The ugly truth about beauty products is that disposing of the detritus they create isn’t easy. For one thing, mascara tubes, foundation sponges and anything else that could be contaminated by microbes or bacteria is actually considered a biohazard, which means you shouldn’t even throw it in the regular garbage.
Beyond that, most cosmetic containers can’t be recycled, even if they’re made of plastic or glass. Blue bin guidelines generally “do not include any material that has liquids, and that can contaminate other materials in the bin,” says Ernel Simpson, a V.P. at TerraCycle, a New Jersey-based company that has branded itself the go-to for all things “unrecyclable.”
Luckily, TerraCycle offers a few beauty-disposal options. Empties from its partners—Burt’s Bees, Bausch + Lomb, DECIEM, eos, Gillette, Tom’s of Maine and Weleda—can be dropped off at those stores, or sent directly to the recycling company for free.
Devotees of other brands can purchase a Zero Waste Box, fill it up with cleaned out lotion bottles and lipgloss tubes, and send it over to the company for recycling. (There are also Zero Waste boxes for everything from plastic snack packaging to cigarette butts and used chewing gum.)
Here, a few other companies trying to help green your cosmetic disposal routine.
The beauty giant was thinking about recycling well before it was trendy. Its Back-to-M.A.C. program dates back to the 1980s: customers who bring in six empty M.A.C. makeup containers receive a free standard lipstick, lipgloss or small eyeshadow. The brand says it reuses more than 100,000 pounds of material in the U.S. and Canada each year, and anything that cannot be reused is incinerated at waste-to-energy facilities.
L’Occitane en Provence
A partnership with TerraCycle makes L’Occitane a convenient drop-off hub: customers who bring in empty beauty containers from any brand receive 10 percent off during their store visit. The brand has also pledged that every single one of its bottles will be made of 100 per cent recycled plastic by 2025.
The eco-conscious company’s goal is to get naked—a bunch of its products, from shampoo to body lotion, are sold entirely packaging-free. Last year, customers bought two million shampoo bars, keeping millions of plastic bottles out of landfills or the ocean. Liquid products come in the brand’s signature black pots, made from 100 per cent recycled plastic. Customers who return five empty pots get a free face mask.
The Body Shop
Another TerraCycle partner, the Body Shop’s Return. Recycle. Repeat. program collects empty packaging from any brand for recycling at all of its Canadian locations (excluding products marked flammable or hazardous, such as perfumes). Bonus: club members get $10 worth of points when they bring back five Body Shop brand containers. It also launched a program last May to buy plastic waste collected in Bengaluru, India, which is recycled into shampoo and conditioner bottles.
Everyone from B.C. to Manitoba can take advantage of this Western chain’s extensive recycling program, available at all of its stores. Makeup isn’t accepted, but small beauty appliances such as hair dryers and curling irons are, as is most packaging, like the hard plastic and Styrofoam that cradles products bought online, as well as batteries and lightbulbs. In the last 10 years, the Canadian retailer has recycled more than 113 million pounds of waste—enough to fill two container ships.