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02 Mar

How to Recycle Your Old Cosmetics

When it comes to recycling our makeup and cosmetics, many of us are falling short. It’s all too easy to chuck those broken compacts, clumpy mascaras and half-empty lipstick tubes straight into the bin.

But when you consider how many cosmetic products are being sold just in the US alone – the beauty industry made over $93 billion in revenue in 2019 – that’s a lot of non-biodegradable packaging ending up in landfill. On top of this, many chemicals in cosmetics have a disastrous environmental effect when they accumulate in waterways.

Note (April 2020): Amidst the Coronavirus pandemic, many shopfronts and centres are closed to the public and may not be accepting makeup and cosmetics for recycling. However, now is a great time to do a clean out while so many of us are stuck at home! Why not put aside everything that you need to get rid of in a box or bag, and keep an eye out on the initiatives mentioned below (or any others in your local area), ready to be shipped or dropped off on the other side of the crisis?

So, what can we do about it?

While there are some brands like Lush and MAC who offer rewards for recycling their products, it’s unclear exactly where the waste ends up and how effective these programs actually are.

If you want to be sure that your old cosmetics won’t create waste, look to TerraCycle. Tom Szaky, a Princeton dropout with a passion for sustainability, founded the company in 2001. He’s managed to grow his fledgling enterprise into an innovative global recycling company! Operating in over 20 countries, TerraCycle collects and repurposes almost any kind of waste product for free.

TerraCycle has now partnered with Garnier to create a recycling program specifically for beauty products in the USA. The program is currently accepting haircare, skincare and cosmetics packaging, including shampoo and conditioner bottles and caps, hairspray caps, lotion dispensers, gel tubes, lipstick cases, mascara tubes, compacts, palettes, foundation bottles, concealer tubes and eyeliner pencils.

How does it work?

All you have to do is collect all your unwanted beauty packaging in a postage box (it doesn’t have to be clean, just make sure any excess product is removed), sign up to TerraCycle in your respective country, download and print off a shipping label for your box, then post it for free to your local recycling depot.

For donations of 10 lbs or more, each piece of waste earns two TerraCycle Points. You can redeem your points and convert them into a donation to one of TerraCycle’s nominated charities or they can go toward a non-profit organization, school or charity of your choice. So not only will you be reducing your environmental footprint, you’ll be giving back to organizations making real, positive change in the world. Sign me up!

The minimal look

At Good On You, we support initiatives looking to reduce the amount of waste ending up in landfill. However, we also believe that less is more, which is an important idea to keep in mind when shopping for cosmetics.We recommend going for quality over quantity when it comes to cosmetics. You can start by creating a shortlist of your favourite cruelty-free products. Also, keep an eye out for products that have been independently certified as fair trade or organic, and use minimal packaging. Then, purchase only what you need!


Also wondering what to do with your old clothes ?

Here’s how to get more mileage out of your clothing.

Editor's note

Feature image via Unsplash. This article was first published in May 2017, and updated in March 2020. Good On You publishes the world’s most comprehensive ratings of fashion brands’ impact on people, the planet and animals. Use our Directory to search more than 2,000 brands. We may earn a commission on sales made using our offer codes or affiliate links.

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