6 Makeup Recycling Tips That’ll Make Your Beauty Routine More Sustainable

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"Here are six things to look for when recycling cosmetics."

No matter how tempting it may be, don’t toss your empty concealer tube 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.

The marriage of elements like mirrors, tubes, pumps, and droppers make recycling these items harder than others. “120 billion units of packaging are produced every year by the global cosmetics industry,” Stephen Clarke, the head of communications at TerraCycle in Europe, told Marie Claire. “Of these, very few plastic waste items generated in the bathroom are accepted by most public curbside recycling programs.”

The result is a growing pile of cosmetics in our landfills. Below are six makeup recycling tips to keep in mind the next time you’re clearing out your collection.

makeup recycling

6 Makeup Recycling Tips Everyone Should Know

1. Use TerraCycle

TerraCycle is a program that enables consumers to recycle “hard-to-recycle” skincare, hair, and makeup products such as lip balm tubes, face mask packaging, and pumps. Started in 2001, it’s now operating in more than 20 countries around the globe. Simply sign up, put your empty cosmetics in a box, print the label the website provides you with, and ship it for free.

Another cool thing about TerraCycle is that it works to raise money for nonprofits and schools through its rewards feature. In addition, its recently partnered with Living Proof and Garnier.

2. 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. Moreover, painted plastics or glass are frowned upon. In a recent sustainable beauty summit hosted by Hairstory, Tom Szaky, the founder and CEO of TerraCycle, said colors can’t be removed and are seen as contaminants that “reduce the sell value of plastic.” He also said clear products are preferred over brown or green ones.

3. 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 such brands include MAC and L’Oréal, not to mention the ones that are already partnered with TerraCycle.

4. Examine All the Elements and Materials

Make sure to wash your products and take the individual pieces apart before recycling it. Mixed material packaging isn’t favorable for recycling facilities since oftentimes not every material can be treated the same. Also, some materials—like glass—are less profitable, heavier, and just generally harder to deal with.

Plus, plastics behave differently than glass, for instance, and not every recycling center accepts every type. Szaky also mentioned sustainable packaging isn’t black and white, so the context of where the product will be used matters for what packaging material is used.

5. 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. And when in doubt, call your local waste management service. 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.

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.

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Here are six things to look for when recycling cosmetics.

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