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Published on July 30th, 2018 | by TerraCycle


Cleaning Out the Cosmetics Closet, Sustainably

After a summer of travel sized toothpastes, facial cleansers and body washes, your toiletry bag is probably looking like it could use a regroup. With all the empty cosmetics and personal care items (shampoo, makeup, deodorant, etc.) you’ve been squeezing the last drops of and unused perfume and hair care samples held onto “just in case,” a clean out of your whole personal care and beauty stash might be in order.

It’s easy to toss empties, expired cosmetics and those extra personal care items you’ve finally resolved to part with right in the trash. But in a world awash with plastic pollution, taking small extra steps to divert these items from landfills and towards something more useful is something beautiful you can easily do for the world.

1. Use ‘em up

Before recycling or upcycling personal care products and accessories, finding ways to put them to use is the best bet because it leverages all the energy and materials that went into creating them. Open a perfectly good perfume, lotion or lipstick color and it wasn’t your thing? Ask around and see if a friend or family member finds it more their style.

Have unused personal care or beauty products collected from sample counters or holiday gifts? Companies like Beauty Bus and Project Beauty Share will accept unopened makeup, hair products, and nail products. Both of these programs collect products for people surviving abuse, illness or homelessness.

Another place to donate is Dress for Success, an organization that empowers women who are trying to become more independent by offering a network of support. The donations to this organization go to women across the world, and products like makeup or personal care can inspire confidence for important situations, such as a job interview.

2. Befriend your blue bin

According to a survey by Unilever, over half of Americans know that personal care products are recyclable, but only 34 percent take the extra step to put them in the bin. The plastic that makes so many personal care and beauty products so squeezable, twistable, portable, pump-able and generally easy to use has value. Why do we throw so much of it away?

Confusion about what is recyclable is often the top culprit for inaction. Contrary to popular belief, the triangular Mobius loop with the arrows and numbers are not “recycling numbers,” but resin identification codes that indicate what type of plastic a container is made of. Check with your municipality to see what your local program accepts.

3. Recycle the “unrecyclable”

While every city or town has its own set of rules when it comes to what they consider recyclable, here’s a little known fact: everything is technically recyclable. That’s right. We have the scientific technology to recycle almost everything, from dirty diapers to beach plastic. It’s just a matter of someone being willing to put the time and resources towards diverting this useful material from landfills.

One company helping to recycle discarded personal care and beauty products and packaging is L’Occitane. You can now walk into any L’Occitane store in the U.S. and Canada and drop off your bathroom empties for recycling, regardless of brand. Not near a store? TerraCycle’s Zero Waste Boxes are easy solutions you can use wherever you are. Pick from a variety of boxes, such as the Bathroom Separation or Personal Care Zero Waste Box, and send to TerraCycle when full.

4. Keep your cosmetics closet sparse by BUYING & ACQUIRING LESS

Say no to samples at the makeup counter, skip sample sizes at stores (instead refill older containers or jars), and buy only what you want and need. Of those, look for packaging that is highly recyclable and packaged in tin or glass, or plastic #1, #2 and #5. Some beauty and personal care products are now refillable, harkening back to the way products were packaged in the old days.

Supporting the brands making the effort to design their packaging to produce less waste is not only beneficial because it helps the environment, but because it persuades more and more companies to do the same. Cleaning up your act in the bathroom starts with changing what we buy, and if you favor brands that are doing the right thing, more will come.

Bathroom product images by Anna Sullivan; bathroom image (with clock) by Jonny Caspari on Unsplash

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About the Author

Founded in 2001, TerraCycle, Inc., is the world’s leader in the collection and repurposing of hard-to-recycle post-consumer waste, ranging from used chip bags to coffee capsules to cigarette butts. Each year, across 20 countries, TerraCycle collects and repurposes billions of pieces of waste, donating millions of dollars to schools and charities in the process. To learn more about TerraCycle or get involved in our recycling programs, please visit

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