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6 Makeup Recycling Tips for a More Sustainable Beauty Routine

Makeup recycling can be complicated. Here are six things to keep in mind when recycling cosmetics, from lipstick tubes to eyeshadow palettes.

Written by
Giulia Lallas

No matter how tempting it may be, don’t toss your empty concealer tube or eyeshadow palette into your curbside recycling bin. There are several nuances that set makeup recycling apart from traditional recycling. It comes down to size, material, and even color.

Here's everything you should know about makeup recycling, from the problems that complicate the process to tips that help reduce waste.

The Problem with Makeup Recycling

Only 32% of recyclable materials are actually recycled in the United States. Unfortunately, the marriage of elements like mirrors, tubes, pumps, and droppers make makeup recycling trickier than recycling other everyday items. Even if a popular drugstore beauty brand promises an item is recyclable, it likely requires special care in order to not wind up in a landfill.

The next time you're tossing out a used-up product, use the makeup recycling tips below. With the extra care, you'll reduce the chances of your go-to products being added to the growing pile of cosmetics in our landfills.

6 Makeup Recycling Tips Everyone Should Know

1. Check the Color and Size of the Container

Generally, containers under six ounces aren't well-received at recycling centers. They can either get stuck in machinery or miscounted, which results in a permanent home at the landfill. 

Additionally, dark or black plastics are hard for the machines to see and sort through. Painted plastics or glass are also frowned upon. Always go for products with clear plastics over brown or green ones.

2. Check the Brand’s Recycling Policy

Sometimes, brands will have store drop-off centers for used items or programs in place that allow consumers to send back their items when they're finished with them. Two popular brands include MAC and L’Oréal, but check your go-to brand's website to see if they have similar initiatives.

3. Examine All the Elements and Materials

Make sure to wash your products and take the individual pieces apart before recycling them. Mixed material packaging—like plastic and glass—isn’t favorable for recycling facilities since not every material can be treated the same. Plus, plastics behave differently than glass, and not every recycling center accepts every type.

4. Research the Labels

Recycling rules can differ depending on where you live, but the number system for curbside recycling is pretty standard throughout the nation. Check the label to figure out whether something can be recycled or not.

5. When in Doubt, Reach Out

When in doubt about the recyclability of an item, call your local waste management service. Instead of wish-cycling and hoping for the best, they'll always be able to give you a straight answer.

6. Start Using Sustainable Alternatives

Certain items—like conventional makeup brushes, makeup sponges, cotton rounds, and perfume bottles—can’t typically be recycled. Luckily, there are brands trying to make reusable versions of these products, like LastObject and Makeup Eraser.

There are also many brands that are making makeup more eco-friendly with biodegradable or reusable packaging. For example, Your Izzy has a Brightly-approved refillable mascara.

The Takeaway

Makeup recycling can be confusing. So do your research, shop consciously, and use these tips to understand where things go when you're finished using them.