How to Properly Dispose of Beauty Products
July 28, 2020 • 5 min read
This post has been written by our guest contributor: Kristen Mandala
So much of the sustainability movement is, at its foundation, about slowing down and working toward a symbiotic relationship between ourselves and nature. On the micro level, this can look like making your own items, repairing old items, and purchasing items with what we’ll call a “full-story mentality”. This means assessing a product based on your need, and determining where it came from, what it’s made of, and what will happen to it when you’re finished with it before making the final decision of purchasing.
When it comes to beauty products, this internal dialogue can often go a little differently. It’s often less about need, and more about showing love to yourself, caring for your body, and making yourself feel beautiful. Unfortunately, our willingness to show love to ourselves can come at the direct expense of the planet. According to Business Insider, the beauty industry generates approximately $532 billion dollars a year, and creates a whopping 120 billion units of packaging every year. When analyzing a U.K. household waste audit, Recycle Now determined that items recycled properly drops almost half when comparing kitchen waste to the bathroom, leaving lots of improvement for us and how we dispose of our beauty products.
So, what’s the solution?
Finding ways of uncovering a second use for packing to extend its life before the landfill is always first priority. Examples of this include:
- Storing bobby pins in old makeup tins
- Using old mascara wands to brush out eyebrows or flatten stray hairs. You can also send in your cleaned, old mascara wands to wildlife centres as they use them to clean delicate fur and feathers! Click here for more info.
- Keeping smaller bottles to reuse for travel
- Making your own serums, beard oils, moisturizers and using old containers
- Refilling products at bulk stores
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Many traditional makeup brands are destined for the landfill following use, but depending on the brands you support there may be return programs, incentives, or refills available. If this is the case, saving up a few products to return at once increases your likelihood of following through.
A resource that I often used is the TOWaste app, although specific to the Toronto waste system, it provides a baseline for many municipal areas in regard to which bin a product should be put in. If not, a quick Google search should provide the information you need to determine where I product needs to go.
Look for your local household hazardous waste centre. This is the safest way to dispose of beauty products that contain toxic ingredients, as it prevents them from entering our waterways and soil. If an item is composed of multiple materials it may affect how it needs to be disposed of. Lipstick made from lead or acrylates should always be considered hazardous waste and never be thrown into the trash or recycling, and must be taken to your local centre for proper disposal.
A good rule of thumb is to reconsider dumping your liquids down the drain. It can feel like the easiest solution, however, often-times the complex ingredient blends, as well as non-natural products with toxic ingredients contaminate water supplies and our land, causing detrimental long-term issues. Perfume and nail polish, for example, should never be dumped down the sink, and should instead be taken to your local household hazardous waste centre, or worst case, thrown in the trash.
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If, by a minor miracle, your product is able to be recycled, hurray! The next step here is to wash it well before disposing of it in your blue bin. Although the rate of successful recycling is quite low, increasing the chance of it being processed properly is worth the extra few minutes it takes to wash it out. Please note though, that only products that are environmentally safe and natural should be washed out. If you’re not sure, dump out the contents into the trash and then wipe the bottle (inside and out) with a damp cloth to remove lingering residue.
Plastic left to break down in the landfill is estimated to take between 500-1000 years, slowly degrading into smaller and smaller microplastics. With this front of mind, taking a few extra moments to ensure we dispose of our products appropriately is the least we can do.
At the end of the road, if it can not be repurposed, returned, refilled or recycled, it needs to head to the landfill. That’s okay! It is far better for a product destined for the landfill to go there than to be wishfully placed in the recycling, only to sully the entire batch. Usually products that come in pouches and squeezable tubes cannot be recycled due to the interior coating and multi-plastic makeup of the packaging. Resealable pouches from face masks and toothpaste tubes fit into this category, meaning they need to be trashed, unless otherwise stated on the packaging.
Pumps and droppers are often used for cleansers and oil serums, however they’re extremely problematic as they are often multi-material, and thus can’t be recycled. Remove the pumps and droppers from bottles before recycling them (they also often have metal springs inside them), and trash them. Caps and screw-tops are generally ok – but make sure to keep them on the bottle as they’re too small to be processed on their own and will end up in the trash.
Lastly, if you know of a retailer that has a TerraCycle box, make it a point to drop off your products there, as they will know exactly how to take care of them. You can consider getting one for yourself as well! The Detox Market in both Canada and the US has TerraCycle boxes installed in their retail locations, so this might be a good place for you to drop off old containers.
The best way for us to move forward is to use our experiences to make better purchasing decisions going forward. Finding a brand that is effective, aligns with your values, and is easily repurposed, refilled or recycled is the ultimate win, try to go easy on yourself and gradually swap out brands as you finish your conventional products.
Here are some brands that stand out:
Self Love = Planet Love
As we continue to head down the long, winding road of conscious living, we must remember that supporting brands at the detriment of the planet not only compromises the planet’s health, but our own. When we begin to see ourselves as a part of the natural world, as a necessary piece of our ecosystem, it becomes much easier to make decisions every day that align with this truth. By taking a moment to slow down, show ourselves love, we can begin using this time to show gratitude for our planet too.
About the Author
Kristen Mandala has been a passionate environmentalist for the past five years; studying International Development in university, and continuing on to work with non-profit organizations in Central and South America. There she witnessed first-hand the effect the climate crisis was having on over-exploited communities. After studying Permaculture Design in Costa Rica in 2018, she returned to Toronto struggling to find an effective way to engage with her peers regarding the climate crisis without making them feel judged or overwhelmed. This led to her creating The Greener Good in the fall of 2018. The platform was created as a means of communicating with those new to or interested in the sustainability movement who have otherwise felt alienated by “all or nothing” messaging. The Greener Good is a community for all who want to show love to themselves and the planet, while shedding light on the many intersections of the climate movement.
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