How to Recycle Your Beauty Products the Right Way

April 29, 2021
Genesis Rivas
By: Genesis Rivas | Makeup.com by L'Oréal
How to Recycle Your Beauty Products the Right Way

Did you know that the global cosmetics industry produces 120 billion units of packaging each year? These units contribute to the loss of 18 million acres of forest every single year, according to research conducted by Zero Waste Week and published on the Stylist. Yep, I was devastated to learn this, too. As a beauty editor who receives and tests tons of products on a weekly basis, I’m often left feeling disheartened by how much plastic and waste is used in the packaging. That’s why whenever I hit pan on my favorite bronzer or finish my clarifying shampoo, I make it a point to recycle the leftovers in the appropriate bins — or at least what I thought were the appropriate bins. As it turns out, recycling cosmetic packaging correctly involves more research and information than I thought. 


To find out how to recycle my beauty products the right way,  I reached out to Alex Payne, a publicist for TerraCycle —- a recycling program that offers a sustainable solution for those hard-to-recycle items. Read on for his top tips. 


Get Informed

“In general, plastic pollution is a main driver of the negative environmental consequences that result from not recycling otherwise recyclable products,” says Payne. While it may be easier to throw away your empty lipstick bullet in any old trash bag, not disposing of it the right way can have a lasting, negative impact on the planet. 


Learn About Your City’s Recycling Regulations

Did you know that recycling restrictions vary by city? Generally, items made from glass, aluminum and basic #1 and #2 plastic (things like single-use water bottles and milk jugs) are accepted by most local programs. Unfortunately, Payne explains that many modern forms of beauty packaging contain complex materials that cannot be separated or processed by most municipal recycling centers. “A simple way to check your beauty product’s recyclability is to look up your town’s accepted waste via the database offered by Call2Recycle,” he says. 


Dispose of the Excess Product — but NOT Down the Sink

This is the *most* important tip when it comes to recycling your beauty products. “Even if a product is technically recyclable through your curbside program, any leftover product can make the container unrecyclable due to contamination,” says Payne. What’s worse is that if any other recyclables encounter the leftover residue, they also can become contaminated and therefore non-recyclable. So before recycling any beauty products, be sure to throw away any residual product in the garbage. Emptying products in the sink can be problematic if they contain ingredients like microbeads that can contribute to the ocean’s plastic pollution crisis if they come in contact with waterways, explains Payne. 


Find Programs That Recycle the “Unrecyclable” Products

If you find that your products can’t be recycled through your municipal program, try finding a cosmetic recycling program that will do the work for you. For example, TerraCycle and Garnier have partnered to create a free recycling program for all brands of skin care, hair care and cosmetic packaging. Joining the program allows you to download a free shipping label so you can send in your products. Once received, they will be melted down, pelletized and shaped into hard plastic to be used in things like shipping pallets and park benches. If your product cannot be recycled through your municipal program and is not accepted by any of TerraCycle’s free programs, Payne says you can also purchase one of TerraCycle’s zero-waste boxes — specifically the Beauty Products and Packaging Box — which allows you to recycle practically every kind of waste. Everything that is collected from these boxes get sorted and processed into raw materials that can be reused instead of getting sent to a landfill or incinerated.


Be Mindful When Buying Beauty Products

Another way to help the planet is to buy products that already come in sustainable packaging. Thankfully, there are more and more brands offering eco-friendly options each year. One of our favorites is Seed Phytonutrients, which uses shower-friendly paper bottles that result in 60% less plastic than a traditional bottle. Oh, and the pumps from those bottles can be recycled for free via TerraCycle. Look for refillable cosmetic containers, too, like the Lancôme Absolue Revitalizing & Brightening Soft Cream. When it’s time to repurchase this luxe cream, you can pick up a refillable pod and keep the chic golden jar your original came in — so it’s friendly for your vanity, your skin and the earth.
Photo: Chaunte Vaughn

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