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Cosmetic Industry Sustainability – From the sea

November 14, 2014

It is becoming increasingly apparent that we need to stop thinking of terrestrial plants when sourcing cosmetic feedstock.  There is barely enough land left as it is to feed and house our growing numbers and humans being humans we all want more than we need (the cosmetic industry for one depends on it.  Nobody is born in need of a bit of lippy).

Palm oil has been on our supply chain roller coaster for twenty or so years and look where that has landed us?  Forests made way for mono-cultured plantations killing biodiversity and goodness knows what else really as once  it’s gone it’s gone and I’ve never met a person that’s smarter than nature.

But palm is the best we have got, highest yields of all the farmed oil giving crops, low requirement for intervention (pesticides etc) and a good quality, reliable and versatile oil to boot which begs the question “so what do you want us to do?”

Last night I watched the second in a two-part series on the fishing industry called ‘what’s the catch’ introduced by a guy called Matthew Evans.   While all of the program was fascinating and telling the part that got me excited was the prawn farm.   Fish farming is fraught with issues – a monoculture-by-sea if you will.  The fish live in close proximity in an area that is much smaller than they would naturally roam. Other fish are excluded from the party thus creating an alien world of fish and excrement that needs careful management and intervention to save it from its self.   The fish farming pods are moved around rather like you would move a sheep pen or herd of cattle because the intense fish activity has a devastating impact on the aquatic environment and if left un-checked everything, including the fish die in a sea of poop.  Not a nice prospect.

While this poop situation is managed in all farms it was the prawn farm that was shown that really made me go ‘WOW’.  The prawn poop on this particular farm is being used to fertilise and grow an edible seaweed – a seaweed that not only gobbles up the poop and turns it into a vegetarian delight but a seaweed that actually cleans the very sea it floats in.  Recycling genius yes but this is also profitable and we all know that in business there is nothing more powerful that the mighty dollar.

The fish poop circle of life

Well it didn’t take long before my mind turned to cosmetics and the potential of poop-fed feed stock to turn into oil to make into lipstick, moisturiser and liquid soap.  This isn’t the first time I’ve gone down this route of thinking but now that I’ve seen it in action on the fish farm I have a renewed enthusiasm for it as a solution.

Looking to the sea rather than land as a solution for our cosmetic ingredient woes would not be without its problems, the sea is just as vulnerable to being man-handled as the earth and greedy, short-sighted practices are not to be encouraged anywhere but maybe this neat turn of events has potential.

We often talk about the circle of life but that circle sometimes gets lost in the rush to feed our insatiable appetite.  The above is a true life-giving cycle with one fishes waste becoming another organisms food.  This is permaculture where one process flows into and feeds another.  Perhaps all farming should be done this way.

Having delved into the seaweed-for-feedstock world once before I know that it has potential albeit potential that is still practically unrealised and in need of some research dollars but as seaweed has already been turned into ethanol and bio-fuel surely we aren’t too far away from seeing ‘derived from seaweed’ on our cosmetic labels.

feedstock pyramid



It is exciting to imagine a world where we might truly be able to enjoy guilt-free discretionary purchases such as our cosmetic treats.  To know that rather than swap one problem for another we have bought into something quite remarkable yet quite simple and elegant.

So what are you waiting for?  Let’s go to the beach, each, let’s go get a wave.

The future is salty.

Amanda x


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