Essential oils have been used since the beginning of time. They’re even mentioned quite frequently in the bible. But lately, there’s been an explosion of interest in essential oils and these plant extracts are in high demand.
Anything that’s in high demand (Hi, fast fashion!) opens up the door to exploitation and unsustainable practices.
While I don’t think that essential oils are the end all be all when it comes to natural healing, I do believe that they have powerful healing properties. This stems from my belief that God has given us everything we need to survive right here and this earth.
That being said, there’s a right way and a wrong way to source essential oils.
First of all, if you’re buying your essential oils from the grocery store or Walmart, I need you to stop. They’re most likely extremely unsafe and sourced very unsustainably. This is simply brands trying to make money by jumping on whatever is trending right now.
Even proper essential oils can be unsafe if used incorrectly because they’re that powerful and potent.
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The sustainability concerns
Because they’re so strong, each bottle of essential oils requires numerous plants to actually fill up. Citrus plants are the least resource-intensive because they’re easier to squeeze.
Rose essential oil, for example, does not have the same quantity that citrus plants do. It can take 40-60 rosebuds to produce a single drop of rose essential oil. A single ounce could easily use about 600 pounds of rose petals.
Or jasmine oil takes about 8 million pounds of the flower, picked on the day that they open up to produce about 2 pounds of the oil.
Lemon balm is a rare essential oil because it can take more than 3 tons of fresh leaves and flowers to make 1 pound of the essential oil. (Source)
It’s no surprise that rose, jasmine and lemon balm are some of the most expensive essential oils on the market, they use up the most resources. Using 8 million flowers to make 2 pounds of oil is in no way sustainable. In both meanings of the word. It’s a business model that surely can’t last.
Oils like rosemary, lavender, and eucalyptus use significantly fewer resources and water to produce making them a better choice of essential oils.
An industry that’s built on natural resources while the planet is virtually dying is cause enough for concern. With the rising demand for the oils, the sourcing process will only demand more from mother earth and her resources are finite.
And with the ever-rising popularity of these oils, they can no longer just be harvested wildly. Instead, they are grown and harvested in controlled environments. This can lead to deforestation in extreme cases.
Some plants are grown locally while others are not. This adds in an extra level of sustainability concerns like carbon emissions and additional energy being used.
As conscious consumers, it’s our job to know where and how these products were sourced. I use essential oils for everything from bodily ailments, products, and cleaning supplies. If I didn’t care about how they were being made, my purchases alone would be doing some serious damage.
Essential oils are seemingly eco-friendly. They’re natural (the real ones, not the cheap knock-offs) and they’re made from plants. The oils themselves are fine. The problem is how they’re sourced.
So how can we use essential oils in a way that’s kind to our planet?
1. Dilute, dilute, dilute!
Most essential oils require dilution and are unsafe to put directly onto your skin. If essential oils use millions of plants, and hundreds of pounds to create a bottle, make sure you make it last. Always dilute your essential oils in a carrier oil like almond oil, jojoba oil, or coconut oil.
This is better for both you and the planet.
2. Don’t buy the cheap stuff
I already mentioned you shouldn’t be buying essential oils from your grocery store but now you know why. These brands are just in it for the money and do not care about their employees, (who are mistreated and underpaid) your health, or the health of the planet.
I know essential oils can be expensive, but just look at all the resources they require! Essential oils are not an easy thing to make. Just make sure to dilute and make them last to get your money’s worth.
3. Try no to purchase endangered plant species or resource-intensive oil
Just as animals can become endangered, so can plant species. Yet companies still chose to make essential oils from these plants. The repercussions an extinct plant can have on a community is devastating. Not to mention the loss of biodiversity.
It’s our job to be educated and help protect these plants. Some of which include sandlewood and rosewood. You can find a list of endangered plants here.
The same goes for the oils I mentioned earlier like rose, jasmine, and lemon balm. These oils require too many resources to create such a small amount of product. Try to avoid them and find alternatives instead.
4. Store your oils properly
Yes, even essential oils have a shelf life. While it may be a longer shelf life ranging between 1-5 years.
They’re best kept in a cool dark place so they don’t become rancid. Try not to purchase large packs of essential oils either where some of the oils may go to waste or you might not need them.
5. Learn how to dispose of them
Essential oils are actually quite flammable, so those empty brown bottles aren’t exactly safe to toss into your recycling bin when they’re empty.
You could reuse the bottles. Jill from The Prairie Homestead has an excellent post all about reusing your bottles here.
Or you could recycle them. I get my essential oils exclusively from Eco Modern Essentials because they’re transparent about their sourcing and they have a recycling program! You can send your empty bottles back to be properly recycled and you’ll get a discount on your next purchase. Read more about their recycling program here.
More about Eco Modern
Eco Modern Essentials is one of the most open and honest, and sustainable essential oil brands I’ve ever come across.
Their ingredients are harvested from ethical sources to endure social and environmental integrity. They’re sourced from countries where the plants grow best seasonally and climatically.
Eco Modern is an Australian company and all of the oils are bottled in Australia, are vegan and cruelty-free, and Paraben free and SLS free.
Aside from that, their sustainability measures are equally impressive. They use minimal plastic and packaging, use soy-based inks, use recycled materials, have a plant-a-tree program, and have partnered with Carbon Neutral, an Australian organization that helps to offset every order.
All in all, no other essential oil brand even comes close in sourcing and sustainability measures. Shop Eco Modern Essentials here!
Essential oils are talked about all the time especially in the zero waste and natural healing space. But their origins aren’t often talked about. And it’s something we should be looking at first to help protect the integrity of our planet and it’s communities.
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