Women + the Circular Economy, a new event series at Yale that seeks to discuss how sustainability and innovation can create economic opportunities for women, hosted its first event on Thursday evening, “Upcycled Beauty.”

Women + the Circular Economy is run by the Sustainable Waste Reduction student group at the Yale School of Public Health, aquaponics startup Symbrosia, Women Entrepreneurs and Innovators at Yale and the Toxics Student Interest Group at the School of Forestry & Environmental Studies. Thursday’s event discussed the chemicals in and the processes for creating shampoo and included an activity in which attendees made a facial scrub and a face mask.

“This workshop expands on what we currently understand about the nature of the cosmetic industry through the lens of the circular economy, gives an opportunity to create a DIY skin care product from upcycled materials and pushes you to consider how upcycled beauty products may play a role in future innovations,” said Alexia Akbay SPH ’19, one of the organizers of the event.

The lecture component of the event was led by Victoria Shirriff SPH ’19, Alina Rodriguez FES ’19 and Akbay. Shirriff began the discussion by explaining how women can contribute to a circular economy — or an economy that focuses on minimizing waste and maximizing resources. In the context of the beauty industry, this relates to the chemicals used in the manufacturing and packaging processes for the products.

Rodriguez then broke down the components of shampoo, explaining that some shampoos even contain chemicals that are carcinogenic, such as parabens. Beyond the health-related risks, Rodriguez addressed several environmental concerns.

“Shampoo is one of the few products that we use on a daily basis that just goes directly down the shower drain,” Rodriguez said. “One major concern is what happens to those chemicals when they enter the water system.”

Rodriguez then discussed the manufacturing process for shampoo, including where components are acquired and how those components are combined to make the product. She explained how processes could be made more sustainable by using green chemistry, in which chemical products are produced in a way that reduces or eliminates the use of hazardous substances. According to Rodriguez, by eliminating dangerous or harmful byproducts or components at the beginning of the production process, companies do not have to eliminate hazardous waste later on.

The field of green chemistry was established by Paul Anastas, a F&ES professor in the practice of chemistry for the environment. Anastas developed the concept of green chemistry while working for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as the chief of the industrial chemistry branch and as the director of the U.S. Green Chemistry Program, according to the website for the Center for Green Chemistry & Green Engineering.

To conclude the talk, Rodriguez identified a few shampoo products that consumers can purchase with safe ingredients. She also recommended that attendees download the Think Dirty app, which allows users to scan barcodes on household and personal care products and learn about their chemical components and their associated risks.

After the talk, Rodriguez, Akbay, and Shirriff split the room into two halves. One half made a coffee face scrub with used coffee grounds from Blue State Coffee, while the other half made a juice pulp mask with used pulp from Juice Box. According to Rodriguez, both vendors typically compost those components and were happy to give them to the organizers. Attendees were also told to bring their own reusable containers, which allowed them to take their homemade beauty products home with them.

Attendee Paulina Wells ’21 said that she enjoyed the event and would attend another one in the series, adding that she found the subject matter and activity especially engaging.

Women + the Circular Economy is hosting its next event, “Fast Fashion,” on March 18.

Madison Mahoney | madison.mahoney@yale.edu