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  • Writer's pictureTrisha Bhujle

From Chapped to Scrapped: The Hidden Waste in Our Lips’ Lotion

Updated: Nov 24, 2022

We’ve all squirmed at the all-too-familiar feeling of waking up with dry, cracked lips. Upon spending more than a few dollars on ointments and chapsticks of every shape and size, we use these products incessantly in the hope of finally ridding our lips of those displeasing patches that never seem to go away. However, as the creams themselves begin to dwindle, our use of their containers becomes increasingly inefficient. When using cylindrical chapsticks, for example, we try and fail to twist the bottom of the tube as much as we’d like, eventually surrendering when the final few layers of balm fail to break the surface. Or, as with brands such as eos, we struggle to access the balm buried at the depths of the spherical container, unwilling to scoop it up directly with our fingers. Knowing that our local convenience store’s shelves are lined with shiny new lip balms, we toss our existing ones despite that a substantial helping of unused cream remains in their crevices. Before we know it, we’re back to lathering our lips with mango-flavored wax or a passion fruit blend, all at the expense of the unfinished chapsticks that we left behind…

For most people, ridding their countertops of old chapsticks doesn’t seem at all like a big deal. After all, given that chapsticks are so small to begin with, does it really matter if you throw away the occasional tube? What people don’t realize is that the damage comes when everyone shares the same mindset. Different websites report vastly different information on the number of chapsticks discarded annually, ranging from 200 million to one billion globally. No matter the reality, these numbers aren’t small. Not only do millions of chapstick containers enter our landfills and break down into microplastics that penetrate land and water alike, but the actual lip balm itself – which is brimming with synthetic waxes and mineral oils – also seeps into the soil and remains there for centuries.

As a frequent lip balm user myself (even my lips are prone to the undesirable flakiness that we all dread), I was curious to discover what I could do with old chapstick containers – and with the residual lip balm within them. Upon digging through my closet, I found a mostly-used container of eos cucumber melon lip balm. Just how much cream was stuck at the bottom? To find out, I grabbed a wooden stick from my drawer, ripped out a (small) paper towel, and got to work. As I slowly picked out chunks of melony goodness, I was taken aback by the extent of chapstick that would have gone to waste had I thrown the eos container away. In a matter of seconds, my paper towel was covered in globs of wax that were enough to last several more days, if not weeks. The process of removing the leftover chapstick took me only about five minutes, which have been condensed into the 26-second video below.

Such chapstick wastage is not restricted to eos alone: Even the cylindrical tubes of brands such as Burt’s Bees house more than their fair share of residual lip balm. As for the eos container itself, I chose not to clip off the inner spokes and instead simply gave the container a gentle wash with a toothbrush and toothpaste to rid it of its stickiness. Having repeated this process with several containers, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the multitude of ways in which I can use them to store my endless arsenal of art supplies. From sequins to buttons to even googly eyes, almost any tiny trinket can find a home in a chic eos container. And the more containers you collect, the more you can store! Environmentalists (and organizers) everywhere thank you.

Of course, perhaps the best option is to completely refrain from purchasing products made of synthetic waxes and wrapped in non-biodegradable plastics. In recent years, many companies have begun to manufacture more sustainable chapsticks to avoid the environmental cost that comes with their cheaper alternatives. EcoRoots, for example, sells a zero-waste lip balm (as well as other beauty products!) made entirely of plant-based ingredients and delivered in fully recyclable packaging. It even donates a portion of its profits to Ocean Conservancy to support ongoing ocean cleanup and biodiversity preservation efforts. Similarly, Ethique sells a diverse assortment of naturally-flavored lip balms in compostable wrappers. Unfortunately, with such eco-friendly products also comes a high cost, so purchasing less expensive lip balms and using them wisely is the next best option. Several organizations are available to facilitate this process as well. For instance, Terracycle has formed a partnership with eos in which people can mail in their used eos products for them to be recycled, and several Nordstrom locations have begun to collect and recycle containers of multiple beauty product brands at no cost to the user.

While we constantly use and discard lip balm containers with little regard for their environmental impact, there is no time like the present to change our longstanding habits. Though purchasing sustainable products is not always feasible or convenient, responsible use of plastic products – both their packaging and their contents – is a sure-fire way to reduce your environmental footprint without breaking the bank. As an undying optimist, I’m excited to witness and even contribute to innovations in the beauty industry that embody the “zero waste” mantra that I hold so dear. Who knew that something as simple as chapstick could be the first step to getting there?

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