How to Recycle Cosmetic Packaging

A quick guide on how to decide which bin your empty foundation bottle belongs in.  


A woman should never have to compromise beauty for the wellness of our planet.  

With the call for sustainability on the rise and Earth Day just around the corner, I have been finding myself lately questioning whether my empty cosmetic container belongs in the trash or recycling.  I can buy sustainable products all day long but what good do they do if I don't know how to dispose of them properly?

Placing empty cosmetic jars in the right bin is important — really important.  Just one missorted bottle can contaminate a whole batch of recycling.  Depending on what the recycling is going to be used to make, a tiny slip up like this can be worse for the environment than if the bottle was simply thrown in the trash. 

Keep reading for 9 quick tips that will help keep our Earth beautiful… 



1. Outer Packaging Is a Yes

Most of the paper, cardboard, and plastic outer packaging found on cosmetics can make its way to your recycling bin.  To be sure, check the side or bottom of the box for a triangle made of arrows.  This is a recycling symbol that is only printed on recyclable materials.  If your triangle has a number inside, your material is made of plastic.  Keep an eye out for #3 plastic, or PVC.  PVC requires extra sorting and should be thrown in the trash.  



2. Always Rinse Out Bottles

Stray cosmetic product or residue left in the bottom of a container can contaminate other recycling.  To avoid this, be sure to rinse out any plastic or glass bottles before you toss them.  



3. Keep Out Colored Materials

Speaking of plastic and glass bottles, be mindful of their color before automatically throwing them in the recycling.  Glass is most commonly found in three colors: clear, green, and brown.  Other colors of glass are not used as frequently and can be hard to recycle because of the limited demand for them.  As for plastics, the same rules apply.  Recycling sorters have a hard time picking out dark-colored plastics.  Your best bet is to stick to recycling the basics (clear, green, and brown for glass and clear for plastic).  



4. Say No to Tubes

Cosmetics or skincare items that come in a tube or pouch usually have a thin layer of plastic that coats the inside of the packaging.  This plastic film keeps the product from interacting with the outer plastic and can help the product last longer.  That being said, separating these plastics can be a nightmare for the recycling machines.  Tubes are okay to throw in the garbage.  



5. Screw On the Caps

If you do come across a bottle that you’d like to recycle, make sure you screw on the cap before it lands in the bin.  Recycling sorters cannot sense small items and the caps will just get thrown out if not attached to the bottle.  



6. Small Items Are a No

Like I just said, small items will not get detected by recycling machines.  According to NPR, anything under 3 inches will cause problems with the machine belts or will get deemed as trash because of its size.   This means any sample or trial size bottle should probably be tossed out.



7. Pumps = Trash

Many products like foundation, serums, and sunscreen may come with a pump dispenser.  These pumps may appear to be made of plastic, but they often time have other components like metal springs hidden inside of them.  For this reason, pumps should be thrown out before they make it to the recycling plant.  



8. Return to Brand

Many brands such as MAC, Estee Lauder, Lush, and Kiehl’s all offer some sort of in-store recycling program.  Furthermore, many brands have teamed up with TerraCycle.  TerraCycle is a company that will send you a box and shipping label for you to send your empty cosmetic containers back in.  From here, they recycle the products for you.  Pretty cool, right?  To see if your favorite brands have a recycling system, check their website. 



9. Be Mindful of Local Guidelines

If you're not sure whether or not something is recyclable, check the guidelines of your local recycling center.  They will have a list of materials they will accept and ones that should be thrown out.  Plus, you can always contact them if you have questions! 

By following these few simple tips, we can all help in making our environment more sustainable and beautiful.  Are you up for the challenge?

Follow Simply Lioness on Instagram, Pinterest, and TikTok at @SimplyLioness to stay up to date on everything that goes on in the SL community!  

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