Makeup & Recycling: It’s harder than you think.

In my Health and Beauty post last week I discussed panning an ELF palette and I made a glib comment: 

After I hit “pan” on the colors, they started to crumble. Fairly soon after I took the photo, the powder started falling out in chunks and I tossed the palette.

What’s glib about this? I never just “toss” items. I believe in reducing, reusing, and recycling (the 3 R’s). I believe in protecting the environment as much as possible. So yes–it’s a glib comment–but there’s a reason. It’s very hard to recycle makeup containers. And if they are made of the wrong type of material, it’s dangerous to reuse them.

In a future post I will be discussing a few companies that go the extra mile and provide either recyclable/environmentally friendly containers or include an in-house recycling program that makes it easy for their customers. But first–let’s take a look at the problems with recycling or reusing makeup containers and palettes.

Makeup itself cannot be recycled. If you’ve purchased a makeup product in a recyclable container, the product has to be removed before you can place it in the recycling bin. Every city has its own rules when it comes to what is recyclable (paper, plastic, and so forth) but there’s a reason why you cannot leave the eyeshadows, blushes, or highlights in the containers. It’s the same reason you have to remove the pizza from a cardboard pizza delivery box, and if the box has been stained by the product (with grease or leftover food) it cannot be recycled. Containers with product residue can attract bugs at the facility and dirty containers lower the value of the finished recycled product. Learn more at Recycle By City  to see what your city will accept.

A lot of makeup packaging is not recyclable. Recycling is complicated in general and gets more complicated when you’re dealing with packaging that doesn’t follow the standard plastic bottle or aluminum can model. The paper and cardboard boxes that products come in are pretty much a sure thing for recycling unless they are coated with plastic. (Plastic-coated paper/cardboard is not recyclable.) The plastic film-wrap around the box? Generally not recyclable. Styrofoam padding? Not recyclable. The plastic for the palette case? It depends on the type of plastic. Look for the Möbius strip and other clues on the packaging.

FYI: The Möbius strip has been the universal recycling symbol since the early 1970s. The Möbius strip on a product means that it can be recycled because it was manufactured with recyclable materials or it was made from recycled materials and can be recycled. But it it doesn’t mean that the product will actually be recycled and it does not provide information about what material the packaging is made of. For this you have to look further at the symbols included on the package.

Screen Shot 2019-04-11 at 3.20.26 PM


1 PET – Polyethylene terephthalate

This type of plastic is used for bottles and jars for cleaning products and detergents, food, cosmetics and personal care, pharmaceutical and veterinary products.

Recyclable? Yes. However, this type of plastic is known to have a porous surface that allows bacteria to accumulate, so don’t reuse.

2 HDPE – High Density Polyethylene

Used for jars for industrial products, food, human health products, veterinary products, cosmetics. Recyclable? Yes. It is also safe to reuse.

3 PVC – Polyvinyl chloride
Used for pipes and ducts and in some plastic wrap around products. Recyclable? Rarely. Reuse–no.
4 LDPE – Low Density Polyethylene 
Used primarily in plastic bags and film wrap. Recyclable? Rarely. Reuse–no.
5 PP Polypropylene
Used for containers for food, veterinary products, chemicals, paints, coatings, adhesives, inks Jars, beakers, cups and measuring cups, and caps. Recyclable? Yes depending on your location. Reuse–depends on the product. 
6 PS – Polystyrene (also known as styrofoam) 
Used for a wide variety of products. Used as packing material in some cosmetics packages. Recyclable? No. Reuse–depends on the product.
7 Other Recyclable? Possible depending on your location. Most programs won’t accept it.  Probably not reusable either.
And now that you have gone through all of this and learned what those little symbols mean, it is important to remember that most makeup palettes are not only made of plastic. And the other materials are not always recyclable.
I use this mirror every day. It started its life as a makeup palette mirror that I “liberated” (broke it off the palette after I panned it).
Mirrors are not recyclable. The type of glass used in mirrors is non-recyclable, so don’t try to put one in your recycling bin. Most palettes come with mirrors and they will have to be removed prior to recycling. So what can you do? I have reused a few of mine, but there are only so many small mirrors someone needs. Most of these will end up in a landfill.
The small pans that contain the makeup product are not plastic. These pans can be removed and, since they are metal, you might think are more easily recycled than the plastic. Again–check with your city or waste-management service to see if they accept this type of product. Because the size of the product matters. Small items or a small-format container–like a lipstick case–will get screened out or caught in the disposal stream for the facility. Simply put–they end up in the landfill because of their size.
The little metal supports for the hinges and any magnets in the clasp? These have the same issues and are not recyclable. 
The label needs to be removed before recycling. This can be very hard depending upon the type of adhesive used on the product. But it can be done.
So after checking the type of plastic to make sure it can be recycled, removing all of the makeup from the container, taking it apart to separate the mirror, makeup pans, metal bits, and magnets from the plastic, and removing the label, you should be all set to recycle that palette and feel good about saving the planet. Right?
Oh if it were only that simple.
Recycling in 2019: It’s harder than you think.
bas-emmen-533040-unsplashAfter you deposit the recyclables in the proper bin and leave it at the side of the curb for pickup, it goes to a waste management facility with a recyclables center. In the U.S. this is generally run by your city (municipality). 
After sorting and packing, municipal recycling facilities often sell the materials they collect to other countries (traditionally China) to do the actual recycling. But this changed in 2018. In a series of articles, NPR has reported:


Some 106 million metric tons — about 45 percent — of the world’s plastics set for recycling have been exported to China since reporting to the United Nations Comtrade Database began in 1992. But in 2017, China passed the National Sword policy banning plastic waste from being imported beginning in January 2018. (NPR, 2018).

 So what is happening to that plastic waste? It’s ending up in landfills. National Geographic has reported:
Many cities across the U.S. have been sending their once-exportable plastics to landfills (NatGeo, 2018).
It’s simply more cost effective and, in some cases, necessary because the municipalities do not have anywhere to send the plastics and other recyclables. Their plan to send everything to China is no longer available and they are scrambling to find alternatives. Until they have a better option, the recyclables are being sent to the landfill along with the rest of the garbage.
Even if you do everything right, that plastic palette you tried to recycle still ends up in a landfill and enters the waste stream of the planet.
Let that sink in for a moment.
No matter what steps you take, currently in the U.S. it is very likely that makeup palette you’re trying to recycle will end up in a landfill. Along with all the other plastics that Americans diligently put in the recyclable bins.
So what’s the answer? As I mentioned at the start of the post, there are companies that have their own recycling programs. There are companies that have reduced their packaging, use sustainable packaging, and ones that use recycled packaging. Look for my post on this in the future.
But the best thing you can do right now if you are concerned about the planet? Follow the first “R” and reduce the amount you consume. I don’t mean wear less makeup. (I wouldn’t suggest that!) But don’t buy multiple palettes that are almost the same. Consider why you want backups. Remember that makeup expires. Judge for yourself what you need. What you will use. Go for quality over quantity. Be a conscious consumer. 
This is the approach I have started taking. It makes me feel a bit better when I need to “toss” a palette because I’ve panned it.
But I shouldn’t be glib about it.
Let me know your thoughts in the comments below. 

Disclaimer: This is not sponsored. I purchased all products discussed.






4 thoughts on “Makeup & Recycling: It’s harder than you think.

  1. I’m looking for naked packaging like Lush offers, which is in addition to their black pot recycling program; they will give you a free fresh face mask when you bring back five pots at the same time.

    Your advice to limit the number of palettes with similar colors is refreshing, and so is your commitment to the three r’s!


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