How to recycle beauty products – the handy, bookmark and keep guide

Happy Global Recycling Day. First introduced back in 2018, today is all about educating people on the importance of recycling for preserving our planet. This year people are shouting about recycling being the Earth’s seventh resource, one that will out live the finite natural resources that are rapidly running out.

Sometimes it’s hard to fathom just how horrific the extent of the devastation that plastics has on planet, especially our oceans. That said, documentaries like Blue Planet II have opened our eyes. According to Global Citizen, by late 2018 88% of those who had seen it had changed their relationship with plastic completely. They went on to call the episode, ‘a key moment sparking the war on plastics.’

We have certainly noticed more reusable water bottles on our commute and in the office – some people have gone a week completely plastic-free and huge brands like Waitrose are doing their bit to reduce their plastic waste.

recycle beauty products

So, does this mean that we are nailing our recycling routines? Apparently not as, according to research carried out by Garnier, 56% of Brits don’t recycle their bathroom products and around 95% of our empties still end up in landfill.

It’s thought to be partly down to us being used to having two bins in our kitchen, that it’s almost second nature to separate our recyclable goods. But the other issue is the complexity of bathroom products; a hand soap bottle and an eyeshadow palette are slightly more confusing that the plastic container your mushrooms come in.

‘Beauty product packaging is often composed of a variety of types of material,’ explains Stephen Clarke, Head of Communications at TerraCycle Europe. ‘For example — mirrored glass, cardboard sleeves, paper inserts, expanded plastic foam and more have been known to be used in cosmetics packaging– sometimes all in one item.’ This makes recycling them incredibly difficult.

‘120 billion units of packaging are produced every year by the global cosmetics industry,’ Clarke continues. ‘Of these, very few plastic waste items generated in the bathroom are accepted by most public kerbside recycling programmes. Most common beauty products and packaging contribute to the world’s growing plastic waste problem and, without adequate recovery solutions, are tracked for landfills, burned, buried, or simply littered where waste management is insufficient. Many plastic waste items find their way into oceans and waterways, compounding the problem with environmental hazards.’

recycling beauty products

The Sustainable Beauty Coalition has always championed cleaning up beauty’s packaging act. On the topic Jayn Sterland, chair of the organisation, says: ‘I do strongly believe that this needs to be a two way street, a partnership between brand and consumer to jointly do the right thing by the planet. As consumers, we need to make sure we discard products in a way that doesn’t add to the current environmental problem.’

We need to make sure that where we can, we are recycling our beauty products properly. Below is our guide to what can be recycled and what should just be thrown in the normal bin. When in doubt, throw it out.

This is important, says Stephen Clarke, because ‘beauty products and packaging that cannot be recycled through the public system will not only be diverted towards landfill or incineration anyway, they slow down the system and have the potential to contaminate bales of secondary material. This is important because we must improve the system to create a circular economy for plastics.’

How to recycle your beauty products

Cellophane

So many beauty products, like fragrances and new make-up products, come wrapped in cellophane. Annoyingly, this cannot be recycled and should be put in your normal bin.

Plastic bottles

Plastic bottles, like shampoos, conditioners and shower gels, are accepted by most recycling programmes. However, make sure that you have emptied and cleaned them out first. You can also leave the lids on as these can be recycled, unless it’s a trigger head or a pump. These will need to go in your normal bin. If you haven’t completely finished your conditioner, do NOT pour it down the sink. Instead, get out as much as possible and put it in your normal bin. (The same goes with any product that you have a little left of.)

Aerosols

Yes, hairsprays and deodorants can be recycled in most household collection schemes. But do make sure they’ve been completely finished before recycling them.

Mascara, lipstick, make-up palettes (eye shadow, bronzer, blusher)

Annoyingly, these are too complicated to recycle. However, TerraCycle has partnered with Garnier to create a free recycling programme for beauty packaging, and these can be taken to one of their allocated drop-off locations. Find your nearest one here. They will also take sheets masks and their wrappers, face wipes and their packets, trigger sprays, pumps, pipettes, roll-on deodorants.

Glass jars

Hooray! As long as these have been emptied and cleaned, these are free to be popped in your recycling bin.

Cotton pads

This is an interesting one, as they have come under quite a bit criticism for being as bad for the environment as face wipes, but in actual fact these can be recycled with your food waste. So after taking your make-up off, take them straight into the kitchen to throw away.

Hair tools

If your tools still work, check with your local charity shop if they’ll take them. If they’re broken, then they can be recycled at a specific centre. To find your local one, click here.

For hair straighteners specifically, Cloud Nine recently launched their own iron recycling service. They’ll recycle or reuse your old straighteners, free of charge, and regardless of the brand or when/where they were purchased. Simply download a pre-paid recycling label, pop your straighteners in a box and take to the Post Office. You can find out more about the scheme at cloudninehair.com/recycle.

Nail varnish, fragrance bottles, make-up brushes

These can’t be recycled, so should just be placed in the normal waste bin.

Toothbrushes and toothpaste

Don’t put these in your recycling, there are special drop-off locations (that can be found here) that have been set up by TerraCycle and Colgate.

What else can you do?

  • TerraCycle has also paired with brands like Kiehl’s, L’Occitane and The Body Shop. Theses brands are accepting old beauty containers and will recycle them on your behalf. There are often freebies and discounts if you do it this way.
  • Get your hands on a TerraCycle Zero Waste Box – for a price they send an empty box to your house, you fill it with your beauty empties (shampoo bottles and caps, conditioner bottles and caps, hair gel tubes and caps, non-pressurised hair spray bottles, hair paste plastic jars and caps, lip balm tubes, face soap dispensers and tubes, lotion bottles, lotion tubes, lotion dispensers and jars, non-pressurised shaving foam tubes, lip gloss tubes, mascara tubes, eye liner pencils and cases, eye shadow tubes, concealer tubes and sticks) and then send it back to them to recycle it all.
  • Download the Sustainable Beauty Coalition’s Planet Positive Beauty Guide. The guide gives you evidence-based tips on how to make more sustainable choices. Whether you need to brush up on which certifications you should keep an eye out for or want to learn more about the brands that are dedicated to improving society, this beauty dictionary will get you there in no time.
  • Buy products that are packaged in highly recycled materials, like PET bottles
  • Buy from brands that offer a refillable service or reusable packaging

Brands doing their bit

Ren Skincare

Ren is 100% zero waste. The team stopped the use of single-use sachets across their entire product line back in 2018 which saved 4.4 million of these pesky plastics from entering landfill. It has always worked in tandem with global recycling guidelines to stop 16 tonnes from harming the planet.

Liberty

Back in 2019 Liberty launched Conscious Beauty. Throughout, there has been a drop-off point, where you could take your packaging to be collected and recycled. They also always champion all of their brands that are doing what they can to be more sustainable.

Neal’s Yard

Neal’s Yard Remedies has always been at the forefront of cutting back on plastics. Since the 1980s, the brand has never used plastic micro-beads in their products and played a key part in the succesful banning of them in the UK. The team has also launched in-store recycling and refilling.

The Body Shop

The Body Shop, renowned for its ethical trading initiatives, has teamed up with tech business Plastics For Change and Hasiru Dala, a local Indian NGO and social enterprise, to buy 250 tonnes of plastic collected by waste pickers in Bangalore this year, which will rise to 500 tonnes in 2020. This  recycled plastic will be used to create the bottle of their haircare ranges. There are also recycling points in store.

L’Occitane

L’Occitane have had TerraCycle collection points in their stores and have sponsored beach cleans all over the UK, from Brighton to Edinburgh.

Selfridges

The department store has been doing its bit to save our oceans for the last ten years with Project Ocean. Alongside banning the sale of endangered fish, the team have created a marine reserve in the Philippines. To celebrate the 10-year anniversary of Project Ocean at Selfridges – which has since grown to become Project Earth.

If that wasn’t enough, here are some products to get your hands on that are ……..

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