Recycling your Beauty Products

29 May 2020

Recycling your Beauty Products

After writing up about the beauty empties I’ve used over the past year, I thought about the sheer amount of packaging from beauty products - there is a hella lot of plastic and glass! 

Beauty products are notoriously hard to recycle which can make it hard to know what to do with them, and often means they end up being thrown away. 

120 billion units of packaging are produced every year by the global cosmetics industry, of these, very few plastic waste items generated in the bathroom are accepted by most public recycling programmes. Beauty product packaging is often composed of a variety of types of material — mirrored glass, cardboard sleeves, paper inserts, expanded plastic foam and more have been known to be used in cosmetics packaging– sometimes all in one item. This can make recycling them incredibly difficult.

This post has the information you need on what is recyclable, where you can visit and recycle any beauty empties (including pumps, lids, etc) - given the current lockdown situation we are in, I will be keeping them all until somewhere near me reopens. As for glass, I can recycle through my local council - most councils allow this, but check before you do this. 



So many beauty products, like fragrances and new make-up products, come wrapped in cellophane. Annoyingly, this cannot be recycled and should be put in your normal bin.


Hairsprays and deodorants can be recycled in most household collection schemes. But do make sure they’ve been completely finished before recycling them.

Plastic bottles

Plastic bottles, like shampoos, conditioners and shower gels, are accepted by most recycling programmes. However, make sure that you have emptied and cleaned them out first. You can also leave the lids on as these can be recycled, unless it’s a trigger head or a pump. These will need to go in your normal bin. If you haven’t completely finished your conditioner, do NOT pour it down the sink. Instead, get out as much as possible and put it in your normal bin. (The same goes with any product that you have a little left of.)

Hair tools

If your tools still work, check with your local charity shop if they’ll take them. If they’re broken, then they can be recycled at a specific centre. 

For hair straighteners specifically, Cloud Nine recently launched their own iron recycling service. They’ll recycle or reuse your old straighteners, free of charge, and regardless of the brand or when/where they were purchased. Simply download a pre-paid recycling label, pop your straighteners in a box and take to the Post Office. You can find out more about the scheme at

Nail varnish, fragrance bottles, make-up brushes

Sadly, these can’t be recycled, so should just be placed in the normal waste bin.

Mascara, lipstick, make-up palettes (eye shadow, bronzer, blusher)

Annoyingly, these are too complicated to recycle. However, TerraCycle has partnered with Garnier to create a free recycling programme for beauty packaging, and these can be taken to one of their allocated drop-off locations. Find your nearest one here. They will also take sheet masks and their wrappers, face wipes and their packets, trigger sprays, pumps, pipettes, roll-on deodorants.

Glass jars

As long as these have been emptied and cleaned, these are free to be popped in your recycling bin - woop!

Cotton pads

These have come under quite a lot of criticism for being as bad for the environment as face wipes, but in actual fact these can be recycled with your food waste. So after taking your make-up off, take them straight into the kitchen to throw away, OR do what I did a couple of years back, and buy reusable ones - they’re just as effective as regular cotton pads, except you can pop these in with your washing, and use them over and over. I buy these ones.

Toothbrushes and toothpaste

Don’t put these in your recycling! Like Garnier, Colgate has collaborated with TerraCycle and set up special drop-off locations (that can be found here).

Recycling your Beauty Products

Brands doing their bit

There are several brands that have got on board, and are doing their bit. See below for where you can recycle your empties - some even have incentives, such as discounts and offers. 

John Lewis

John Lewis has a recycling scheme for their members. The scheme applies to any beauty product with the exception of perfume bottles, nail varnish and aerosol cans, and allows customers to bring their empties to John Lewis stores to receive a £5 discount on a beauty purchase in return. More info here.

Ren Skincare

Ren has a company-wide goal of being completely zero waste by 2021 - that’s only a matter of months away. It currently has 100% recyclable packaging, refillable solutions and bottles made from reclaimed ocean plastic.

The Body Shop

The Body Shop has recycling points in every store, where you can return empties. This scheme is only for their products. Love Your Body™ Club members will receive a reward worth £5 when they return any 5 of the Body Shops empty bottles, tubs, tubes or pots.


L’Occitane have TerraCycle collection points in their stores and they organise sponsored beach cleans all over the UK, from Brighton to Edinburgh. You can take your empty beauty and skincare products from L’Occitane and any other beauty brands. You will even receive 10% off a new full sized L’Occitane product. Further information here.  

MAC Cosmetics

If you’re an avid Mac customer, you’re probably already aware of the Back to Mac programme, which has been running for years. But if you’re not, it’s pretty simple to get to grips with – simply return six primary packaging containers to a counter store, and you’ll get a free Mac lipstick of your choice - the only exemptions from the offer are the lipsticks and lipglasses from limited editions collections, and the Viva Glam range, as 100 per cent of the selling price of these is provided to organisations that help people living with HIV/AIDS.


Recycle & Be Rewarded, Kiehl’s encourages, by giving customers loyalty cards that get stamped every time they return an empty Kiehl’s product, or shop with a reusable bag. Once you’ve built up 10 stamps, you’ll get a complimentary travel size product from the range, perfect for popping in your carry-on on your next short-haul trip.

What else can you do?

It’s a little pricey, but you can purchase a TerraCycle Zero Waste Box – they will send you an empty box to your house, you fill it with your beauty empties, and then send it back to them to recycle it all. They offer various boxes for different recyclables. More information on this initiative here.

Also, you can buy products that are packaged in highly recycled materials, like PET bottles, and some brands offer a refillable service or reusable packaging. In the city I live in, we have a few local zero-waste stores that offer these services, mainly for household items such as washing up liquid and cooking oils, but it’s worth a look to see what they offer. 

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