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How to shop for sustainable cosmetics

Apr 16, 2024

Raluca Giurgiutiu of Madonna Lily pours fragrant oils for skin care into a container at Vintage Green Review.

Beauty just got better. For Mother Earth, that is.

The popularity of single-use plastics spans nearly every industry, including self-care and cosmetics. While beauty products tend to take up relatively little space in our homes and minds, cosmetic and beauty product packaging adds nearly 120 billion units of plastic to landfills each year.

Many brands use nonrecyclable plastic for their products, which means that even if your shampoo bottle does make it into the blue bin, it’s still destined for the landfill.

So what are we supposed to do with the empty lip balms (however rare) and sunscreen tubes (far more common)?

It all comes down to this: Try not to purchase them in the first place. There’s a better way.

No packaging is the best packaging, and zero-waste cosmetics are growing in availability. Businesses are coming up with creative solutions like shampoo and conditioner bars, toothpaste tablets and deodorant cream. Biodegradable bamboo dental floss? It's now an option.

Vintage Green Review, New Orleans’ first zero-waste supply and bulk refill store, offers some planet-friendly cosmetic alternatives from independent and local businesses. Paper-packaged tinted lip balms, facial serums, refillable lotions and acne treatments, plus a wide range of face soaps and hair care can be found at the location on Magazine Street. Since opening in 2021, Vintage Green Review says it has saved over 16,000 single-use plastic bottles from the landfill.

Vintage Green Review is at 3530 Magazine St. in New Orleans.

“The three main boxes we try to check off when looking for cosmetics include cruelty-free, nontoxic and hypoallergenic, and plastic-free,” said Sarah Andert, the owner and founder of Vintage Green Review. “That last box is the hardest to check.”

When Andert was beginning to stock her store, she took into account truly recyclable sustainable packaging, as well as how she could provide quality bulk items.

“Plastic containers have impacts on our oceans and environments, and on the human body as well,” she said. The store is almost entirely devoid of plastic, taking shipping and packaging into account. While some products are in plastic containers or have small parts, they can all be brought back to Vintage Green Review to be refilled or recycled.

Madonna Lily, a New Orleans-based cosmetics brand, sells its popular facial serums and lotion bars at the Vintage Green Review storefront with bulk and refill options.

“It’s progress over perfection. Individual choices are important, and they do matter,” said Andert. “Making a positive change that you feel good about inspires the people around you.”

Large containers of shampoos and conditioners stand on a dispensing shelf at Vintage Green Review in New Orleans on Thursday.

For those looking to start using zero-waste products, here are some tips.

One of the main offerings at Vintage Green Review is its bulk refill section. Alongside household cleaners is an array of soaps, shampoos and body wash that can be purchased per ounce. The store offers scents like lemon lavender and green tea shampoos, sourcing from Fillaree Suds & Co. and other bulk face and body brands.

To fill up, bring or buy a clean, dry bottle. Weigh the bottle before and after filling. Andert provides labels with product information, which have been thoroughly researched to ensure low-impact and clean ingredients.

Long-lasting, high-quality products with little to no environmental impact are always a win.

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