Plastic pollution problems: Three takeaways from The Body Shop plastic waste study

By Ravyn Cullor

- Last updated on GMT

The Body Shop estimates there are as many shower gel bottles thrown away monthly as there are cars on the road in the US. © Getty Images - Alistair Berg
The Body Shop estimates there are as many shower gel bottles thrown away monthly as there are cars on the road in the US. © Getty Images - Alistair Berg

Related tags Plastic Packaging Recycling Sustainable packaging Sustainability Recyclable packaging

Plastic is both an important packaging material and a prevalent pollutant, and The Body Shop wanted to know what cosmetic plastic Americans throw away the most.

Personal care brand The Body Shop released a study on plastic waste earlier this year, looking into consumer habits in throwing away cosmetic plastics in the United States. The study covered what gets thrown away, how much and what the habits around cosmetic plastics are.

Microplastic pollution has been found across ecosystems, including waterways, in fish and on some of the high peaks in the world.

As the year rounds the corner to Plastic Free July, here are three of the key takeaways from The Body Shop’s “Body Plastic Pile Up”​ study.

The top ten cosmetics plastic waste items

The study ranked the cosmetics industry’s top ten plastic waste items by quantity every month, pointing out that many everyday personal care items usually include plastic packaging components. 

The top ten most commonly thrown away cosmetics plastics were:

  1. Razors, 385 million units
  2. Shampoo, 369 million units
  3. Deodorant, 367 million units
  4. Toothbrushes, 350 million units
  5. Shower gel, 287 million units
  6. Face wash, 262 million units
  7. Conditioner, 248 million units
  8. Body moisturizer, 245 million units
  9. Body lotion, 244 million units
  10. Hair brushes, 217 million units

To put those numbers in perspective, The Body Shop said there are three times as many razors thrown away monthly as there are houses in the United States.

Recycling is not made equal across US cities

Among the top 21 cities in the US for plastic recycling, the study found a 38-point gap, with New York City leading with 65.5% of survey respondents saying they regularly recycle and Indianapolis leading the rear with 27.5%.

Map of the top 21 plastic recycling cities in the US
© The Body Shop "Body Plastic Pile Up"

According to rePurpose Global​, an independent organization that does plastic neutrality for consumer product brands, around 75% of plastic recycled in the US, Canada, the UK and Ireland ends up in landfills in countries like India, Indonesia and Vietnam.

Consumers say they are interested in packaging sustainability

“Body Plastic Pile Up” also surveyed US consumers on their personal care purchasing habits as they relate to plastic packaging.

The study found that:

  • 54% of consumers said they are more likely to purchase from brands using sustainable packaging and reducing plastic waste
  • Half of consumers are trying to reduce their cosmetic plastic consumption
  • 43% of consumers only buy products from brands that have little to no plastic

These results were from a survey of 2,004 consumers.

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