how to recycle beauty products
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How to Recycle Beauty Products The Right Way And Create Less Waste

Suka Junin

May 21, 2021

Ever wondered if you're recycling your used makeup properly? Keep reading to become a more sustainable consumer of beauty products.

As much as we love trying out the latest beauty product recommended by our favorite gurus, excessive amounts of shopping can be detrimental to the environment if the products don’t get recycled properly. The beauty industry is not shy when it comes to their production amounts all around the world. More than 120 billion units of packaging are produced by the beauty industry, with the majority of that unable to be recycled.

Fortunately, the future is greener. More brands are taking the lead to create more planet-friendly products. Sustainable packaging has become a priority for some companies and some even like to share with consumers as to how their products came to be, especially if there’s a unique story behind it. Brands like Kjaer Weiss and Papr Cosmetics have distinctive, sustainable offerings: the former uses minimal packaging and offers refills, while the latter uses biodegradable paper packaging.

While up-and-coming clean beauty brands are making their green mark, industry titans like Unilever are also trying reduce their plastic ‘footprint’. Unilever, who owns Dove and Simple, is looking to make 100% of their plastic packaging reusable, recyclable, refillable, or compostable by 2025. While Procter & Gamble, who owns Pantene and Olay, aims to achieve the same by 2030.

But more importantly, it’s also our job as shoppers to educate ourselves so we can choose products that are better for the environment and do our part in minimizing waste. It turns out that what we can and can't recycle is trickier than we thought. Sometimes, dumping something in recycling can do more harm than good. We’re here to tell you how you can avoid that mistake and make the world a better place – one used beauty product at a time. 

Steps to Becoming a Recycling Expert

1. Check before you recycle.

While it’s easy to pop used products into the recycling bin, you should check whether it will be accepted. Some items won’t fit the criteria and won’t be able to be picked up by curbside recycling. To check if your beauty product is eligible for this recycling, look out for the Mobius loop – the classic triangle with arrow symbols.

If the loop has a number 1 or 2, it can be picked up. However, a number 5 means you’ll need to check with your local municipality, as not every area can collect that particular item. Each area has different regulations, so it’s best to check your local recycling laws. To see what type of recyclables are accepted in your area, have a look at your town or city’s official website or resources like Recycle Coach, How2Recycle, and Earth911.

2. Remember that not everything can be recycled.

We know you want to make a difference at every chance you get, but you have to remember that not everything can be tossed in the recycling bin (unfortunately). Many beauty companies are already on their way to making fully recyclable packaging, but at this moment, beauty products aren’t made equally.

Here’s a quick summary of beauty products that can’t be recycled:

  • Nail polish and polish remover. Most nail polish contains high traces of alcohol, which makes it flammable and is considered household hazardous waste.
  • Hand cream. Products that are housed in squeezable tubes aren’t recyclable at this time, as it’s mostly made up of several types of plastic. This also includes toothpaste and face mask sheet pouches.
  • Eyeshadow palettes. Although it pains you to toss your once-beautiful pan of eyeshadow pigments in the trash, most can’t be recycled due to the mirrors and magnets they often contain.

Finding non-recyclable items at the sorting line in the recycling facility can create a backlog of items, causing delays. If you’re not sure if it’s potentially hazardous or in doubt about its material or cleanliness, it’s best to dump it in your general waste. When the product contaminates items that are recyclable, these will just end up in landfill. Avoid the detour and just put these items in the trash!

3. Sort before tossing it in the recycling bin.

Most products are not made out the same material. For instance, foundations bottles are often made out of glass, but it also has a pump, which can’t be recycled. Another example are serums, which have droppers that needs to be disassembled in order for the item to be eligible for recycling. The less type of material the product has, the more recyclable-friendly it will be.

Small plastics are also discouraged from being recycled, as these have the potential to fall or get caught in between the belts and machinery at the recycling facility. Try to remove small caps from your used products and avoid putting travel-sized products in the recycling bin as well. Anything measuring less than around 3 inches should head straight to the trash, however check with your local council or recycling program on their regulations.

You can do your part in easing the recycling process by sorting out yourself before disposing of your recyclables. It takes no time at all and is highly encouraged!  

4. Clean as much as you can.

Recycled materials are often sold and used to make other products, and so its value hinges on higher quality used items. The cleanliness of your used product affects its recycling prospects greatly and every little bit helps to have your products recycled properly. Remove as much residue as you can from your bottles and containers, as any leftover is able to attract pests at the facility. Depending on how badly affected the item is, it may have to be thrown away.

Tips For a More Sustainable Beauty Routine

Choose metal, glass, or cardboard products whenever possible.

Plastic products are still considered as huge pollutants, due to the abundance of products that contain them. Unfortunately, plastic only has a lifespan of being recycled about 2 or 3 before it’s deemed unusable. Regardless, it's always a good idea to toss plastic containers in the recycling bin.

To reduce your plastic consumption, look to purchase items that are easier to recycle. Try looking for alternative products that are in glass or even zero-waste packaging.

Go for refillable products.

When you’ve run out of your product, it doesn’t have to mean buying completely new ones. It’s common to buy refills for things like hand soap, but did you know beauty brands can offer the same? Kjaer Weiss – a natural makeup brand – offers refills for their lipstick, compact, and mascaras. Choosing to go for refillable products can go a long way in helping the environment. 

Use reusable cotton pads.

Cotton pads are generally not accepted in recycling, so it's best to consider alternatives. There are reusable pads that can be washed after every use with the rest of your laundry to reduce waste. Otherwise, regular cotton pads, as well as buds, can go in your composting bin along with your kitchen waste.

Use more bars.

Soap, shampoo, conditioners brands are coming out with bars. Instead of squeezing out product, prepare to lather up with bars instead! Ethique has an expansive line of bars for shower products. Bars reduce the need for plastic bottles, which have the potential to clog up recycling facilities or landfill when not cleaned properly. It goes to show how unnecessary plastic is when it comes to cleaning products.

Buy what you need.

With so many amazing products on the market, it’s only natural to get your hands on the latest innovative mascara or fun eyeshadow palette. To be even kinder to the environment, you can try to be minimal in your purchases. Consider only buying what you need or when you’ve run out of something. 

Get into recycling programs.

TerraCycle partners up with brands and communities to allow you to recycle almost every type of beauty product waste, including cosmetic jars, shampoo bottles, lipstick/lip gloss tubes. They can recycle items that your curbside bin can’t take. Brands like Garnier, Burt’s Bees and Vapour all have programs that allow you to return your packaging through TerraCycle. Just simply mail them your empties!

How to Recycle Specific Products

Plastic bottles

Plastic is a common material that can still be found in most products. Luckily, plastic is recyclable but it’s still important to dispose of them properly. Make sure to give the bottle a good rinse with hot water to remove every bit of product before putting it in the bin. Secure the lids of any plastic skincare tubes or shampoo bottles to prevent it from getting lost at the plant and jamming any machinery. Try to leave labels on for workers at the facility to identify the contents. If you can, squash the bottles to make room for more recyclable products in the bin. 

Glass

Like most kitchen products with glass, you can also recycle your glass-bottled beauty products. Glass is also a popular choice of material of many products and it’s also straightforward to recycle. Sometimes, you can give them a second life by reusing it for other things around the house. Avoid risking contamination to the rest of your recyclables by giving the packaging a thorough rinse. While this step may not seem like it will make a difference, it will. Leave the product to soak in hot water if it’s oily to completely rid of any product residue.

Aerosol

Products containing aerosol are now easy to recycle these days. Dry shampoo and hairspray cans are made of steel and aluminum, which are both recyclable. Before you place them in your recycling bin, just make sure to check if your collection service accepts them. The can must also be completely empty and you shouldn’t try to crush or flatten it. As most of these cans have plastic lids and nozzles, remove them and put them in general waste, as they can’t be recycled. 

Makeup products

Most makeup products are generally not accepted in your regular recycling bin, due to the variety of materials like the mirrors in eyeshadow pans and the pumps in foundation bottles. However, certain recycling schemes like TerraCycle and some brands that you shopped from can accept your empties. 

Hair tools

Electrical items like straightening irons and hairdryers need to be disposed of carefully. If they’re still working, and you just want to make space in your bathroom cabinet, consider donating them to charity shops. However, broken items can be dropped off at e-waste collections to be recycled in a safe way. Check with your local council to see where and when you can give up your hair tools.

In Conclusion

With the right effort, a lot of packaging waste from our beauty routines can be avoided. While not all beauty packaging can be recycled, making the effort to properly clean, sort and prepare your used beauty packaging can make a big difference in whether it gets recycled or not.

Suka Junin

Suka is a writer with a passion for creating content around all things makeup, beauty, and skincare. With one article at a time, she’s keen in making a difference through her writing by promoting clean and sustainable living.

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