When we first started dreaming about Saie, we knew that developing products using clean, good-for-you ingredients that performed and wore well was one of our highest priorities. What came in close second was making sure our packaging and practices were sustainable and safe for our planet! But what’s the use of creating more sustainable products if you don’t know how to properly dispose of them and they end up in the trash (and eventually a landfill)? You’ve probably gotten into the habit of recycling things around your kitchen, but what about in your bathroom cabinets and makeup bag? 120 billion units of packaging are produced every year by the cosmetics industry alone so it’s so important to keep in mind how to dispose of them!
We sat down with our Head of Operations & Sustainability, Hanna Wiegers, to get her seven best tips on recycling beauty products!
- GET FAMILIAR WITH YOUR CITY’S RECYCLING PROGRAM
One of your first orders of business when it comes to recycling your beauty products is knowing what types of plastics your specific city accepts! Every city has different rules regarding recycling, so knowing what you can safely leave on your curb for them to pick up is key.
For example, in New York City, flexible plastic squeeze pouches/tubes like toothpaste, lotion, or many cosmetics (think squeezable lip balm tubes) are NOT accepted, but rigid plastic bottles made of a single type of plastic (like shampoo bottles) are, as long as they’ve been thoroughly cleaned. Recycling rules and standards have become far stricter across the board since China (who used to recycle about 40% of the world’s plastic) stopped importing recyclables in early 2018, so get educated on what your city is doing about recycling!
- SIZE IT UP
Just like it’s important to get clear on the types of plastic and materials your city will recycle, it’s equally as important to know what size of plastics they’re willing to take. At most recycling facilities, every type of recyclable material is sorted to make sure it’s disposed of in the right way. If it’s too small–– like a mascara or brow tube–– it’ll likely get missed by the sorting machine and head straight into the trash (nooooo!) Smaller plastic cosmetic items like a brow gels, mascaras, and plastic lip gloss tubes are great to send to TerraCycle to make sure they’re disposed of correctly (more on TerraCycle below).
- CLEAN OUT YOUR BEAUTY PRODUCTS
Make sure you’re thoroughly rinsing out your empties! If you toss products that have up to 10% or more of formula left in them, it won’t get recycled because the contents of your product can clog up the recycling machine, meaning they’ll likely throw out that entire batch of recyclables because of contamination! There are useful tools out there made for cleaning out every last bit of product– use them! Not only does this help you get the best bang for your buck but you get to help maximize what gets recycled as well.
- GET A ZERO-WASTE BIN
Zero-waste bins are great to keep in your house for the things you can’t put in your curbside bin.
I collect all of my (clean) used products and send them to TerraCycle using one of their zero-waste boxes. TerraCycle is a recycling company that accepts hard-to-recycle items like small cosmetics, and then properly disposes of them. Since many cities don’t accept a lot of my beauty products for recycling, I feel good about getting them to the right place this way. However this can be cost-prohibitive; I recommend buying a box with a friend or finding a retailer that takes back all kinds of products for recycling!
- SEPARATE BEFORE RECYCLING
If your cosmetic item has multiple parts (like a glass bottle with a plastic pump or dropper), separate them before recycling. The glass will definitely get recycled, but the pump, unfortunately, because of all the mixed materials, probably won’t, so help the sorting system out by separating them yourself. Mirrors in compacts are also problematic and often won’t get recycled, so try removing them with tweezers or pliers!
- WATCH OUT FOR COMPOSTABLE PLASTICS OR NON-RECYCLABLE BIOPLASTICS
Many of these so-called “compostable plastics” can’t go into the recycling bin because they’re actually designed for an industrial compost. Similarly, some bioplastics aren’t able to be recycled yet either. If you see a label on a product and you’re not sure what type of material it is, do a quick google search and see if that type of plastic is indeed recyclable. If it’s a compostable plastic, do a search to see if there’s an industrial compost near you that will accept your items.
- CHECK YOURSELF ON ASPIRATIONAL RECYCLING
A lot of people (myself sometimes included), put everything in the recycling bin in hopes that it’ll just get magically recycled because it’s in the bin, or because they *think* it belongs there, but this is actually more harmful than helpful! I like to call this “aspirational recycling.” The recycling facilities in the US just aren’t sophisticated enough to sort out everything correctly, so huge batches of recyclables get thrown out even if they contain just a couple of contaminants. If you have no clue whether or not your product can be recycled, it’s actually better to simply toss it in the trash.