Alongside the fashion industry, the beauty industry is one of the world’s most polluting. Diana Felton, an expert in human and environmental toxicology, tells Refinery29 it’s particularly destroying the oceans. By the year 2050, there will be more pounds of plastic in the ocean than fish. Single-use personal care containers also fill landfills — from plastic shampoo containers to toothpaste tubes, and they can take over 400 years to decompose.
According to Refinery29, the exact amount of plastic pollution caused by the beauty industry is unknown, but it’s likely huge. Zero Waste Week (via Refinery29) has reported the fast-growing industry creates 120 billion units of packaging every year, which includes plastic bottles and the shiny cellophane wrappers and layers of Bubble Wrap they’re often packed in.
Fortunately, beauty brands are responding to rising public awareness of the waste crisis with incentives for buyers. After all, it’s in everyone’s best interest. The planet wins when your stuff stays out of landfills. Brands are rewarded with customer loyalty. And your wallet wins when you score awesome perks like retailer discounts, loyalty rewards points, and even free products.
Beauty Recycling Programs That Offer Rewards
Whether your motivation is to protect the environment, help those in need, or simply earn some free stuff for yourself, personal care and beauty product recycling programs abound. But before dropping off your empty containers, check the recycling program’s requirements, as some require you to completely empty or clean and dry containers.
Many municipalities recycle plastics. But personal care and beauty products have unique components, like metal springs and pump dispensers. As such, most skin care and cosmetics packaging isn’t accepted by public recycling programs.
Thus, beauty brand Credo partners with recycling company TerraCycle to accept all brands of empty personal care containers for recycling in its boutiques. Find one near you by searching the store locator page on Credo’s website.
Containers can be any size, from travel size to full size. Credo only requests they be empty and clean.
In exchange for bringing in your empties, you get 10 Credo Rewards points for each full-size beauty product, up to a maximum of 12 products per visit (120 points). Credo doesn’t award points for travel-size containers.
2. L’Occitane en Provence
Beauty brand L’Occitane en Provence accepts any brand’s empty products in its stores. However, it only takes full-size product containers for recycling. L’Occitane’s recycling program, like many other brands, operates in partnership with TerraCycle, which breaks down the collected containers’ components to make new goods.
L’Occitane accepts beauty, skin care, and hair care packaging, including such items as lip balm tubes, facial cleanser bottles and pumps, body lotion containers, and shampoo and conditioner bottles. Visit the website for a complete list of accepted products.
Find a L’Occitane store near you by searching the store locator page on its website. In exchange for recycling with L’Occitane, you receive 10% off one full-size product good for the day of drop-off.
Garnier’s TerraCycle partnership is available wherever you live because it operates by mail. Plus, it takes everything. This recycling program collects empty containers from all brands of skin care, hair care, and cosmetics packaging you can’t recycle locally. (TerraCycle’s website provides a list of what you can send in for recycling.)
First, sign up on TerraCycle’s website to get your prepaid shipping label. Fill a box with your empty containers, then ship it back to TerraCycle via UPS free of charge.
You don’t need to clean the containers. But TerraCycle requests you remove as much of the remaining product as possible and that containers be dry. UPS won’t accept dripping packages.
In exchange for your containers, shipments earn points based on weight. TerraCycle rewards 100 points per pound. You can redeem points for various charitable gifts on the TerraCycle website or use them as a payment of $0.01 per point to the nonprofit organization or school of your choice.
The one drawback is that shipments must weigh over 15 pounds to earn points, which helps reduce the program’s carbon footprint.
To earn rewards, you must bring products into participating bareMinerals stores. Retail outlets that sell bareMinerals products but aren’t bareMinerals boutiques, such as Sephora or Macy’s, can’t collect your products and award points.
Also note that not all types of products are accepted. Hair and personal care items and flammable products, such as fragrance items, nail polish, aerosol products, or products that contain alcohol are not accepted. For a complete list of accepted items, visit bareMinerals’ website.
In exchange for bringing your empty containers to a bareMinerals store for recycling, Good Rewards Loyalty account members are awarded 5 points per recycled container, up to a total of 5 containers per day (25 points).
Lush’s dedication to sustainable product development is one of the many reasons it has a cult following. It’s already done away with packaging on many of its products, reducing the need to recycle in the first place.
For the packaging it does use, Lush relies on post-consumer recycled material. That means its plastic is collected through local recycling programs, sent to recycling facilities, and remade into new product packaging. That’s the exact process for its famous black pots that house its lotions and face masks.
Thus, it’s no surprise Lush rewards customers for returning them to the store. When customers bring them back, the old pots are reground and molded into new ones, reducing the need to use precious resources creating virgin plastic.
In exchange for bringing back five empty and cleaned pots for recycling, Lush gives you a free fresh face mask of your choice.
6. MAC Cosmetics
The MAC recycling program is straightforward. To reduce the amount of plastic sent to landfills as a result of its product packaging, MAC accepts returns of its empty containers.
You can return containers to any participating MAC beauty counter. If you can’t make it to a store, you can request an online form and print a mailing label to ship your empties back to MAC.
The containers must be “primary” containers, meaning they have to be the actual container that housed the product itself (an empty bottle of foundation, empty lipstick tube, or empty pigment jar, for example) rather than the cardboard box it came in.
When you return six empty containers, you’re eligible to receive one free standard lipstick of your choice (valued at $17). If you’re a member of MAC’s loyalty rewards program, MAC Lover, you can instead choose a lip gloss or small eye shadow, although this option is only currently available in stores.
Pacifica was already a participant in the world of clean beauty, as its products are vegan and cruelty-free. But it also partners with Preserve to recycle its packaging and turn it into new products, such as toothbrushes and razors.
To help make that happen, Pacifica has a rewards system for customers to return its product packaging for recycling.
First, log in to your loyalty account to ensure you receive credit. Then, fill out the form on the website, including your personal information and details about what you’re recycling. You can include up to eight products. Once you complete the form, the site generates a shipping label.
Once Pacifica receives and processes your empty containers, you receive 100 points on your loyalty account.
Origins was the first beauty brand to launch a recycling program for cosmetics packaging with its Return to Origins program in 2009. And it continues to accept a wide range of packaging for recycling from any brand, including glass or plastic jars, bottles, tubes, lipstick covers, and caps.
The program is limited to primary packaging. Origins won’t accept any cardboard or paper boxes or plastic wrap. It also doesn’t take sample or trial-size packaging or applicators and tools, such as sponges, tweezers, or makeup brushes.
To participate, drop off your empty containers at participating free-standing retail stores. The company recommends calling ahead to ensure your local store participates in the program. You can find your nearest store and its phone number by searching the store locator page on Origins’ website.
Origins beauty counters, such as those at department stores like Nordstrom or Macy’s, don’t participate in the program. Also, recycling is currently available only in North America, although the company is researching ways to expand the program to its international locations.
In return for recycling your empty containers with Origins, you get a free sample of your choice from any of Origins’ high-performance skin care products.
While no information about this program is available on its website, you can read more about Origins’ commitment to being eco-friendly and sustainable by visiting its mission page.
Oral care company Colgate is another brand that’s partnered with TerraCycle to create a free recycling program, this time for oral care product packaging.
Collect all your empty oral care packaging from any brand, including empty toothpaste tubes and caps, toothbrushes, toothpaste cartons, outer toothbrush packaging, and floss containers. It doesn’t currently accept electric toothbrushes, battery-powered toothbrushes, and their parts.
While you don’t need to clean the containers, TerraCycle requests you remove as much of the remaining product as possible and dry all packaging since UPS won’t accept dripping packages.
Once you box up your empty containers, download a shipping label to mail them to TerraCycle via UPS. Alternatively, you can search the online map to find a local drop-off point.
Shipments must be at least 5 pounds to earn TerraCycle points. All qualifying shipments earn 100 points per pound. The website notes for reference that with an average weight of 0.02 pounds per submission, you get approximately 2 points for each oral care item sent in.
You can redeem points for various charitable gifts offered on the TerraCycle website or use them as a payment of $0.01 per point to the nonprofit organization or school of your choice.
Kiehl’s rewards program for recycling is one of the most convenient. Most of us don’t finish all our products at once and don’t want to deal with the hassle and clutter of collecting multiple empty jars and bottles until we have enough to trade in for rewards. But you can recycle your Kiehl’s products one at a time.
Simply bring your single bottle to a Kiehl’s store, and you get 1 point in rewards. You don’t need to join Kiehl’s Rewards to earn recycling points, though you do need to provide your name and address so the store can credit your points. Only full-size products earn points, but Kiehl’s accepts all product sizes for recycling.
Once you earn 10 points, you’re eligible to redeem them for any travel-size product of your choice (valued at $11). But you can only redeem one reward per month.
Customers can also receive 1 recycle point for shopping with a Kiehl’s tote bag while in Kiehl’s stores.
11. Project Beauty Share
While there are plenty of recycling options for your empty personal care and beauty containers, there aren’t many for disposing of unused products.
Making matters worse, many beauty products contain chemicals listed by the EPA as hazardous waste, meaning you can’t just toss them in the trash. According to waste-management company Enviro-Safe, these include aftershaves and fragrances, hairspray, aerosol deodorant, shampoos and soaps, nail polish and polish remover, hair dyes, hair-removal cream, and suntan lotion.
So if you try a new product and find it doesn’t work out, donate it to Project Beauty Share instead of tossing it. The charitable organization accepts new and gently used personal care and beauty products and distributes them to women in need. Visit the website for a complete list of the products it accepts. Some products must be unused, such as deodorant and toothbrushes.
You can drop off donations or mail them directly to the warehouse in Washington:
Project Beauty Share
2718 E. Sprague Ave.
Spokane, Washington 99202
You must cover the shipping costs, and the organization suggests using a U.S. Postal Service flat-rate box to save money.
Because it’s a charitable donation, there are no coupons or rewards points that come with giving to Project Beauty Share. But you could potentially get a financial benefit in the form of a tax deduction if you itemize your taxes.
While there are plenty of options for earning perks for recycling your beauty and personal care products, they may not always make the most sense for you. Sometimes, you don’t live near a collection point or shop at the stores offering discounts. And no matter how good a coupon is, you won’t save money buying a product you wouldn’t otherwise have purchased.
But if you still care about recycling your products, you’re not without options. It won’t score you awesome deals, but you’ll still help the planet.
For example, Nordstrom has partnered with TerraCycle to accept all brands of beauty and skin care product packaging that can’t go into your regular curbside collection bin, including pump caps, hair spray triggers, lipstick cases, eyeliner pencils, and mascara tubes, regardless of whether you bought it at Nordstrom. Visit a Nordstrom store and drop your containers into the recycling bin in the Nordstrom beauty department.
The nice thing about Nordstrom’s program is that Nordstrom department stores are widespread. Thus, it makes recycling all your empty containers easy. But the only perk you get is the satisfaction of doing a good deed.
But the best way to save money may be to remember the eco-slogan “reduce, reuse, recycle” — in that order. Reduce comes first. Opting to buy less nets you more savings in the long run.