A Zero Waste Project: The makeup brought me down

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Cosmetics are known to be notoriously wrapped in unsustainable packaging materials such as plastic. Photo by Emma Bauso from Pexels.

This week was my biggest zero waste failure since starting my mission. I set out to invest in zero waste makeup and makeup products but instead ended up buying a load of your typical, unsustainable cosmetics.  

I’ve never been really into beauty products. A little mascara around the eyes and concealer on my pimple of the week and I was satisfied. But lately, with job interviews on the mind as I get ready to graduate and my TikTok feed filled with makeup tutorials, I’ve been wanting to try more. I already had some of the basic stuff, but was on the hunt for things like eye shadow, lip color, brushes and a sustainable makeup remover. 

I did a lot of research, and even put some stuff in various online shopping carts, but at the end of the day, I couldn’t go through with it.  

Why make this swap? 

Cosmetics are notoriously wrapped in plastic. A Forbes article even reported that consumers are willing to spend more for makeup products wrapped in plastic. Besides the packaging, most powders and creams come in plastic tubes or jars or palettes, and most of them are single-use.  

Especially given the number of makeup products people are likely to have, and the amount of those that are actually going to be used up before they expire, it’s easy to see how using makeup in general could be a big challenge to a zero waste lifestyle.  

Like our high school health teachers said, the best way to stay in the clear is probably abstinence: If you don’t consume or buy makeup, you won’t be generating more waste. However, just like in high school, it’s not that simple. Not using makeup is a totally valid lifestyle, but preaching that as the best solution ignores a lot of the gendered politics in cosmetics. As the New York Times reported, women in makeup are perceived as more competent, likable and trustworthy. Obviously this is problematic, but beyond that, makeup serves as a self-esteem and confidence booster for many. 

Screenshot from Sustainable Jungle’s website.

What I did 

If you do want to use makeup, and if you do want to do it sustainably, there are options. I love Sustainable Jungle, because they make really great lists that feature a bunch of different zero waste brands for any given product. They walk through the pros and cons, and link to their online shops. Their page on zero waste makeup was no let-down.  

From this page, I explored different eye shadow palettes from Dirty Hippie and some cool lip color options from Axiology, browsing through several other stores on Pinterest. And some of them were really cool. My Etsy cart was full, and I was ready to check out.  

Screenshot from Axiology’s website.

Unfortunately at this point, two things crept into my mind. First, I remembered an article I read earlier in the week from a blogger who claimed the zero waste stuff rarely worked as well as normal, unsustainable cosmetics. And second, I noticed the shipping cost was nearly practically more than the actual product I was buying. A lot of zero waste companies aren’t U.S.-based, which can really scale up shipping charges.  

Given that I’m not very practiced with makeup as is, I decided I would hold off on the questionably-effective, expensive zero waste options, and try first with something cheaper … lucky for me, the University of Connecticut bookstore was having a sale on makeup that weekend. 

What this means for you 

Overall, I am disappointed in myself for giving in on this one so easy. Especially because there are just so many jars and tubes and palettes and brushes and wands and whatnot that are all non-compostable and unrecyclable. Money is a really valid reason for putting a hold on a zero waste practice, so I can’t blame myself too harshly on that front. But overall, because I’ve never used much makeup before, this feels like a step backward. 

I still encourage anyone who can or is willing to try out some of the brands on Sustainable Jungle. Most of them really aren’t more expensive than other medium-range cosmetics, though I can’t speak for the shipping. Plus, some of them do come with rave reviews. This may have been a failure in my zero waste journey, but it doesn’t have to be in yours. 

Coming up next: Zero waste dishwasher powder 

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