It’s Eco Week at Byrdie, which means we’re digging into the best in sustainable beauty, from our fourth annual Eco Beauty Awards to what it really means to follow a zero-waste beauty routine. Consider this week your education on how to be a more eco-aware, knowledgable beauty consumer.
Lately, more and more beauty companies have started to pay attention to sustainable and recyclable packaging options in their production process—which is really good news for our planet. Why? “Some types of cosmetic packaging can take hundreds of years to break down in a landfill," explains Thomas S. Woznicki, VP of recycling facility Combined Resources, Inc. "During that time, they can release harmful greenhouse gasses into the environment."
Upcycling, recycling, or composting your beauty products don’t just save animals—it can save our environment too. Here’s how you can play a part in making the world a cleaner and greener place with cosmetics you use daily.
Avoid Cellophane If You Can
Cellophane, which is a thin wrapping material made from viscose (it’s considered a “plant-based plastic”), is used to package many beauty products. Even though it’s not recyclable, it is biodegradable (which means it eventually breaks down) and more environment-friendly than polyethylene plastics that are used to make plastic bags. You can compost cellophane in your composting bin along with food scraps. However, according to Woznicki, you should actually avoid cellophane altogether because the way its produced is environmentally harmful. “Most cellophane is produced using carbon disulfide, which is toxic to people working in production facilities and produces hazardous fumes,” Woznicki explains. Noted.
A new trend in the world of sustainable beauty is upcycling. Recycling is when you convert waste, like an empty lipstick stick, into reused material. Upcycling, on the other hand, is when you reuse a product you'd normally throw away, like an empty candle glass, and turn it into a new product, like a brush holder. There's lots of upcycling happening on the brand front, too. For example, beauty brand Town and Anchor teamed up with sustainable handmade jewelry brand CLED to repurpose empty oil bottles into chic earrings; another company, Upcircle Beauty, actually upcycles leftover natural ingredients from used coffee grounds and brewed chai tea spices to create their beauty products.
Other companies are making it their mission to upcycle single-use pieces. The Appalachian Wildlife Refuge, which treats injured and orphaned wild animals, has a program called “Wands For Wildlife” that upcycles mascara wands to clean wildlife. These old wands are used to remove fly eggs and larva from the fur and feathers of wild animals.
Check Out Terracycle
If you have no idea where to start when it comes to recycling your beauty products, good news: fhere are companies dedicated to recycling beauty products for you. Recycling company TerraCycle, for example, has partnered with brands like Garnier, Kiehl’s, L’Occitane, ILIA, and more to offer customers recycling programs. Just mail your used bottles to TerraCycle or drop them off at an allocated location and they’ll make sure your products are recycled properly. Brands like Lush and MAC even offer rewards if you recycle their products through their program.
Swap Out Cotton Pads
Some cotton pads you use to remove makeup can be composted with food waste. But, keep in mind the toll on the environment it took to even make that product: that the same amount of water one person would drink over three years is used for one kilogram of cotton. Instead, try reusable makeup wipes—we like Face Halo—or these bamboo reusable cotton rounds.
This may seem obvious, but read instructions on how to properly recycle your product before tossing it in the bin. "People shoud attention to the recyclable numbers on packaging," Woznicki says. “For example, HDPE (high density polyethylene) bottles are often used for personal care products and can be identified by the number 2 on the bottle. HDPE bottles are highly recyclable and can be recycled into things like garbage bags, bins, and even plastic lumber.” Whenever possible, skip plastic containers and opt for glass, which is almost endlessly recyclable without degrading in quality. (Click here for five eco beauty brands we love with recyclable packaging.)
Also, before tossing an empty bottle in the recycling bin, rinse it out to make sure there's no product left inside—otherwise, it won't be recycled at all. “Containers with product residue can contaminate the recycling load and end up in landfills," explains Woznicki. "Potentially harmful substances like hairspray or toxic chemicals can cause environmental damage. Leaving residue in recycling also can cause odors and attract bugs or rodents."