway.
The problem with cotton buds is that they are single use and the stem is made from plastic. Again, in the UK, we are flushing them down the loo (seriously, what is wrong with us flushing everything down the loo?) and millions of cotton buds are ending up in the ocean polluting marine life or in landfill. As they are made from plastic it means that they will persist for hundreds of years and plastics in the marine environment accumulate a mixture of chemical contaminants from the surrounding seawater. The breakdown of the plastic itself can also release toxic components including chemicals used to dye or coat the plastic. Cotton bud pollution is a danger to wildlife and marine life as well as the general public who are spending quality time on beaches.
What can I do and what can I use instead?
Use cotton buds with paper stems. These cotton buds from Ethical Supermarket are 100% organic cotton and 100% biodegradable with paper stems. It is that easy! You can find out more about campaigns to ask retailers to stop making plastic cotton buds including Switch the Stick and the Cotton Bud Project. At the start of this year Johnson & Johnson announced that they will no longer have plastic stems in their cotton buds. You might not be a supporter of this pharmaceutical company but I do think this is a good example of a large conglomerate implementing environmentally friendly policy across all its brands rather than greenwashing and creating one segment of their business that is promoted as sustainable.
Good luck with reducing waste in your beauty routine! Do you have any tips for reducing waste in your beauty routine? Also, have a look at my recent post, Plastic Free July: 4 takeaways to reduce takeaway plastic consumption for more tips to help you reduce plastic waste.
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