Beauty recycling is always a bit tricky. I originally wrote this post back in the summer of 2019 and have been meaning to do an updated version for ages, I found myself with some time last week, so here it is – I hope it helps!
I’ve first broken it down by free schemes available in the UK – I’m pleased to say since the first version I did, there are way more options. In my local high street there are at least 5 places I can drop off hard-to-recycle beauty packaging.
At the end of the post I’ve broken it down into actual packaging, as the schemes do differ a bit in what they’ll take.
Recycling is confusing at the best of times. To recycle your beauty routine can be even harder. It can be so hard for the consumer knowing what to do, but it is also hard for the businesses trying to do the right thing. Packaging is such a tricky business, it can be very hard to tick all the right boxes. It is also easy for us to judge, when we don’t really know the reasoning or indeed struggles behind a brand’s packaging. Plastic isn’t always the villain – recycled plastic can have a lower carbon footprint than glass and it is lighter to transport. Glass however can be recycled infinitely. Aluminium comes with its issues too, the mining of bauxite is causing ecological destruction. The new bioplastics sound like a great solution however they more often than not will end up in landfill, as the regional kerbsides don’t collect and can’t deal with these kinds of plastics. Biodegradable is a tricky word – a dictionary definition is “to decay and become absorbed by the environment” but this still could take years… Compostable can also be confusing as often it isn’t your garden compost that will do it, but industrial composting. I’ve had to email quite a few brands to clarify what I actually do with a product.
Something that really frustrates me is packaging that is emblazoned with ‘fully recyclable’ but no advice in how to do so. They may not be lying, most things are recyclable, but it is whether there are the facilities to do so. So many plastic wrappers for example, can be recycled in theory but most local councils don’t. These plastics when put into the recycling can then contaminate the rest of the collection. I’ve done it before – just chucking it in and hoping for the best because I can’t bear to throw things away – Wish Cycling is the coined phrase – but actually it isn’t the best thing to do, as it can mess up the recycling process.
On the whole I like to think as consumers we’re getting better at recycling. There is so much more awareness around it now, thank goodness. However according to Beauty Kitchen over 95% of beauty packaging is thrown away after just one use, and only 9% of plastic globally is recycled. Maybe we’re not that good after all… COVID definitely threw a big spanner in the works with many recycling schemes closed and even kerbside recycling stopped for a while.
It is much harder and more complicated to recycle beauty products as there are more mixed materials and different components. Councils will not take many of these as it is of no monetary value to them, in fact it would cost them more money to do it. Luckily there are lots of brands trying to make it easier to recycle your beauty routine by creating specific beauty recycling schemes, and also just simply explaining how to recycle the individual products, such as BYBI who have a breakdown on each product’s description.
Free active schemes (UK based) to take your beauty recycling –
One of the originals – L’OCCITANE have a scheme with TerraCycle where you can drop certain empties into selected stores. This involves any brand skin care empties but also lots of make-up – mascara tubes, empty palettes and lipsticks for example and it can be other brands too. A discount on purchase is also offered. A really great way to recycle your beauty routine, I have taken a lot of my empties here. Make sure you clean the packaging as best you can. They have an online option as well. Here is a previous post I wrote.
GARNIER have a great scheme too with Terracycle, again one of the originals, it is called The Personal Care and Beauty Free Recycling scheme and has joined with L’Oreal to except make-up packaging – any beauty brand. This is done via collection points but there is also space at the moment to become a private collector where you can ship from your address, this was full up at one point – I’m now registered so you can drop stuff of to me if you come for a lesson or treatment 🙂
WELEDA have a scheme where you can return their own brand packaging that can’t be recycled locally via Freepost. They explain brilliantly what can and can’t be and where. They are working with waste management experts ENVA and for every box of recycling returned they will fund a tree with TreeSisters.
JOHN LEWIS have reopened their BeautyCycle scheme which is great news. The scheme accepts all types of packaging from all brands – all beauty jars, tubes and caps (including glass), shampoo/conditioner bottles and caps, non-pressurised hair spray bottles, lip beauty products (tubes, lipstick, lip balm), mascara tubes, eye liner pencils and cases, eyeshadow tubes/palettes, concealer/foundation tubes/sticks – including testers. The only packaging not accepted by the scheme is aerosol cans, nail varnish bottles and fragrance bottles, due to their potential flammability. (If you are a John Lewis member you’ll get a £5 off beauty purchase voucher) The scheme is available in 30 stores.
BURTS BEES have a scheme with Terracycle this is a great one to recycle your beauty routine, however it can be a little tricky finding a scheme close to you as there are currently no spaces for new collectors.
NEAL’S YARD REMEDIES had a great scheme but it was closed due to COVID – I’ve made enquiries and recently been told that they will possibly reassess it in September so fingers crossed.
More and more brands are partnering with Terracycle (who’s website is much more easier to navigate now)
ARBONNE – recycle their packaging via an Envelope Programme.
BAYLIS AND HARDING – these currently have places remaining to join to ship from anywhere but only for Baylis and Harding packaging.
CLARINS – All brands of beauty, skincare and body care packaging, flexible and rigid plastic tubes, pots and jars used for skincare products (creams, ointments, cleansers) Body wash and lotion tubes, dispensers, caps, and pumps Foundation and eyeshadow cases, mascara and lipstick tubes.
Drop off at Clarins counters up and down the country – mine is my local Boots.
DECIEM – All brands of beauty product and packaging – Drop off at their store.
KATE SOMERVILLE – all her packaging – sign up and ship from your home.
KIEHLS – All brands of body and face skincare care plastic packaging – Kiehls stores and counters
LIVING PROOF – just their brand and only the tricky bits like pumps and lids that are harder to recycle locally. Sign up and ship from home.
MAYBELLINE – I love this one – you can take all your make-up packaging here – any brand. Mine is at my local Superdrug.
Another thing to perhaps think about is those products you haven’t used. I give any unused unwanted make-up to a brilliant charity called FOUNDATION 4 CHANGE who have an annual sale. BEAUTY BANKS and THE HYGIENE BANK are both charities that you can send any unused products to.
Any make-up that you have that is opened and still has a lot of product but you’re not going to use – send it to PLANET FRIENDLY PAINT where it will be upcycled into water colour paint for all ability artists.
Terracycle were the originals but now there are more initiatives popping up. HANDLE is one such one that is going from strength to strength. They work with beauty brands, retailers and salons to recycle their waste but also the opportunity to take their client’s waste too. You can send personal recycling – any brand – via their website but via other places such as Naturisimo.
LOOK FANTASTIC also have a scheme where you can post them your empties for free – any brand.
BOOTS run an instore scheme with Scan2Recycle.
LUSH will take back their own empties.
THE BODY SHOP have reintroduced their Return, Recycle, Repeat scheme but this time with different partners Scan2Recycle and MyGroup. The scheme is available in all of their UK stores (except London Bridge, Birmingham New Street Station, Stansted Airport and Edinburgh Airport) and takes all the tricky to recycle bits, including pipettes! 🙂 All brands.
When I went in my local store, I was really impressed with all the changes they are making to make the recycling easier – for example taking out the pump in their foundation. Dame Anita Roddick who was the founder of the Body Shop introduced the idea of returning empties back in 1993.
The Body Shop have also introduced their new refill stations in over 400 stores with plans to do more.
Refilling is definitely a brilliant way that we can reduce our beauty packaging waste.
According to Beauty Kitchen “It reduces the risk of contaminated recycling, which leads to more packaging in landfill. It also requires less energy than recycling to kick start the sustainable life cycle again.” A little more on a post here..
BEAUTY KITCHEN have had their Return, Refill, Repeat Scheme for a while now – you can return your empty glass or aluminium Beauty Kitchen bottles to them (for free) and they will wash and re-use them. This uses less energy than recycling. Packaging can also be returned to any UK based Holland and Barrett store and receive points on your loyalty card too.
The CTPA (Cosmetic, Toiletry and Perfumery Association) are working with Recycle Now to add cosmetic packaging to their Recycling Locator Tool where you can put in your postcode as another way to find schemes local to you.
This list is by no means exhaustive – if you’ve got a favourite brand, ask them if they have their own scheme – and let me know! 🙂
Sorting through your beauty recycling –
I always rinse containers before taking to the relevant place, I just stick them in at the end of my washing up.. it is not imperative that the empties are clean but is helpful and welcomed by the schemes.
If you have lots of make-up still with products in, do look at Planet Friendly Paint for a great way to stop that going to waste. They will then recycle the packaging too.
- Glass bottles and jars – most kerbside and local collection points.
- Plastic bottle and jars – most kerbside and local collection points.
- Flexible plastic tubes – this really varies on your local council. The Garnier, L’Occitane, Clarins and Weleda (only Weleda products) schemes will except these.
- Lids and caps – these are actually better left on plastic bottles as otherwise they can get lost and won’t get recycled – and put with your kerbside collection. There can be a problem with black plastic so I tend to put black plastic lids into one of the specific beauty schemes.
- Aluminium bottles and tubes – most kerbside and local collection points also L’Occitane will take aluminium packaging.
- Pumps and atomisers – these are often mixed material so can’t put in household recycling – Garnier, L’Occitane, Clarins, John Lewis, Handle, Body Shop, Boots schemes both accept these. Lots of brands are starting to offer their product without a pump so you can re-use previous ones which is fab.
- Droppers from oils – these again are mixed components, in theory the glass can go in with the glass recycling but the droppers are not widely recycled at all – The Body Shop scheme takes them and Weleda will take their own brand ones. When breaking packaging down into its different components some of the bottles that have droppers can have little plastic stoppers in their necks so be sure to remove those before putting into your glass kerbside recycling.
- Pouches – L’Occitane, Garnier, The Body Shop
- Sheet/single mask wrappers – Garnier’s scheme accepts these along with the plastic films on the sheet masks – the actual mask should be put in the bin unless compostable. The Body Shop take this flexible packaging.
- Face wipe packets – Garnier and The Body Shop scheme.
- Sample sachets – Neal’s Yard Remedies did accept these from any brand – hopefully will reopen soon. I think The Body Shop’s scheme would cover some..
- Anything in glass put in with your kerbside recycling along with the lids but wash and separate first.
- Flexible plastic tubes – Garnier, L’Occitane, Clarins, Maybelline, The Body Shop, Handle, Look Fantastic, John Lewis
- Eyeshadow/blusher/bronzer/powder (and cream) palettes and cases can be taken to L’Occitane, Maybelline, Clarins, John Lewis, Garnier, Look Fantastic, Handle, The Body Shop. The empty aluminium pans of refills can be taken in too.
- Eye liners – Maybelline, John Lewis, The Body Shop. Wooden pencils are not accepted at these schemes but you can the lids.
- Lids to eye/lip pencils can be taken to the above.
- Mascara – Maybelline, Garnier, Clarins, John Lewis and Burt’s Bees Terracycle scheme. Can reuse the wands – Wash the brushes and use again for brushing through eyebrows etc. Some animal sanctuaries will take them for brushing the animal’s fur.
- Lipstick – L’Occitane, Maybelline, Clarins, John Lewis, Garnier, Look Fantastic, Handle, The Body Shop will accept these along with lip balms etc – remove as much product as you can. Other products in ‘stick’ form such as concealers/foundations/highlighters etc can also be recycled.
- Lip gloss – flexible plastic tubes can be taken to L’Occitane, Garnier, Maybelline, Clarins, The Body Shop, John Lewis, Handle, Look Fantastic. The hard tubes are accepted too, (no wands at L’Occitane).
Make-up brushes – still researching this one – a good terracycle scheme in the US. I have a Terracycle Zero Waste box so if you’re local to me then I’ll happily take them.
Hair dye kits – Garnier
Hopefully this guide will help you. I’m thinking of it as work in progress and will keep tweaking as I learn more… Let me what you think or of any great schemes or beauty recycling tips!
Finishing with this quote as I’ve done before but think is so so important.
“Recycling on its own, whilst still vitally important, is not enough to get the planet out of the dire straits we are currently in. What we have to do is change the way we consume”STEPHEN CLARKE, HEAD OF COMMUNICATIONS TERRACYCLE