Recycling Empty Cosmetic Containers

You just finished your last drop of your favorite body moisturizer or facial serum, now what? How and where should you dispose of the container? Do you pay attention on how to recycle the container? Or just mindlessly throw it in the trash? A 2022 Greenpeace report indicated only 5% of plastic waste from household items is actually recycled. Glass, metal and paper packaging seem to have better luck, with over 30% of products being recycled. Below, we detail how to take care of those hard-to-recycle containers as responsibly as you can. The solution is two-part, with buying products with reusable packaging- or glass, metal, or paper packaging. And if not, ensuring that your plastic packaging can be recycled or reused!

What can you recycle at home?

First, do a quick Google search to determine the curbside recycling laws in your town or city. Some areas accept only plastic containers labeled with a 1 or a 2, and other regions might take plastic numbers 1 through 7—the only way to know is to look into it.

As a general rule, glass containers, cardboard packaging, and metal containers like hairspray cans, can all usually be thrown into curbside recycling. Larger plastic containers such as shampoo, conditioner and body wash bottles can also typically be recycled from home as well. It gets a bit tricky when it comes to smaller makeup and skincare packaging. In this case, size does matter. In most cases, smaller plastic items are recyclable (think bottle caps or straws) but some cities’ recycling programs are unable to process items under 2"x2".

When in doubt, it’s best to simply throw the item in the trash. Though with good intentions, some non-recyclable items make their way into the recycling bin, which usually backfires. Items such as un-emptied jars or thin plastic bags can get stuck in sorting machinery or even contaminate loads of recyclable products.

So when it comes to most skincare and cosmetic containers, if it can’t be recycled (and most can’t) whether it’s plastic, glass or metal, it will need to be taken care of by third party.

Some brands will pay you to recycle.

There is a long list of brands with their own independent recycling program, and some will even reward you for properly disposing of your cosmetic containers! For example, BareMinerals and Kiehl’s have programs where you can earn reward points for recycling containers in-store or via mail. Aveda hair products has a returnable shipper program where you can mail your Aveda empties with a reusable shipping container instead of a cardboard box.

Bottom line, you’ll want to be intentional with the cosmetics you can consume and the impact their packaging can have on the environment!


Consume more sustainable cosmetics.

When it comes to recyclability, glass and metal packaging take home the trophy over plastic as they can be recycled more easily and endlessly. Conversely, plastic can only be recycled a couple of times before it breaks down.

The best way to approach recycling plastic containers is to simply avoid them in the first place. The brands we carry in store, such as Farmhouse Fresh, Formulary 55, One Love Organics, Kelly and Jones and Smarty Pits deodorant, focus on glass, paper and sustainable packaging for ease of recyclability. Or you can even checkout HiBar for their revolutionary approach towards salon-quality haircare that’s packaged entirely plastic-free! The easiest thing we can all do is to only consume what we really need! Similar to the slow fashion ethos, let us consume cosmetics mindfully. But be sure with products you do have, that you recycle them properly.