Waste — especially single-use plastic — is a huge and growing problem, especially for our oceans. We’re all used to recycling in the kitchen and the office, but how about at the vanity? Here’s a look at some easy ways you can recycle cosmetics containers and keep your used beauty products out of the landfill.
This post contains affiliate links. Learn more.
Wands For Wildlife
Don’t toss your old mascara wands! Clean them up and mail them to the Appalachian Wildlife Refuge. The nonprofit uses old mascara wands in its animal rehab efforts. Apparently the tiny bristles are perfect for cleaning up wild animals (who knew?). Visit Wands For Wildlife to find out how to donate your used mascara applicators and get a downloadable “Wandraiser” flier if you want to spearhead a local collection effort.
Join TerraCycle and you’ll be able to mail back products from Burt’s Bees, eos, Gillette, Garnier, and L’Occitane. Once you sign up for a free account, you can get a prepaid shipping label to send in your empties for recycling. You can also earn points to redeem for charitable donations.
If you feel strongly enough about recycling that you’re willing to make a personal investment, TerraCycle also sells “zero waste” containers that you can fill up with cosmetics packaging regardless of brand and send back for recycling. They’re not cheap — the beauty products zero waste kits range from $41 to $231 — but potentially a great idea for a dorm, sorority house, salon, or other place where a lot of people are going through a lot of product.
Some of your favorite businesses have in-store programs to recycle cosmetics containers, although a few are brand-specific. (Call your local location to make sure they recycle before you haul in your Santa sack of empty bottles.)
- Origins, a leader in recycling packaging, launched their in-store effort a decade ago. The Return to Origins program accepts primary packaging (no paper boxes, plastic wrap, sponges/applicators or trial/travel size containers) from any beauty brand. Click here to find a store.
- L’Occitane works with TerraCycle to accept empties for recycling (click here to find a participating location). They accept containers from any beauty brand, and they’ll give you a 10% discount coupon when you bring in your recycling!
- Zoya holds an annual Earth Day nail polish exchange in April, and they do it on the honor system, believe it or not. You simply pledge to responsibly dispose of old polish and use a discount code to get half off six or more bottles of Zoya polish. You can either send in old polish for recycling (any brand) or donate it locally. (More about nail polish below.)
- LUSH will also reward you for recycling; bring back five of their black pots and get a free face mask. (And of course, LUSH is great about minimizing their packaging footprint in the first place.)
- MAC recycles in-store as well (MAC packaging only). Bring back six MAC empties and they’ll give you a lipstick.
- Kiehl’s will also accept their own empties for recycling. They’ll give you a punch card when you recycle. Collect 10 stamps and receive a free travel-sized product.
What About Nail Polish?
Nail polish can be tough to recycle, especially if you live outside the contiguous 48 states. When it comes to shipping, nail polish is considered a hazardous material, and there are some restrictions on sending it through the mail. I talked to a couple of friends who work in recycling, and they said the best thing to do with nail polish you don’t want anymore is to rehome it. Give it to a friend, donate it to Goodwill, or leave it at the household hazardous waste dropoff at your local transfer station.
Empty nail polish bottles, rinsed clean with acetone, can also be great for making frankens or decanting other nail products. For example, I keep one filled with polish remover to quickly and easily clean up my cuticles after doing my nails.
Reduce Packaging Waste
What’s easier than recycling cosmetics containers? Not accumulating them in the first place.
- Research — like talking to those friendly Sephora associates or reading reviews on sites Below Freezing Beauty — can help you find the right products so you don’t buy a lot of things you won’t use.
- Love a product? Buy it in the biggest size you can reasonably use. One large plastic bottle uses significantly less material than multiple smaller bottles.
- What has your favorite brand done to reduce their packaging footprint? Send them a note and let them know you appreciate it (or that you’d like to see them do more).