So let me guess, you’ve stood over the trash can holding an empty moisturizer tube of some kind wondering to yourself - Can I recycle this?
Well you’re definitely not alone! I have a huge problem with the fact that the burden of recycling is placed on the consumer rather than the company that produced the packaging in the first place. It sucks. And I’m hoping consumer expectations will sway brands to be more transparent about the end-of-life instructions for products. (Check out each individual product page for End of Life instructions for Rebrand products!)
BUT that doesn’t change the fact that for now we’re stuck with an array of cosmetic packaging and we’ve got to figure out what to do with it. Cosmetic 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.
Anything smaller than a credit card won’t be recycled. 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.
Black plastic isn’t recycled. 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.
Anything with hinges, mirrors, or windows is trash. All those compacts with the cute designs and extra applicators won’t be recycled due to mixed materials that can’t be separated.
Dispensers are trash. If you have a glass or plastic bottle topped with a pump, foamer, or dropper, separate them first. The dispenser belongs in the trash due to mixed materials that are too small and can’t be separated. The bottom may be recycled (as long as it is glass, aluminum, or plastic #1 or #2), but make sure to wash it out first.
Lids should be removed and treated separately, unless they are the same material as the bottom container.
If you’re really committed to keeping plastic out of landfills, you can check out TerraCycle to send back the non-recyclable pieces of packaging.
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!