The Right Way To Dispose of Toxic Beauty Products and Packaging

As a conscious consumer, you’re aware of the ingredients you’re putting on your skin, hair and body, but you’re probably also concerned about making sure that the packaging your products come in is also non-toxic by being properly recycled to have a minimal impact on the environment. And then, there’s the question of toxic beauty products, maybe those that you are moving out of your routine, or products like nail polish which can contain remnants of carcinogenic and hormone disrupting ingredients. Today we’re talking about all of it. And, I asked my colleague Tiila Abbitt, Founder of Āether Beauty, to go deep with us on recycling, her expertise.

First, let’s talk about those toxic beauty products. While your first instinct may be to rinse out and recycle these product-lined bottles, jars and tubes, doing so sends these toxic chemicals right into our surface water (as does using them on a daily basis). We know that contaminating water is not what you had in mind so here are some better ways to dispose of beauty products, their containers and their contents as safely as possible.

Call or go online to find out if your local disposal center accepts cosmetics as household hazardous waste. Most provide specific drop-off times for cosmetics, medications, aerosols, paints, fluorescent bulbs, batteries and other hazardous products (notice the company your beauty products are keeping…). Bringing them here assures they’ll be disposed of wisely – whether through recycling, incineration, conversion to cement, pyrolysis (thermochemical decomposition), or placement in a hazardous waste landfill. This is the safest way to dispose of beauty products containing toxic, villain ingredients and prevent them from getting into our water and land.

*Note: Lipstick made with lead or acrylates and nail polish should always be considered hazardous waste and never be thrown away in the trash or recycled and must always be disposed of through a hazardous waste program.

If you can’t dispose of beauty products directly through a local household hazardous waste program, try these next best solutions:

Check Terracycle to see if there is a brand specific program for that product. Or, look for a Terracycle drop off location for that product. For example, at our Beauty Heroes Novato store, we accept all beauty products and will recycle them safely and completely in our Terracycle Beauty Box that we pay for and return to Terracycle to be completely recycled.

You can purchase a Terracycle mixed zero-waste box or beauty box to have in your home and recycle it that way.

For bottles that can be completely emptied of their contents – remove as much of the product directly into the trash where it will go into a landfill. Do not rinse the bottle out, but you can take a paper towel and wipe it clean. If the makeup bottle is plastic or glass you can recycle it afterward.

For bottles that cannot be completely emptied of their contents – throw the whole bottle into the trash, where it will go into a landfill. Do not rinse.

For a deep dive in recycling best practices, here’s expert advice from Tiila Abbitt:

Cosmetic Packaging make up about 1/2 of all landfill space, with over 120 billion pieces of packaging created. every. single. year. This stunning fact is what motivated us to change the equation – to create the World’s first 100% recyclable eyeshadow palette.

But what about the rest of cosmetic packaging out there – most of which is made to be landfilled? How can we as beauty buyers lessen the landfill load? Because the truth is, most of us would happily recycle our empties if it was possible!

Well, the first most sustainable thing we can do is change our buying habits:

  • Buy fewer products (and choose quality, long-lasting products that multitask)
  • Choose sustainably packaged products wherever possible

And the next best thing we can do: recycle. Keep reading for facts and tips to help you navigate the confusing and sometimes complicated world of beauty recycling!

1. MIXED MATERIALS ARE NOT RECYCLABLE
The average palette, compact, or case is created by layering and fusing together multiple materials like plastic, paper, and metal. While some of these individual materials are recyclable on their own, when combined, they become impossible to recycle.

Why? Different companies collect each raw material (metal, plastic, paper, etc.), and it’s impossible to separate the layered materials without highly specialized machinery that most facilities don’t have. So, these items go straight to the landfill.

Your most sustainable option: choose single-material packaging wherever you can.

2. SEPARATE DIFFERENT MATERIALS 
Even if all individual components of an item are recyclable, unless they’re taken apart before reaching the recycling facility, that item winds up in the landfill. For example, Āether Beauty Eyeshadow Palettes are 100% recyclable but still have to be disassembled before recycling. More on that below!

To avoid adding to the cosmetic trash pile, separate components down to their recyclable parts.

3. CLEAN AND DRY YOUR RECYCLABLES
The companies that buy your recyclables won’t accept dirty or contaminated materials – they must be 95% uncontaminated. To keep your empties out of the landfill, wash and dry everything thoroughly before tossing it in the bin!

4. MAGNETS ARE NEVER RECYCLABLE & ARE HARMFUL TO PEOPLE AND THE PLANET
Magnets are the bane of beauty sustainability . For sure, they’re convenient to keep your compacts and palettes closed, but they’re also incredibly hazardous to the environment and local communities. Plus, they’re never recyclable.

Magnets are made with ‘Rare Earth’ elements and are processed with harsh carcinogenic toxins. These harmful chemicals often wind up in local waterways, endangering people, wildlife, and polluting the environment.

What we use to hold our palettes shut: an elastic. And after you’re done with it, reuse it as a hair tie! We know we’re always looking for an extra one.

5. BLACK PLASTICS ARE NEVER RECYCLABLE
Because the conveyor belts in recycling facilities are black, the sensors can’t recognize black or dark-colored plastic. So, all dark-plastic pieces are landfilled from the get-go.

When you can’t avoid buying plastic, choose recyclable clear and white plastics. More on which plastics are recyclable down below!

6. PUMPS ARE RARELY RECYCLABLE
Most cosmetic pumps are made with multiple varieties of plastic, which are nearly impossible to separate without specialized industrial equipment. Another one of those oh-so-convenient, yet deeply wasteful beauty items. #justsayno

7. MIRRORS ARE NOT RECYCLABLE 
Mirrors are made by applying a non-recyclable reflective coating to glass. This coating makes the glass nearly impossible to recycle.

And let’s be real, you’ll probably be using your products in front of a mirror anyways! It’s another addition we could live without for more sustainable packaging.

8. APPLICATORS ARE RARELY RECYCLABLE
Most applicators like lip gloss and mascara wands are made from unrecyclable mixed materials. In other words, most are trash-bound once empty. For less waste, either choose products without applicators or those with recyclable applicators!

The Āether Beauty Ruby Lip Crème applicator is recyclable once you snip off and discard the small tip.

9. ZAMAC IS UNRECYCLABLE 
Zamac is a blend of metal alloys that’s often used in refillable cosmetic packaging. Zamac is entirely unrecyclable, and while refillable is definitely preferable to non-refillable, these products still land in the landfill once they’re worn out. Something to think about when shopping sustainable!

10. NOT ALL PLASTICS ARE RECYCLABLE – SHOP BY NUMBERS
All plastics are labeled with a number from 1-7, usually on the bottom of the container. These numbers tell you that’s item’s recyclability. Look for the numbers and try to choose easily recyclable options when you can’t avoid buying plastic altogether:

Always Recyclable
#1 PETE (Polyethylene Terephthalate)
#2 HDPE (High density Polyethylene)

Not Recyclable 
#3 PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride)
#4 LDPE (Low-density Polyethylene)
#6 PS (Polystyrene)
#7 (Other)

Sometimes Recyclable
#5 PP (Polypropylene)
Some cities and recycling programs will accept #5 plastics. Your best bet is to call your local program and see what they will and won’t accept! 

11. RECYCLING PLANTS ALL OVER THE COUNTRY ARE CLOSING
Now that you know the ins and outs of recycling, there’s just one more hurdle. Over 300 recycling plants have closed in the US since March last year, and as a result, many recyclables are being incinerated instead. Some areas have no access to reliable recycling, and the current pandemic is not helping the situation.

 HOW TO RECYCLE ĀETHER BEAUTY PALETTES

Āether Beauty

  1. Once you hit pan, remove the aluminum trays from the paper packaging
  2. Rinse out the pans and dry them off
  3. Put the pans, paper palette, outer box, and tarot card (unless you’re collecting them) into your recycling bin. Thank it for entering your life and wish it #goodvibesonly in its next iteration!
  4. Snip off the elastic and reuse it as a hair tie.
  5. Congratulations, you’ve just saved one more beauty product from the landfill!