Is Petroleum Jelly Biodegradable? (+5 Eco-Friendly Alternatives)

Savanna Stanfield

Petroleum jelly is a popular ingredient in many beauty products such as lipstick and moisturizer.

However, as many people are wanting to switch to more eco-friendly beauty products, they wonder if petroleum jelly is safe for the environment.

Some of the questions they ask include whether or not petroleum jelly is biodegradable, if it can be recycled, and how to dispose of it properly.

Unfortunately, since it is a by-product of oil-refining, petroleum jelly is not biodegradable and not safe for the environment.

In this article, we’ll explore how petroleum jelly is made, why it isn’t biodegradable, and how to properly dispose of it.

We’ll also share some eco-friendly alternatives to petroleum jelly so that you can make more sustainable choices in all aspects of your life.

Is Petroleum Jelly Biodegradable?

Petroleum jelly does not biodegrade on its own over time.

If you think about it, this actually makes a lot of sense if you consider what the purpose of petroleum jelly is.

The most common use for petroleum jelly is in beauty products that are designed to moisturize skin. 

The thick, greasy texture of petroleum jelly adds oil to the skin for moisture.

But in order for the skin to retain that moisture, petroleum jelly has to create a barrier on the skin to keep the oils from escaping through your pores.

Essentially, if you leave petroleum jelly out to biodegrade, the same thing happens to the ground or surface below it.

Just like your skin has pores, so does soil and dirt. If petroleum jelly is left to biodegrade, it will create a barrier on the surface of the ground.

If a barrier is present, the soil’s ability to “breathe” is blocked.

If soil isn’t able to breathe, it negatively affects the health of the organisms that live there and aid in the biodegradation process.

This causes them to not be able to do their job effectively.

It’s a good thing that petroleum jelly isn’t biodegradable because if it was, we wouldn’t want it to be. 

Petroleum jelly is made with chemicals that could be hazardous to the environment if they got into soil and water as a result of biodegradation.

What Breaks Down Petroleum Jelly?

If petroleum jelly doesn’t biodegrade easily, how does it break down?

Since it is such a thick and sticky product, there aren’t many natural ways to break it down.

The most effective way to break down petroleum jelly is by using a chemical that is capable of dissolving plastic.

This is because plastic and petroleum jelly have similar compositions since they are both a result of refining crude oil.

Using paint thinner or acetone is a quick way to dissolve petroleum jelly, but these are volatile compounds that are definitely not eco-friendly. 

A slightly safer chemical that has been found to break down petroleum jelly is rubbing alcohol. But even rubbing alcohol can pose risks to both human and environmental health.

Ideally, petroleum jelly would be broken down by water as the safest method.

But since petroleum jelly is oil-based, water won’t cause it to break down since oil and water don’t mix. 

The safest way to break down petroleum jelly that is somewhat effective would be to use an oil that is less dense and more environmentally friendly.

Examples of these types of oils include those that are commonly used for cooking, including olive oil or canola oil

They will dissolve petroleum jelly enough that it can be partially removed with water, but it still may not be broken down entirely without using a stronger chemical.

Can Petroleum Jelly Be Recycled?

Petroleum jelly cannot be recycled since it is semi-solid and a by-product of the oil-refining process. 

It is nearly impossible to break down petroleum jelly in a way that it can be recreated and used again.

Even though petroleum jelly itself is not recyclable, the plastic container that it usually comes in is.

However, you cannot recycle a petroleum jelly container if there is still petroleum jelly inside it. 

You would have to clean the container out completely using one of the chemicals listed above, or throw it away instead.

How To Dispose Of Petroleum Jelly Properly

A lot of chemicals can’t be disposed of with regular garbage because they are considered hazardous waste

Petroleum jelly is not one of these chemicals because it doesn’t display any properties of hazardous waste.

It is listed as one of the chemicals that can be disposed of with regular trash.

With that being said, petroleum jelly shouldn’t be taken out of the container to throw it away since it doesn’t biodegrade.

The proper way to dispose of petroleum jelly is to leave it in the original container with the lid attached.

As long as the original container is sealed and isn’t cracked or broken, petroleum jelly can be disposed of properly and won’t harm the environment.

If there is no petroleum jelly left in the container, the container can be rinsed out and recycled.

Is Petroleum Jelly Eco Friendly?

Petroleum jelly is not eco-friendly since it is a result of processing petroleum for use in plastics and other products.

Petroleum is produced from crude oil, which is a non-renewable resource.

In addition, the process used to create petroleum is a contributing factor in climate change.

Hazardous waste, acid rain, and air pollution are all potential results from the production of petroleum.

But there are other environmental hazards that can occur during the collection of crude oil as well. 

An example of one of these hazards is an oil spill, which can devastate wildlife populations in the area where the oil was harvested.

The bottom line is that there is no part of the petroleum jelly creation process that is eco-friendly.

Is Petroleum Jelly The Same As Vaseline?

Yes, Vaseline and petroleum jelly are the same thing.

Petroleum jelly is the generic name, while Vaseline is a specific brand name.

Vaseline was created by the Unilever company, and it was the original brand of petroleum jelly to be marketed.

Today, the Vaseline brand has several petroleum jelly products including lip balms, moisturizing lotion, and serums.

Some of their products have added ingredients such as aloe, cocoa butter, or rose oil.

How Is Petroleum Jelly Made?

We know that petroleum jelly is a by-product of oil-refining, but how exactly is it made?

Petroleum jelly was originally created by a chemist by the name of Robert Chesebrough in 1859. 

When crude oil is collected, it leaves behind a gooey, jelly-like residue on the oil rigs.

Chesebrough noticed that the oil workers would rub this jelly-like substance on their skin to remove burns so he decided to package and market it under the name Vaseline.

Petroleum jelly products are a combination of oils and waxes that are produced by distilling the jelly-like substance left behind by crude oil harvesting.

It is then filtered to produce the actual petroleum jelly product. Other names for petroleum jelly include petrolatum and paraffin.

Is Petroleum Jelly Toxic?

Most chemical agencies consider petroleum jelly to be non-toxic, although there are arguments that some of the ingredients are harmful.

For example, there is evidence that shows that petroleum jelly is one of many beauty products with a carcinogen as one of the ingredients.

A carcinogen is a chemical that is thought to cause cancer. The specific ingredient in question is known as 1,4-dioxane.

It’s also important to remember that any product that is used on your skin has the potential to be absorbed into your bloodstream.

By using a product that contains the same chemicals as petroleum, you are risking putting those chemicals inside your body and potentially damaging your lungs and other organs.

5 Eco Friendly Alternatives To Petroleum Jelly

1. Waxelene

Waxelene is marketed as a natural alternative to petroleum jelly that has many of the same uses.

Some of the main ingredients in this product include beeswax, Vitamin E, and organic soy and rosemary. 

These natural ingredients are better for the skin than petroleum jelly is, and Waxelene also won’t leave your skin feeling greasy.

2. Beeswax

Beeswax usually isn’t used alone as an alternative to petroleum jelly, but it is a sustainable product that can be used with other ingredients to make your own homemade beauty products.

One of the more common uses for beeswax is for lip balm due to its ability to protect lips from getting dry and chapped.

3. Shea Butter 

Shea butter comes from the nuts of the karité tree found in Africa.

It is one of the best products that you can use on your skin due to being high in Vitamins A, E, and F

There are many products that are made with shea butter, or you can use it to make your own homemade beauty products.

4. Cocoa Butter

Cocoa butter comes from cocoa beans, so it is high in antioxidants and may even reduce signs of aging.

Many lotions and lip products contain cocoa butter due to its ability to moisturize and replenish nutrients that are important for skin health.

5. Jojoba Oil 

Jojoba oil is produced using the seeds from the shrub of the same name.

It is a great natural choice to replenish some of the oils found in skin.

You can buy many products with jojoba oil as the main ingredient, or you can mix it with shea or cocoa butter to create a natural beauty product with a lotion-like consistency.

Conclusion 

If you’re looking for eco-friendly beauty products, petroleum jelly is not one of them.

It is not biodegradable, can’t be recycled, and it is produced in a way that poses many risks to the environment.

There are also concerns about potential cancer-causing ingredients that can be found in petroleum jelly.

If it does have any benefits to skin whatsoever, there are other products that can provide those same benefits which are more sustainable and eco-friendly.

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