How to Recycle Empty Cosmetics Containers

By Staff
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I’ve accumulated a lot of cosmetics over the past year and a half. From reviewing the newest eco-friendly skincare and makeup to purchasing my own must-haves, I’ve grown quite a beauty stash.

I have nine small drawers filled with beauty products in my bathroom. 

It’s exciting when I finally finish a whole container of something. But, regardless of whether or not I use a green product or a conventional product, I’m always faced with the same problem at the end of the cosmetics life cycle: 

What do I do with the container?

Recycling cosmetics packaging is tricky. You can have greenest product ever, but if it’s housed in number 7 plastic (one of the most difficult to recycle), then you’re faced with tough questions. Can you reuse the container? Should you send it back to the manufacturer and hope the company recycles or reuses it properly? Do you just toss it in the trash, which is destined for the landfill? 

Store loose eyeshadows and powders in reusable glass jars. Photo By K-Ideas/Courtesy Flickr

Here’s a simple guide to responsible cosmetics recycling: 

Cardboard; glass containers; metal lids and caps; plastic bottles; steel/tin cans 


Corn-based plastics

Check with recycling company
Empty aerosol cans; plastics 3, 4, 5, 7; bottle caps 
(Note: You can also send your number 5 plastics to the Gimme 5 program, sponsored by Preserve in partnership with Organic Valley and Stonyfield Organic. Drop-off bins are also available at select Whole Foods Markets stores.)

Plastic wrap; waxed cardboard 

Hazardous waste
Aerosol cans that still contain product; nail polish 

Many big cosmetics companies sponsor recycling programs that are convenient for all. 

Estee Lauder company Origins just launched a campaign to recycle all cosmetics packaging, including packaging from competitors. Origins will accept all empty tubes, bottles and jars at its stand-alone and department store locations nationwide. 

Aveda’s Recycle Caps program keeps hard-to-recycle plastic caps out of the landfill and ocean. The program accepts caps that are rigid polypropylene plastic (usually number 5). This includes food and drink caps as well as cosmetics caps. 

MAC (Makeup Art Cosmetics) rewards recyclers with a free tube of lipstick after they return six empty cosmetics containers.  Fill out the form online and send in your empty products, or visit a MAC store to exchange goods. 

Once you’ve gotten your cosmetics recycling routine rolling, take a step back and look at your cosmetics consumption habits. 

• Are you using products by their expiration date, or are they going to waste? 

• Can you double up product use (like using conditioner for shaving cream or shower gel as shampoo)? 

• Do the companies you buy from offer incentives to refill your containers? 

• Can you make your own product?

• Are there more responsible companies you can purchase similar products from?

Tell me what kind of recycling system you have in place for your empty cosmetics containers. Leave a comment and let me know!

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