Everyday enviro with Elise: the perfume problem

Everyday enviro with Elise: the perfume problem

By Elise Catterall  June 1st, 2021

Elise explores the perils of purchasing conventional perfumes, and suggests some planet-friendly alternatives!


Perfume has always been a regular part of life for me. I always thought of it as something pretty benign with its lovely scents and beautiful bottles, but I’ve come to realise it's not always as harmless as it seems.

While it can feel like individual use wouldn’t really have a major impact on the environment – after all it’s just a spritz or two a day – there is so much more involved with perfume that is problematic. Perfume is a 32 billion USD industry that generates environmental impacts through the ingredients used as well as in manufacturing, distribution and packaging.

It is estimated that around 40 per cent of chemicals in consumer products end up in the atmosphere. Each spray of perfume contains fragrance ingredients that contribute to air pollution. There are up to as many as 300 distinct chemicals in a single perfume, many of which are synthetic and derived from petrochemicals. These are chock-full of volatile organic compounds that can react with other chemicals in the atmosphere to form fine particulates in the air, adding to both indoor and outdoor air pollution. Notably problematic are synthetic musk compounds, which are regularly used in perfumes and can linger in the atmosphere or even contaminate waterways and aquatic life.

Synthetic musk compounds are also a chemical of concern on a physical level because, like numerous other unlisted fragrance ingredients, they are an endocrine disruptor. Other ingredients have the potential to be carcinogenic and some research suggests perfume could be a significant environmental factor associated with asthma.

The upshot is that some perfumes can be a toxic mess in a pretty bottle, which brings me to the bottles. Recycling usually isn’t an option for perfume bottles, so crystal and glass bottles are destined for landfill if they can’t be repurposed or sold on (luckily there is a big market for on-selling empty perfume bottles online). The same goes for the pump or spray mechanism which is typically mixed material, so it’s also off to landfill if it is separated from the bottle.

And the concerns don’t end there — some naturally derived ingredients can have issues of overharvesting and there is the possibility some brands obtain their materials from companies that perform animal testing.

There are alternatives out there though, with perhaps the easiest option being committing to going fragrance-free. Other options include brands such as One Seed, which makes Earth-friendly, natural perfumes in recyclable bottles, or Odesse, which makes refillable solid perfumes. Armed with this information about conventional perfumes, I will be opting for these alternatives from here on out and hope you will too!

Positive Environment News has been compiled using publicly available information. Planet Ark does not take responsibility for the accuracy of the original information and encourages readers to check the references before using this information for their own purposes. 


Positive Actions

Elise Catterall

Elise is a writer, photographer, and naturopath with a passion for nature. She completed a Master of Public Health in 2017 through the University of Sydney. Her photographic work focuses on flowers and plants as a way of celebrating nature. She has been writing for Planet Ark since 2017, sharing positive environment stories, personal environmental experiences and perspectives.

Related Stories

Stay up to date

Whether you're looking for positive inspiration at home, at work or in the community you’ll find something in our suite of e-newsletters.