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Dirty Secrets Behind Beauty Recycling Pt. 2

Dirty Secrets Behind Beauty Recycling Pt. 2

More tips on sustainable beauty with Amy Hammes

We’re excited to bring you the second part of our of 3-part educational blog series about the truths behind beauty recycling. Be sure to read Amy Hammes’ sustainable beauty tips and her first part in the series, Dirty Secrets Behind Beauty Recycling (Pt 1).

In this second half, we discuss smart basic tips to recycle the right way, why it’s important to shop with recyclability in mind,  the best practices for beauty brands to follow when developing recyclable beauty products, the importance of adopting the voluntary How 2 Recycle labeling initiative, and how the beauty industry can work together when it comes to recycling initiatives.

What are some best practices for consumers to follow when recycling beauty products?

Understand the rules, especially what your recycling hauler accepts, not what the packaging says since that can be misleading.  If you don’t know what is accepted, look on their website or ask for a list. However, beauty products are challenging to recycle due to the complicated types of packaging, the small sizes, and the amount of product that can still be left in the containers. If you find that an item is accepted, here are some basic tips to recycle right:

- Size matters.Items need to be at least 4” or larger otherwise they fall through recycling sorting equipment.

- Know what plastics are recyclable; usually #1, 2 & 5 are the commonly accepted

- Clean out the contents of all containers. If you want to recycle tubes(that are larger than 4” and made of an accepted plastic) they have to be free of contaminants, like lotions and liquids.  Open or cut tubes and try to use the remnants  You would be surprised how much use a seemingly empty tube of toothpaste still has in it once you open it up! Better value for you and better for recycling to have clean material.

- Keep lids on if they are the same material as the container. So an example would be if the bottle and cap are both the same plastic. Caps are small and if alone break the 4” rule, but if they are still tethered to the container, then that has a better chance of being recycled.

- Film is a no-noin recycling bins! Film plastic, such as plastic bags and clear cover wraps, are a nuisance to recycling equipment because they tangle it.  Film can be recycled, but only dropped off at designated retailer collection sites.  For locations visit:

- Never bag any recycling or put plastic bags in the recycling container.Clean recycling should not need a bag so keep it loose in your cart.

- Break down boxes and remove any clear windowsor other plastic film material and adhesives.

- Shop for recyclability—once you know the rules, support products that support recycling. Try and avoid small sizes, shop in bulk, look for minimal packaging, and create DIY products when you can.Best of all, communicate your approval and disproval to the manufacturers! They are constantly looking at trends and customer needs. 

What are some best practices for beauty brands to follow when developing recyclable beauty products?

Consider the impact of these products once they are thrown away. It is a sound, socially responsible business practice to help design? Keep in mind the inevitable end of life of your products to mitigate environmental harm. To understand what that entails, don’t listen to packaging professionals but instead focus on the true end of life managers—talk to recyclers and composters because they will tell you the realities and what is recyclable and why.  It is always best to take a “less is more” approach and avoid materials that hinder recyclability, so use less gloss, glitter and other flashy or unnecessary details on packaging.  And never use excessive labels that mummify an otherwise perfectly recyclable bottle (called shrink sleeves). Other suggestions that would help move the needle include:


 - Develop retail and convenient zone take-back programs.

- Use recycled content in all packaging.This is true recycling since it supports recycling market demand and pricing stability. Recycling doesn’t exist unless manufacturers are willing to use recycled content!

- Work with Loss Prevention departments to find solutions to theft mitigation other than oversized, difficult packaging.

- Newly developed or “unique” packaging (meaning it has not reached economies of scale) will not be recycled because a recycler can’t source enough material to sell. (Remember, recycling is a commodities market so we have to have enough volume and dependable feedstock to ensure remanufacturing stability.)


What’s the deal with glass?

Glass is not only functional and beautiful, it is infinitely recyclable.  However, manufacturers need to understand how glass recycling works before rushing to that material because there are recycling challenges—mainly the weight which costs more to transport, as well as breakage, which mixes colors. (Keeping the colors separated, meaning clear, green, amber, etc…are fine broken but the value of glass lowers considerably once the colored shards mix).

Ideally, glass containers are useful in their current states and should be thought of as a reuse material for drop-off or take-back programs, or be refilled.  Remember, recycling is still disposal but keeping glass intact with refills is a truly sustainable option.


Do you have other tips for manufacturers and brands?

Consider deposit systems on containers or refill services like the “milk man” of our grandparents generation. Long ago, bottlers had collection and refill programs that provided convenience and sustainability that avoided disposal altogether. It was a true closed loop system that minimized disposal and waste.

From a recycling standpoint, realize your customers are confused, frustrated or apathetic on the recyclability of your products. Ease customer confusion on recycling by adopting the voluntary How 2 Recycle labeling initiative, through the Sustainable Packaging Coalition. This label provides easy to understand, HONEST universal disposal instructions. Transparency needs to finally be the goal, not gas lighting because companies are trying to hide the realities of their impact. Sunlight is the best disinfectant! If you don’t want the public to know, then that is a big flag and a long term risk to your brand. 


How can the beauty industry work together?

Get creative on partnerships—unite together as an industry, work with schools, have influencers, be more socially conscious instead of short-sighted vanity.  You may be competitors but you all share a lot of common goals and concerns over long term risks.  No one brand or company can solve the packaging recyclability problem due to the recycler’s need for uniformity in packaging—the issue of the need for economies of scale mentioned earlier. Brand marketing uniqueness can be reached through label design, but not in the packaging, otherwise it is largely incompatible with the realities of recycling needed for consistent, reliable material.

A huge step would be as an industry to support Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR), where manufacturers take a greater role in the management of their products. There is a slew of recycling and packaging legislation out there that so many industries fight, yet the problems of packaging keeps getting worse. Embrace the inevitable and be a part of the solution instead of clinging to the problem. 


And finally, truly get your hands dirty! It is imperative that employees at every level understand the serious problems that comes with the end of life of packaging. Sponsor local community litter clean ups and make your executive teams pitch in—nothing brings on the sobering reality of plastics and over consumption in the environment than actually picking up the mess yourself! That spurs the need for creative solutions since everyone gets very vested.

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