• 22nd April 2021

How to recycle cosmetics packaging

In the past decade recycling has become a commonplace household activity. The average Brit now embraces the habit of sorting and correctly disposing of their paper, tin, plastic, and glass waste – in fact, as reported in this article from The Guardian, nine out of 10 UK households now recycle regularly.

Of course, it’s not just about doing what we’re told; recycling and reducing our impact on the environment is now a way life for many people. That’s why going green extends beyond household waste management and into our shopping habits.

In a recent survey 68% of Brits said that the environmental impact of a product influences their purchasing decision. Increasingly, brands are working hard to create containers and packs that are suitable for recycling or reuse – which means it’s easier than ever for consumers to feel good about their buying choices.

Recycling trends within the cosmetics sector

Cosmetics can be a tricky sector because makeup and skincare containers and packs need to be water-resistant and tamper-resistant, and may only have a shelf-life of a few months. Plastic will be a common ingredient, and in luxury packs, elaborate embellishments may make the pack more complex to recycle.

However, within the cosmetics sector, we’re starting to see big strides towards progress. Not only are we seeing makeup recycling schemes springing up around the country, we’re also seeing brands and manufacturers take positive steps towards more sustainable practices.

The takeaway? It’s now easier than ever to dispose of your makeup and skincare containers and packs in an environmentally friendly way.

What’s the best way to recycle cosmetics packaging?

1. Research recycling restrictions in your local area

Your recycling habits should be dictated by what’s allowed in your local area. In the UK, the best way to do this is to visit your local council website.

  • In England and Wales you can do this by going to GOV.UK – Recycling collections and entering your postcode.
  • In Scotland you can select your local council from the dropdown list at MyGov.Scot – Rubbish, bins and recycling.
  • In Northern Ireland you can select your local council from the list at NI Direct Government Services.

Take your time to read through what is allowed in your local recycling. Depending on your area, you might have to put it in a communal bin on the street, or sort it into your own boxes that you can put out for collection.

Plastic bottles that store shampoo, conditioner, body wash, or moisturiser should always be fine to recycle. However, you’ll need to check whether you’re allowed to recycle the kinds of items that come with your makeup e.g. plastic trays, wraps and films.

Items like nail varnish bottles, lipsticks, makeup brushes, soap pumps, mirrors, and some types of squeezable tubes usually aren’t suitable to be put in your local recycling.

2.     Check the packaging for recycling instructions

It’s an obvious suggestion, but sometimes people miss that packaging will features recycling instructions. The container may indicate, for instance, that one part of the container or pack can be recycled (e.g. the cardboard sleeve) but another part cannot (e.g. the plastic film).

A guide to recycling symbols used in the UK can be found at the Recycle Now website.

3.     Separate out the different components

Cosmetics containers and packs often have quite a complex build with many separate components. Some of these may be acceptable for local recycling; others won’t. Get into the habit of breaking apart the separate components to dispose of them correctly.

For instance, a bottle of moisturiser may include a pump which cannot be recycled – you’ll need to remove the pump before you recycle the rest of the bottle.

4.     Clean and condense containers before you recycle them

Wherever possible, clean out containers before you throw them in the recycling. They don’t have to be immaculately clean, but if there’s a lot of product in them, this can contaminate other recycling.

Condensing larger items is also a good idea to make them take up less space. If you’re condensing a plastic bottle (for instance, a shampoo bottle) just make sure you put the lid back on – on its own, a small plastic lid may be too small to get properly sorted in the recycling plant.

5.     Find recycling schemes for cosmetics packaging

After doing all of the above, you still may be left with items you can’t put in your local recycling – but never fear! In the UK there are a few different schemes that cater specifically for used cosmetics packs and containers.

TerraCycle is a group committed to the aim of recycling the “non-recyclable”. They have partnered with several different cosmetics brands including Maybelline and The Body Shop to make use of makeup containers that would otherwise go to landfill. To find a local drop-off point visit the TerraCycle site, and enter the waste stream (e.g. makeup, cosmetics) and your location.

TerraCycle also runs a scheme called Zero Waste Box. Order a set of boxes to be delivered to your home and fill it up with your makeup and skincare waste that can’t be recycled. You can then post the filled boxed back, using a prepaid label, and TerraCycle will recycle all of the cosmetics waste inside. Boxes are available for a variety of different waste streams, including garden and office waste.

Other schemes to check out include:

An added bonus of returning your cosmetics packaging to the shope where you bought it is that many of the brands involved offer rewards. Take back six primary packaging containers to M.A.C and you’ll receive a free lipstick!

6.     Shop with brands that use recyclable or refillable packaging

One of the best ways to get ahead of the curve with your cosmetics recycling is to look at the brands you’re shopping with. Increasingly, manufacturers are prioritising sustainability, which means they’re looking for ways to create affordable, functional makeup packaging that has less of an impact on the environment.

The next time you stock up on your favourite lipstick, blusher or mascara, take a look at the brand you’re buying from to see what they’re doing to reduce waste and pollution. Where possible, shop from brands that are creating fully recyclable or reusable packaging, and using sustainably and ethically sourced materials.

Another great option is to shop with brands who will refill or reuse cosmetic box packaging. M.A.C, Olay and L’Occitane are just a few brands that can refill existing containers. Brands like Wild, meanwhile, create reusable deodorant tins with refill blocks housed in recycled and recyclable cardboard.

How are manufacturers creating eco-friendly and recyclable packaging for cosmetics?

Manufacturers of cosmetics packaging solutions are coming up with all sorts of tactics to tackle unnecessary waste and pollution.

The move away from plastics

It’s becoming increasingly common for manufacturers to substitute plastic for more eco-friendly materials such as moulded paper pulp, bamboo, sugarcane, tin, recycled papers and cards, and paper from FSC-certified forests.

For some manufacturers, the emphasis is not on eliminating plastics, but on pivoting to the use of 100% recycled plastics. Some brands, including REN, are currently using reclaimed ocean plastics to craft their packaging.

Recyclable tertiary packaging

There’s a long list of recyclable materials that can be used within cosmetic box packaging at the tertiary level. Recyclable materials that can be used to pack products include: corrugated cardboard, gummed paper tape, paper cushioning, paper mailing bags, and moulded paper pulp trays.

100% recycled and/or recyclable packaging

Not all packs can be recycled, and not all packs come from recycled sources. As a compromise, some brands are making a commitment that ensures all their packs will be:

  • sourced from recycled materials,
  • recyclable,
  • reusable,
  • refillable,
  • recoverable,
  • or some combination of the above!

Estée Lauder is one of the leaders of this kind of movement – they’ve made a commitment to manufacturing 75-100% of their cosmetics and skincare packaging in this manner by 2025.

Refillable containers

As we’ve already seen, many brands are encouraging consumers to reuse existing containers by offering refills. In addition to helping customers do their bit for the environment, these sorts of schemes also tend to come with incentivising discounts or freebies. For the brand this can be a great way to encourage consumer loyalty and a healthy returning customer base.

Zero packaging!

Some brands are going so far as to eschew packaging altogether. In 2020, Lush opened their first packaging-free shop in Milan – since then their “Naked” shops have cropped up in other cities, including Manchester.

Packs with a secondary use

A trend that is particularly exciting is to create luxury cosmetics pack with a secondary use. If you can encourage the consumer to hang on to the pack long after the contents have been used, you will have not only prevented the pack from going to landfill, but have created a superior user experience.

Recyclable cosmetics packaging from GPA Luxury

At GPA Luxury, we work with cosmetics brands who are keen to do their bit for the environment without compromising on the premium look, feel, and experience offered by their products.

This isn’t always an easy line to walk, but in recent years we’ve developed some clever tactics for creating sustainable luxury cosmetic packaging that still has a huge brand impact. 

We create reusable or “keepsake” packs. 

One of our favourite techniques is to craft packs with longevity in mind. Manufacturing a secondary pack designed for one-off use is a sure-fire way to ensure it goes to landfill (or at best, a recycling plant).

By creating something that has a clear secondary use, or that has real value as a timeless keepsake, we can prevent the consumer from simply disposing of the pack once they’ve removed its contents. It also gives us free rein to add embellishments and features such as mirrors and electronics that might otherwise complicate the recycling aspect.

Recent packs that we’ve created with a long shelf-life in mind include:

For luxury brands, the benefits of packaging retention are significant. With beautifully made branded items in their home, consumers are encouraged to maintain brand loyalty and make repeat purchases in the future. 

We can manufacture simplified, mono-material packs

Another trend we’re experimenting with is simple, mono-material packs perfectly designed for recycling. Drawing on our years of expertise in the luxury sector, we’re able to create simplified, minimalist packs from fully recyclable materials and organic inks that still have an air of superior quality.

Though it’s not a pack from the cosmetics sector, our sleek grey pack for the RAIN Cloud CBD pen illustrates perfectly what we can do with a more limited design brief and materials. This plastic-free pack combines functionality with aesthetics, and is fully recyclable.

We weigh up the impact of using different materials

Having worked in this industry for so long, our team understands that sometime it’s not as simple as opting for the material that appears to be more eco-friendly. Some materials may be easy to recycle or biodegradable, but the complex manufacturing processes involved may leave behind a significant carbon footprint. 

When creating our sustainable packs, we’re constantly weighing up the relative impact of using different materials to ensure the best outcome. 

Create eco-friendly cosmetics packaging with GPA Luxury

If you’re a brand looking to pivot towards more eco-friendly and recyclable packaging for cosmetics products, get in touch with GPA Luxury today. We have years of experience crafting exceptional premium packs for some of the world’s most respected luxury brands.

Come to us with any questions!