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Green challenges

Thinking global and acting local, Julie Grundy takes on any challenge we throw at her.

More tips for choosing eco-friendly cosmetics

Rows of soaps and bath fizzes in a store

Minimal packaging at Lush stores

Credit: Olivier Bruchez

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As we work on our petroleum-based cosmetics challenge, it’s good to see if there’s any useful tips we can get from our previous challenges. I think we should be looking at our packaging, buying in bulk, and multi-purpose products.

As always, check the packaging of what you’re buying. Choose things that aren’t wrapped in layers of plastic and cardboard (all that oil and all those trees, just going to waste), and that can be reused or recycled when the product is all used up.

The Body Shop used to take back their containers for cleaning and reuse, but they don’t seem to offer that anymore. Lush stores use recyclable containers and their soaps are simply cut off a giant bar in whatever amount you’d like and wrapped in paper, same goes for their solid shampoos. I’d love to see more businesses follow their example. (Be sure to check your ingredients at these stores though - while some do use only natural ingredients, many are still full of parabens, SLS and talc.)

Buying in bulk will look a bit different for your body-care products than it does for your kitchen! Except for a few very cheap shampoos, I’ve never seen this type of thing come in a size larger than 500ml. However if you can find a good co-op, many offer these products for sale as refills for your own containers.

If you’ve gone to the trouble of finding a product that meets your pampering and health and eco requirements, you should buy the largest size available so you can reduce the amount of packaging you’ll need to dispose of. If the bottle is too large for daily use, you can always decant the product into a more convenient bottle reused from a previous item you’ve had.

Finally, see if you can get double-duty out of your products. I don’t buy a separate shaving cream anymore, I just use the giant bottle of conditioner I bought when it was on sale at my regular hair salon. It gives me just as close a shave as a gel or cream would do, smells nice, and rinses off easily.

When it’s used up I’ll replace it with a more eco-friendly conditioner, but I don’t think I’ll ever buy shaving cream for myself again. This way I use less packaging and don’t need to store so many items in the shower.

There is also makeup that can fill more than one need: lip and eye colour, lip and cheek colour, and so on. And although the major cosmetics houses would love for you to buy a separate moisturiser for your face, eyes, neck, elbows and feet, you probably only need one or maybe two at the most.

Are there any other tips that might make our cosmetics and body products more eco-friendly? Let me know in the comments.