Sustainability is the name of the game for those of us who spend all year trying to limit our carbon footprint. I have worked in environmentalism for over a decade and some years I still found myself getting swept up in the consumerist energy of the holiday season and ended up producing and gifting just as much waste as I was trying to reduce. But if you plan well and exercise just a tiny bit of patience, you can give some of the best gifts with sustainability in mind.
Personal care products made with biotechnology
The cosmetics and personal care space is big business and shows no signs of slowing, with celebrity entrepreneurs like Tracee Ellis Ross, Kylie Jenner, and Jessica Alba leading the charge. As the industry expands, so do consumers’ preferences. Today, people like me are looking for sustainable beauty products that reduce environmental impact and bring us peace of mind.
Fortunately, cosmetics, perfumes, moisturizers and even shampoos can be made with sustainable ingredients thanks to advances in biotechnology. That means they’re often less toxic and carry a smaller environmental footprint than their traditional counterparts.
Many lotions, for example, use an ingredient called squalene. Squalene is an excellent moisturizer and helps balance skin’s oils. The beauty industry has commonly relied on shark livers to develop the chemical compound. However, through new understandings in biotechnology companies are developing bio-based lotions that use sugarcane-derived squalene. I take comfort in knowing that this technology is saving shark populations.
Conversely, some personal care products have a significant environmental impact for the waste they leave behind. Exfoliating microbeads, for example, were banned in the United States and across much of Europe because they were made of plastics and began showing up in our oceans – and in the stomachs of some fish. But microbeads made with sugar from corn are biodegradable, dissolving before they can leave an environmental footprint.
It’s easy to identify biobased products. Check for the USDA Certified Biobased Products label or check the online USDA catalogue before you buy.
A sustainable lean on the classics
Similar to how beauty companies are adhering to customers’ green values, many other consumer brands are researching ways to make their products better for the planet. If you’re looking for something a little less harsh on the earth, there are plenty of companies giving a second life to our garbage.
In September, Reuters released a startling graphic that shows the earth is drowning in plastic. The durable material has made its way into every corner of our lives, with plastic bottles being among the worst offenders. But our obsession with it is taking a toll on the environment. Increasingly companies are designing long-lasting outwear and footwear partially made from old plastic bottles.
As a mom, I find myself constantly reusing items around the house; old shirts become cleaning rags, spaghetti sauce jars become vases, and cereal boxes become craft projects. And more and more companies are looking at how they can turn waste into everyday products. There’s unlimited potential in the works.
Companies have been taking reclaimed wood and post-consumer materials to give classic products a much-needed update. Reclaimed wood is wood that has already been used and tossed out and post-consumer recycled materials account for all non-wood materials, like plastic, fabric and aluminum, that have been used and discarded. Take for instance, these headphones that use reclaimed wood to create something stylish, and modern or this sturdy bag made from repurposed billboard vinyl that would otherwise end up in a landfill. A simple search will turn up all kinds of gorgeous long-lasting gifts that put trash back in your house – on purpose!
And if you must buy plastic, make it plant-based or reusable
I have no idea where my kid’s toys and gadgets from last holiday season are and that’s the case for most moms. Despite regifting and donating them for another couple lifecycles, I know that within a few months, the toy is in a trash heap somewhere. That’s one of the reasons some of my biotech companies like Anellotech, Renmatix, and Virent, Inc are working on a range of bioplastics. In 2018, LEGO® launched a “botanical elements” series of toy foliage that is made from “plant-based plastic sourced from sugarcane” according to an article published on LEGO's site. The company is still working to move all their products to biobased plastics that can be easily recycled.
Plant-based plastics aren’t just used for toys, they can be used for a range of everyday products. Almost anything you need that is made with plastic exists as a bioplastic as well: cups, toothbrushes, trash bags, soap dishes, piercing studs, and more. Gift a bioplastic or nudge someone in your life to use fewer single-use plastics. I have integrated a silicone lidsilicone re-sealable storage bags, and glass straws into our home and gifted them to others, it’s pretty amazing what a small change can inspire.
At the United Nations Climate Summit in early December, world leaders spoke with urgency about the crisis the planet is facing. As UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres put it, “the point of no return is no longer over the horizon.” I’m excited to be working with companies that are developing more sustainable alternatives on a large scale for the things we use every day. So too, a collection of small actions can make a big difference and enjoying the holidays responsibly is a great way to start.