Is it Reasonable to go Cold Turkey on Plastic?

no plastic
Most of us don’t buy a beauty product because it’s cruelty or plastic free we buy it because we desire youthful hydration or cellulite reduction. After decades of education about parabens and sulphates, some of the “eviller” ingredients which pollute our bodies and oceans might therefore tip the balance of our purchasing power.

But the ethics behind the packaging it comes in, tends to be at the very bottom of our considerations (if at all). Angela, like me, is a Mum of three. She’s also fighting the ethical beauty battle through this: her new online project based in Berlin, More Natural Attitudes (MNA).

What is MNA?

“Above all a community,” she says “a following and a branding force which says you don’t necessarily have to be vegan, you don’t have to change your belief system, you can just take small steps to become more sustainable, take care of your rubbish, try to use less plastic, which by the way I’m failing miserably at!”

Aren’t we all? The plastic cotton buds in my bathroom agree.

no plasticThe ethical beauty industry struggles more than most with gaining consumer trust because well, it’s personal. I want to trust in industry leaders and experts because I don’t have the time or the emotional energy to examine the ethics behind all I buy. But I can’t trust them; nameless, faceless corporations have proven so many times in the past to put profit over ethics in a capitalist society which rewards them for it.

I trust in Angela. For one, our kids go to school together. For another she’s up front and honest about what she can and can’t do regarding the ethics behind her products. But she tries.

Sometimes we can’t be ethical in one fell swoop because costs, laws and practices prevent it. But we can keep choosing better and keep being honest about what needs to change. Those products also have to fit into the household budget because very few people have the privilege of being able to pay the premium charged by suppliers for going green.

“I believed Germany was great at recycling plastic,” she says, “as a normal consumer and Mum of a big family, I just saw that all plastic goes in the plastic bin. But when I started to look closely there’s only certain types of plastic that are recyclable and you can tell that by the different types of recyclable logos that they have on the bottle. The rest ends up in landfill. So, for example, the bottles we’re using to start the company, they’re PET which is a recyclable plastic.”

The bottles she first bought are currently produced in the U.K. And yet after a visit to the PET bottle manufacturer Angela tells me that the fumes from them were so strong she left feeling giddy. Which is why even after she’d made the initial investment–but before the More Natural Attitudes project launched–she was researching biopolymers to replace PET.

“There’s a couple of different forms of biopolymer. My favorite one is a byproduct of sugarcane, so when they are producing sugarcane into manufacturing sugar, it’s actually a waste product.

A lot of people in the industry are switching over to it. Some companies were trying to get organically certified the last I heard about 18 months ago, but at that point it wasn’t fully tested. Anytime you put a cosmetic product out, it has to be stability tested in the packaging to see how much is leaking into the product and whether that’s harmful.”

Hmmm, not so sweet.

Biopolymer looks and feels like high quality glass, but has the weight of plastic. It produces less fumes in the production process and above all of course, it’s not plastic. It’s not going to stay around for many years to come because it’s biodegradeable. But how much does it cost to do this?

“The prices for biopolymer coming in okay,” she says “the wholesale prices as well, so it’s not like they brought out another sustainable product and are going to charge you 10 times as much. It’s probably about seven times as much as a PET bottle, but still, that’s moving in the right direction. I’ve only looked at small quantities, for example up to 25,000 units. Obviously, if you buy 50,000, 100,000 units, it can be probably quite similar to the pricing of PET.”

This sounds hopeful, especially if MNA develops the following she hopes. But even so, as we move on to discuss the ethical considerations of the sugar cane industry, it’s obvious that there is more to examine. This particular sugar cane and its byproducts is cultivated in Brazil, which currently produces 41% of the world’s total.

If harvested by hand, the method involves setting the fields on fire to kill pests and venomous snakes. The working conditions are also suspect. On one hand it creates jobs and supports livelihoods. On the other, inadequate hydration for workers who toil long hours in the hot sun, means that many have suffered from kidney damage in the past. Angela is continuing her investigations, but intends to do so in total transparency and alongside the More Natural Attitudes community, whom she would want to participate in the direction of the project by giving feedback on future ethical decisions.

“I just set up the facebook page,” says Angela giggling, “I have 16 followers already.”

And I’m one of them. Obviously or I wouldnt be blogging about her and for her.

It’s a bloody relief, to be honest, that someone like her is taking responsibility for some of my ethical decision-making. Because the creation of a more sustainable life and a more sustainable world, can only be achieved if many dedicated people work together.

Except that when you have a job, a household and a family, you’re more likely to want to relax in a hot bath at the end of the day, not wind yourself up in knots about enviromental issues or exploited workers in poorer areas of the world. But if you trust the community who’s making the difficult decisions on your behalf and with your input, you don’t have to.