Packaging may not be the most important consideration when choosing toiletries or cosmetics but it is a valuable source of information regarding the products. There should be a list of ingredients, ideally complete so you can check whether the product contains ingredients to which you are allergic, or which you wish to avoid, instructions for use and possibly a ‘use by’ date. There may be warnings about possible allergic reactions, advice on what to do if swallowed or if it gets in the eyes, and whether the container can be recycled. A variety of logos may appear, indicating cruelty-free (the BUAV rabbit), vegan (Vegan Society sunflower) or organic (Soil Association certified). Some labels are better designed and clearer to read than others!

The Ecologist magazine has a regular feature ”Behind the Label” which goes into details about ingredients, such as detergents and preservatives, in personal care products and includes lists of products to avoid. A difficulty is that many of the ingredients have similar-sounding names. So the list of detergents to avoid includes various forms of laureth sulphate and lauryl sulphate, but lauryl betaine, lauryl glucoside and sorbitan laurate are among the list of acceptable alternatives. Also names of ingredients are often given in Latin which turn common products such as salt into unfamiliar terms (sodium chloride).

Many toiletries, particularly the more expensive cosmetics, are marketed in very elaborate packaging. Indeed perfume bottles are highly collectable – there’s even a museum in Spain devoted to them. But much of this packaging is unnecessary and simply adds to the mountains of waste that we produce. Even if aerosol cans no longer contain ozone-depleting chemicals they are still an undesirable form of packaging, using much resources to make and hard to recycle. Sometimes packaging can be deceptive, leading one to believe that the container holds more than it does. Some companies are trying to reduce the amount of packaging and to use recycled and/or recyclable packaging. Kingfisher say that their toothpaste tubes are made from biodegradable cellulose. Glass and plastic bottles often can be recycled if you are near recycling facilities for them.


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