How to recycle beauty packaging

So let me guess, you find yourself standing over the trash can holding an empty moisturizer tube of some kind wondering to yourself, "Can I recycle this packaging?"

You’re definitely not alone! The burden of recycling is placed on the consumer rather than the company that produced the packaging in the first place. It sucks. Companies should provide clear end-of-life instructions for all of their products (like we do here at Rebrand!).

BUT that doesn’t change the fact that for now we’re stuck with an array of beauty packaging and we’ve got to figure out what to do with it. Beauty packaging is a large source of global waste. In fact, 120 billion units of cosmetic packaging are produced each year, and the vast majority is not recycled.

Here’s how to sort cosmetic packaging, so that you avoid ‘aspirational recycling’ but also get the right things in the blue bin.


Rule 1

Check with your city to confirm, but generally the following packaging types are recyclable when clean and dry:

  • Plastic containers #1, 2 and 5 (read on for caveats)
  • Stainless steel or aluminum
  • Clear or frosted glass jars and bottles (including amber colored glass)
  • Cardboard & paper


Rule 2

Anything smaller than a credit card is trash. Not only will it slip through nooks and crannies during the sorting process, it’s not worth the investment to recycle for such a small return. So lipstick tubes, mascara and lip gloss vials, and tiny sample sizes belong in the trash.


Rule 3

Black plastic is trash. This has to do with the sorting technology used in mixed recycling facilities. Objects are moved along on a black conveyor belt and hit with a light beam at a certain frequency to determine if the material is plastic. The issue? Black plastic is the same color as the conveyor belt and will never be identified.


Rule 4

Anything with hinges, mirrors, or windows is trash. All those compacts with cute designs and extra applicators won’t be recycled due to mixed materials that can’t be separated.


Rule 5

Pump, foamers, and droppers should be removed from bottles. The dispenser belongs in the trash due to mixed materials that are too small and can’t be separated. The bottle may be recycled (as long as it is glass, aluminum, or plastic #1, #2 or #5), but make sure to wash it out first.


Rule 6

Lids should be removed and treated separately, unless they are the same material as the bottom container.

Example A: Glass jar with large aluminum lid. Take apart, wash, and recycle separately.
Example B: Glass jar with large plastic lid. Take apart, wash and recycle glass, check plastic lid for #1, #2 or #5. Throw away otherwise.
Example C: White plastic bottle #2 with clear unnumbered plastic lid. Wash out tube and recycle. Throw away lid.
Example D: Our 2X Refill packaging is an aluminum bottle with aluminum lid. These can (and should) be recycled together.


Rule 7

When in doubt, throw it out! If non-recyclable items are sent to recycling facilities, these items may clog machines or decrease the purity of the final product, resulting in less successful recycling. Remember, responsibility for packaging sent to landfill should be on the company who created it! You are not to blame for living in a single-use society.


Rule 8

If you’re really committed to keeping plastic out of landfills, you can check out Pact Collective to send back the non-recyclable pieces of packaging you accumulate.


WHEW! That’s a lot to think about. It’s worth learning how to recycle correctly, but it’s also worth demanding that the brands you shop from provide you with end-of-life instructions. Because this shit is exhausting!

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