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by Sarah Masters
Everyone loves a flavored lip balm to keep their lips from getting chapped. What you might not know is that using traditional chapstick brands can have a big environmental impact. In 2018, landfills in the US received 27 million tons of plastic. As conventional chapstick tubes are plastic, each one thrown away contributes to this number. Even if you have the right idea and put your empty chapstick in the recycling bin, it’s sad to say that only a small portion of plastic is actually recycled. The plastic that ends up in landfills can take up to 450 years to decompose, releasing greenhouse gases as they’re heated by sunlight and being hazardous to wildlife. Traditional chapstick also has petroleum jelly as one of its main ingredients, a byproduct of crude oil extraction. So what if you want to keep your lips healthy without contributing to the mining of fossil fuels or plastic pollution? Luckily, there are plenty of plastic and petroleum-free lip balms out there as well as other creative methods of creating it.
What to look for/Avoid
It turns out one of the most sustainable options is to make your own lip balm. It can be made from ingredients like coconut oil that may already be in your pantry (especially if you read this makeup remover article), decreasing the amount of new products you have to buy. This decreases environmental impacts in all stages of a life cycle assessment, as fewer new products are manufactured, distributed, used, disposed of, etc. Instead of buying new chapstick after chapstick, using small amounts of ingredients like coconut oil that you might already use for other purposes means less new packaging and waste. Reusing the same tins also creates a circular cycle and produces zero waste. I linked to one recipe that uses just two ingredients, but a quick Google search will show many more, like this one and this one.
If you decide you want the appeal of an actual stick of lip balm, don’t worry. There are plenty of eco-friendly chapsticks that come in a tube-like container, but what else should you look for besides it being plastic and petroleum-free? First off, opt for vegan lip balms to avoid the use of beeswax. Honey bee operations are important for agriculture but often end up increasing competition with native bee species and putting them at higher risk. Studies have found that they decrease ecosystem resilience and disrupt networks of plants and their pollinators. Since honey bees appear to be controversial in terms of their environmental impact, steer clear of beeswax and opt for vegan lip balms (which often use candelia wax as an alternative).
In addition to being plastic-free, it’s important to consider what the alternative packaging material is. What you’ll usually see is paper or aluminum, which both have environmental benefits when compared to plastic. Aluminum is essentially infinitely recyclable because it doesn’t degrade in quality each time it’s recycled. This means it has a circular economy and aluminum products don’t require virgin aluminum. Kraft paper is also favorable because it’s often biodegradable, so no matter what happens in the disposal stage it’s safe for the ecosystem. Which is better? While both are sustainable options, paper is lighter and therefore has a lower shipping impact. For this reason I mostly included chapsticks made with kraft paper.
It’s always good to make sure the products you’re buying are cruelty free. There are two main certifications I’ve come across for this, Leaping Bunny and Beauty Without Bunnies (by PETA). An additional certification that some of the products included have is the B Corporation Certification. This certification involves demonstrating high social and environmental performance on an assessment and being transparent about their behaviors.
One more ingredient you might want to avoid is mica. Mica is used by almost all cosmetic companies for its shiny characteristics, but it’s associated with human rights issues as about ¼ of mica in the world comes from unregulated mines in india where child labor is common. Definitely check the ingredients list for this one.
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