With some estimates saying that personal care and beauty products account for 1/3 of all landfill waste, the beauty industry can be pretty ugly. Here’s how you can recycle your product packaging correctly and safely, as well as ways to decrease your waste in the first place!
I’m sure you’re all tired of hearing about my Great Declutter of 2018, but since it’s still relevant to my life (and this post), I’m going to go right ahead and keep talking about it anyway! ᕕ( ᐛ )ᕗ
In this Great Declutter that I so incessantly keep going on about, I had planned to amass all my unwanted makeup into two piles: one of gently-used products that I could give to friends who would get much more use out of it than I would, and one of expired/nasty products that I was just going to have to get rid of. At first, the former piled was doing pretty well, until I started to dig deeper into my collection and realized just how many products I had sitting in recesses of my desk that had actually expired (PS: if you want to see when YOUR makeup expired, I did a post on it here!)
Something didn’t really sit right with me when it actually came to throwing out the products – I knew there was nothing I could do with them since they had expired, but the guilt/cringe of throwing out something was still there. Throw into the mix the fact that apparently personal care and beauty products account for a third of all landfill waste and that we discard our own weight in packaging every 30-40 days, and you’ve got a fully a fully-funded guilt trip – vroom vroom!
Now I don’t pretend to be a zero-waster of any kind or anything, but I think I can definitely make more of an effort to be a lot less wasteful in general. It was right around this time that I came across a video by Shelbizleee on YouTube (who I spoke about before when I discussed the New Consumerism) on how to recycle makeup and cosmetics and take apart eyeshadow palettes. I thought that recycling these old/expired products might be a good way to ease some of that guilt and I figured I would share some of her insight and then do some other ~probing~ on good ol’ Google like the millennial I am!
- @2:47 – Shelbi uses a Morphe palette as an example and takes it apart to show all the “components” that make up the palette. She first takes off the clear lid, which she thinks might be made out of acrylic and not all curbside recycling takes that kind of plastic.
- @3:18 – She pops out all the eyeshadows and then shows the second layer of plastic that they were sitting in (as seen above), saying that she thinks it’s plastic #5, a very thin plastic that is usually very difficult to recycle and usually can’t be recycled. She says this kind of plastic is only used once and if you can avoid this kind of plastic, you should try to do that.
- @4:31 – She removed the thin plastic layer (plastic #5) from the bottom layer, which she says she assumes is made out of plastic #1. This kind of plastic is much more easily recycled and should be separated from the other plastic as they should go into separate compartments in the recycling process.
- @5:06 – She recaps all the components of the palettes: the acrylic lid (which she says is typically classified as plastic #7), the eyeshadow tin itself (she says she guesses it’s made out of aluminum), the thin plastic the eyeshadows were glued to (plastic #5), and the plastic from the bottom (plastic #1)
- @5:53 – She provides more options to recycle for people who don’t actually want to deconstruct their palettes. The first option is Terracycle, an organization that takes things that can’t usually be recycled in curbside recycling; she says it seems that you have to be a large collector in order to send to them directly, but that in some locations there are drop off bins to put your items in. The second option is Origins, which is a skincare company that she says apparently will accept packaging from any makeup brand or company if you go up to one of their counters and they will recycle it for you and that if you’re a customer there they’ll actually give you some points for their rewards program.
What’s With all the Numbers?
Before I jump into some of the other stuff I found through some more digging, I thought it might be helpful to go over some of the numbers Shelbi was referring to when she was talking about plastics. Eartheasy has a guide on “plastics by the numbers,” which I found really helpful and tells you which plastics can and can’t be recycled because not all plastics are recyclable, which is why Shelbi was saying that she was separating all the different plastics from the palette she took apart to recycle them correctly.
Because it’s that time of the post again where I try my hardest to incorporate a table somewhere, I’ve put together one for you guys (you’re WELCOME) of which plastics Eartheasy says can and can’t be recycled:
|No. 1||PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate)||Should be recycled, but not reused|
|No. 2||HDPE (High-Density Polyethylene)||Reusable & recyclable|
|No. 3||PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride)||Not recyclable; some can be repurposed, but should not be reused|
|No. 4||LDPE (Low-Density Polyethylene)||Reusable, but not always recyclabe (check with local collection service)|
|No. 5||PP (Polypropylene)||Considered safe for reuse, check with local curbside program to see if they are accepting this to recycle|
|No. 6||PS (Polystyrene)||Recycling is not widely available; this plastic should be avoided when possible|
|No. 7||Other (BPA, Polycarbonate and LEXAN)||Reuse and recycling protocols are not standardized within this category|
Greenopedia also has some useful information on recycling by the numbers and points out that you should check your city’s website to see which plastics they accept and which go into the regular trash, but if the information isn’t published, you can check out their Yes/No rules, which are broken into the categories of “Yes, recycle these,” “Often recyclable, but not always,” and “Almost never recyclable (but do check).” I wanted to see how this list matched up to Eartheasy’s, so here it is:
- Yes, recycle these (recycled into: new plastic containers, tote bags, fleece clothing, carpet, furniture, paneling, pips, lumber, benches, fencing, dog houses and picnic tables)
- #1 (PET) – found in soft drink bottles, water bottles, peanut butter jars, salad dressing, cooking oil, many cleaning products.
- #2 (HDPE) – found in milk and juice jugs, bleach, laundry detergent, shampoo, motor oil, some retail bags and trash bags, some yogurt and butter tubs, cereal box liners
- Often recyclable, but not always (recycled into: plastic lumber, floor tile, trash cans and liners, compost bins, shipping envelopes, plastic brooms, rakes, trays, hair brushes, ice scrapers, bike racks, battery cables and signal lights)
- #4 (PE-LD) – found in most grocery store bags, plastic wraps, frozen food bags, bread bags, 6-pack rings, squeezable bottles, aseptic packaging
- #5 (PP) – found in yogurt containers, straws, fast-food syrup containers, disposable diapers, disposable cups and plates, ketchup squeeze bottles, some baby bottles and outdoor carpet
- Almost never recyclable, but do check (recycled into: speed bumps, cables, mud flaps, paneling, cables, insulation, egg cartons, rulers, vents, foam packing materials and take-out containers)
- #3 (PVC) – found in plastic wraps, some cooking oil containers, peanut butter jars, blister packs, window cleaner and detergent bottles, shower curtains, vinyl pipes, flooring and home siding. (#3 plastic is known as PVC or vinyl.)
- #6 (PS) – found in styrofoam cups & plates, clamshell carry-out containers, foam egg cartons, building insulation, disposable cutlery, some over-the-counter medicine cases and CD cases. (#6 plastic is known as polystyrene, or the trademarked “Styrofoam”.)
- #7 (O) – found in some plastic baby bottles, sippy cups, 3- and 5-gallon water jugs, lids, sunglasses, Nylon, signs, medical storage containers, some plastic cutlery, any toys or electronics that are only partly plastic
Greenopedia also remarks that even the plastics that aren’t often accepted for recycling are stamped with the recycling symbol as some plastics can actually contaminate the recycle stream, which I didn’t know about previously. If you throw non-recyclable plastics into the bin, they have the potential to contaminate the entire stream, causing manufacturers to either pay less for the contaminated plastics or to just not buy them at all. The website also offers some “good to know” tips, such as the fact that if plastics don’t have a code, it’s probably safest just to throw it in the trash to avoid contaminating the stream and that it’s also always a good idea to rinse the plastic before recycling it.
Cosmetics Packaging & Types
As Greenopedia says, if you don’t know what type of plastic something is for sure it’s safer just to throw it away to avoid contaminating the recycle stream, but if you’re ever curious as to what kind of plastic might be making up the different types of products you have, a company called Raepak published the types of plastics used in the packaging that they manufacture. Granted, this is specifically information pertinent to them so other manufacturing companies might be using different kinds of plastics for different products and you should still follow what Greenopedia says and not take this as the ultimate guide, but I thought it was interesting!
Also… I just appreciate the fact that they put this information in tabular form already for easy consumption. Ok, moving on.
Other Recycling Symbols
Depending on where you live, you may have noticed some other symbols on a few of the products you use, such as the ones above shared by Gio on her blog Beautiful With Brains in her own post about recycling cosmetics. From left right, they’re referred to as the “Mobius Loop,” “Tidyman,” and “The Green Dot,” which Gio explains as meaning the following:
This means that an object can be recycled, but not that it will be accepted by all recycling plants. When the symbol includes a %, followed by a number, in the middle, it means that the packaging contains only that percentage of recycled material.
This symbol doesn’t tell you if a container can be recycled, but only that you should dispose of it carefully and thoughtfully.
The Green Dot
This symbol can be seen on the packaging of products sold in European countries and signifies that the producers and suppliers have made a financial contribution towards the recycling of packaging. But it doesn’t mean that the container itself is made of recycled material or that it can be recycled.
Since the Green Dot seems to be a European thing, I checked some of my products that I purchased in the USA to see if any of them had it on their packaging and actually found it on the back of the following products I own:
- ABH Contour Kit
- Colourpop eyeshadow palettes
- Colourpop crystal lip balms
- Bad Habit Beauty Aura & Retro Love eyeshadow palettes (you can see swatches on those here!)
I also noticed the Mobius Loop on a few products:
- Milani baked blushes
- J.cat Beauty single shimmer eyeshadow
- Pacifica single eyeshadow
Other Recycling Programs
If you’ve stuck it through this post, you definitely deserve a sticker! One that can be recycled, of course… *wink*
The tl;dr on this is that all plastics have different numbers and some can’t even be recycled. In this case, you definitely should be separating your plastics to avoid the risk of contaminating the whole recycling stream! When it comes to cosmetic products, some have nifty little symbols on them that designates if they’re recyclable or part of a recycling program, but if they’re not numbered and there’s no way of telling what kind of plastic they are, you should just dispose of them normally to avoid that risk of contamination that I keep talking about.
There are a couple of programs, such as the two mentioned by Shelbi (Terracycle, which is actually a partnership with Garnier, and Origins) that can actually help you out when it comes to recycling so you don’t have to do the guesswork yourself when it comes to doing it curbside. Of course, a better way to be more eco-conscious about your makeup and the waste it produces is by choosing to purchase from companies that have recycling programs already set up in the first place. Fashionista has already compiled a of companies that have these kinds of programs, which include the following:
The best way to be eco-conscious is brought up on the blog Zero Waste Wisdom, which says that the first thing to do should be to look for companies that offer “alternative packaging” made from paper or glass or refill containers when they run empty. Some of these companies listed in the post include:
Ok, I’m realizing the tl;dr is actually pretty long itself, so here’s the tl;dr for the tl;dr:
Check your plastics for numbers and separate them appropriately as not everything can be recycled. Also check for symbols, such as the Mobius Loop, Tidyman, and Green Dot to see if the packaging is part of any recycling program. When in doubt, throw it out to avoid the risk of contaminating the recycle stream. To ensure that you’ll be able to recycle something moving forward, try to buy from companies that already have recycling programs in place, or even better – buy from companies that have alternative packaging that won’t product waste in the first place.
Phew! Who knew there was so much to recycling? Time to take a swig from my (zero-waste) water bottle!
- Allure // Why Eco-Friendly Beauty Packaging is on the Rise in 2017
- The Guardian // Thinking outside the box: unwrapping a massive packaging problem
- Eartheasy // Plastics by the Numbers
- Greenopedia // Which Plastics Can or Cannot Go In The Recycle Bin? Here’s Your Quick List.
- Raepak // PLASTIC PACKAGING – WHICH PLASTIC FOR WHAT PRODUCT?
- Shelbizleee // How To Recycle Make Up & Cosmetics + Taking Apart Eye Shadow Palettes
- Beautiful With Brains // HOW CAN I TELL IF THE PACKAGING OF MY COSMETIC PRODUCTS CAN BE RECYCLED?
- Fashionista // THESE BEAUTY BRANDS RECYCLE YOUR EMPTIES (AND REWARD YOU FOR IT)
- Zero Waste Wisdom // Cosmetic Companies with Recycling Programs
*Disclaimer: I am not affiliated with or compensated by any of the brands mentioned (I wish!). As always, all thoughts & opinions are my own (unless stated otherwise)!