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Have you ever wondered how to recycle your beauty product empties? We chatted with a sustainability expert to help you decipher what can and cannot be recycled and the gold standard in terms of beauty sustainability.

I was honestly way too excited to research and write this post. I’m a big believer in recycling (even bigger fan of reducing and reusing!) but if I’m being honest, I don’t know the ins and outs of the system and have fallen into the camp of “when in doubt, recycle” when in reality that could be doing our recycling system more harm than good (spoiler alert: it is).

One of the things I get most confused about it how to recycle beauty products. Many of my beauty products have multiple pieces or varying materials and sizes and it can be super confusing to figure out what can and cannot be recycled.

As we began researching for this post, we realized we needed a little help in navigating the sustainability side of clean beauty, so we reached out to Mia Davis, Credo Beauty’s Director of Environmental & Social Responsibility to build out this post. Thank you, Mia for all of your expertise and insight! With that, let’s learn how to recycle beauty products.

Some General Rules of Thumb:

Across the board, these are the most important rules in terms of how to recycle your beauty products.

1. Flexible containers like squeeze tubes, pouches or bags can’t be recycled.

2. Mixed materials such as plastic with metal parts, like pumps also cannot be recycled.

3. Pumps/droppers typically can’t be recycled so toss those.

4. Mirrors typically cannot be recycled so try to avoid makeup products with mirrors built-in.

5. Check your local guidelines to see if they have any restrictions around colored plastics or glass.

6. Size matters –  From Mia,“In general, packaging smaller than a child’s fist or a yogurt cup won’t be recycled. Having said that, if caps are made of the same material as the package, you can typically recycle them as one piece”.

7. Dry shampoo and hairspray typically can be recycled but check local recycling for aerosol guidelines.

How to Recycle Your Beauty Products

Step One: Check local recycling guidelines.

The first thing to do in your recycling journey is to check your local guidelines. There are some general rules of thumb but the truth is that every city/region has its own rules about what can or cannot be recycled. A quick Google search of your city + recycling should get you to the right spot. This website will give you all of your personalized guidelines – how to prepare your recycling, what can be recycled and what can’t through the local city pickup.

Some cities and counties have additional recycling programs that might take more than they accept curbside. Again, check with your local collection restrictions! Grocery and package stores may also have programs to accept additional items and there are some specialty recyclers too like Save that Stuff or Terracyle.

Step Two: Look at packaging for recycling codes

After ruling out any definite no-no materials for recycling (listed above), it’s time to see what recycling codes are actually on your packaging and if your area accepts them.

  • On paper and cardboard, you’ll want to look for the classic “recycling” symbol – the triangle with arrows. This means it is in fact recyclable!
  • Most metal and glass containers can be recycled but double check your local guidelines to see if they have restrictions on colored glass.
  • On plastic, you’ll find a a symbol similar to what you find on cardboard but there will be a number inside. It will be numbered 1-7 which tells you what type of plastic the package is made of. Some numbers are recyclable in your area while others are not. Again, double check what your area accepts.

Step Three: Clean

The final thing to do before tossing your product in the recycling is to rinse out the container! You want the container to be as clean as possible and remove any labels if you can. Why? Clean containers have a higher chance of being recycled and leftover product can contaminate other recyclables or attract bugs!

Dump cosmetics that you’re not using anymore in the trash and rinse and/or wipe out the container before recycling. Remove any pumps, caps, etc. (especially if they’re not made from the same material as the primary package) and toss those.

When In Doubt: Throw it Away…

Recycling products that can’t be recycled can make a huge negative impact. They can contaminate the recycling process, they can cause damage to the recycling process and the process of sorting through the trash and sending to landfills costs each facility money. If your recycling center doesn’t accept the item and you can’t find an alternative way to recycle it, save the facility a step and toss it in the trash!

So do your part to find out what is recyclable in your area (and what isn’t!) and stick to it. I know it’s an extra step to be mindful with your recycling process but I’m committing to it starting now! A little recycling challenge anyone?!

Things to Look for When Shopping

So now that you know all of the guidelines on how to recycle your beauty products, are you feeling like you want to be a more conscious shopper? Same! Here are some things to keep in mind BEFORE you buy:

  • Focus on glass or metal containers – but only if your local municipality takes glass (and check on colors!)
  • Reusable products/ products that offer refills are the gold standard! Train yourself to use goods that can be refilled and the refill packaging is as minimal as possible. When you use these types of products you’re rewarding the companies with your business.
  • Swap single use products for reusable (i.e. cotton rounds).
  • Change the type of product you use – could you use bar soap instead of a plastic container of soap??
  • Avoid packages that are complex – are they made with more than one type of plastic with a foil overlay on top of that? These are less likely to be recycled. (Pro tip from Mia: “Take it one step further and tell the company why you didn’t buy their product!”)
  • Buy less! Friendly reminder that you don’t need to buy every single thing I (or anyone else on the internet) suggests!

Favorite Sustainable Brands

We asked Mia about her favorite sustainable brands (that use sustainable packaging!) at Credo Beauty. Here’s what she recommends:

  • Innersense Haircare – I recently fell in love with this product and I just learned from Mia that they are in the process of redoing all of their packaging to use as much recycled content as possible… like 90% in their bottles!
  • Alima Pure and Kjaer Weis are leading the way when it comes to making refillable products.
  • Tata Harper has a new Water-Lock Moisturizer that comes in a refillable jar as well.
  • OWA Haircare offers waterless shampoo which is a more sustainable option too!

A couple brands we also love:

  • HAN Skincare and Cosmetics -they recently switched to recyclable packaging which they are slowly rolling out – they also run a recycling program for their plastic products!)
  • Aether Beauty -All their products are recyclable but they are also partner with Terracycle in case your area doesn’t accept them
  • Cocofloss -though technically the floss cannot be recycled, you’re 1) eliminating those wasteful plastic handle sticks and 2) can order refills that come in a paper box that can easily be recycled so you’re definitely reducing!

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Meet the Maven

Hi! I'm Davida and welcome to my corner of the internet. I'm a wellness blogger, yoga teacher, certified herbalist, and green beauty lover.

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  1. I am trying to become more sustainable and your blog is very helpful! Thank you for sharing and keep up the good work.

  2. This was such a helpful post, thank you! I feel like nobody talks about how to actually get rid of things, other than just to look for better packaging. Thanks again!

    1. So happy you enjoyed, Becca! I learned so much in putting together this post and felt like it was important to share. Glad it resonated!