How to dispose of personal care products

by Duane Friend

Information from University of Illinois Pollution Prevention Specialist Laura Kammin says that contrary to popular belief, the United States does not regulate cosmetics, hygiene products or sunscreens for safety, long-term health impacts or environmental damage. Many common ingredients in personal care products can be harmful to people, wildlife and the environment. Some of the chemicals used are endocrine disruptors and have the potential to interfere with natural hormones, causing problems in the nervous and reproductive systems.

Most personal care products enter wastewater when you bathe or wash your hands. It seems like such a small amount, until you consider the billions of other people who also use these products daily. Since septic systems and municipal wastewater treatment plants were not designed to remove these chemicals, they are continually discharged into the environment. It is not yet clear what the long-term impacts of exposure might be, but there are some ingredients it may be good to avoid.

The Dirty Dozen

  • BHA and BHT
  • Coal Tar Dyes
  • Diethanolamine (DEA) and related ingredients
  • Dibutyl phthalate
  • Formaldehyde-releasing preservatives
  • Parabens
  • Parfum (e.g., fragrance)
  • PEG compounds
  • Petrolatum
  • Siloxanes
  • Sodium laureth sulfate
  • Triclosan and triclocarban


What can I do?
Read the labels on products before you buy them. More information is available at The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, The Story of Cosmetics and the
David Suzuki Foundation. To learn how chemists are trying to develop safer chemicals, take a look at The Great Lakes Green Chemistry Network.


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