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Reduce, Reuse, and *Refill* Your Product Packaging

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Ever heard of “wish-cycling?” It refers to all the times you’ve stood in front of the recycling bin and tossed in an old beauty product, questioning / hoping that it actually belonged. Even though we have good intentions, this is a bad habit we need to break.

When we combine trash and recyclables, we contaminate what should otherwise be reusable. AKA – More waste. And while we learned to reduce, reuse and recycle in grade school, a combo of greenwashing and miseducation is creating a lot of confusion and chaos when it comes to packaging.

Our society’s plastic problem is no joke, especially when it comes to cosmetics. As we become more conscious consumers, brands are having to get real with their product packaging. In hopes of creating a “circular economy” where everything can be used, recycled and reused, eco-friendly options are gaining traction in the industry.

Check out which are moving us forward:

(Truly) Recyclable Packaging

Because packaging contains multiple parts, some need to be removed before recycling. Springs are one that can’t be recycled but are often built into pump packaging, turning the entire product into trash. Other pieces like magnets and mirrors have to be taken apart before recycling. Even the ink on the label can keep a product from being recycled.

It’s tricky, to say the least. But, the goods news is that some mindful brands have created fully recyclable packaging.

Aether Beauty makes its palettes with 100% recyclable, FSC-Certified paper as well as easily-removable (and recyclable) aluminum pans. Just pop them out and throw it all in the bin. For brands like Aether, recyclable packaging is a point of pride, so if a brand doesn’t claim it’s recyclable status, avoid making assumptions that will only create more trash.

Refillable Packaging

Refills are a step above recyclable packaging. This option minimizes waste by letting you reuse the container and refill as needed. There are multiple options, from Plaine Products’ shampoo and conditioners subscription that lets you swap old packaging for new product, to byHumankind’s deodorant that comes with insertable refills to fit into the plastic shell.

The only catch is that the packaging these products do use can still be tricky to recycle. Websites like Package Free Shop show a breakdown of each component and whether or not it’s recyclable. Remember to look out for those sneaky pieces that can jeopardize the entire package and seek alternatives whenever possible.

Naked Packaging

Finally, the best way to limit waste is to create none at all! You may have seen our feature on naked products earlier this month, which showcased brands with solid products and no containers. Instead, these options often come wrapped in easily recyclable paper. When you’re done, there’s nothing left bud suds down the drain!

Lush is the OG in this category with products for hair, skin, bath and shower. All come packaging-free. Even when it comes to taking your products home, Lush offers chic knot-wraps instead of paper or plastic bags. The key to using naked products is storing them somewhere dry with good drainage, like a vented shower caddy. Do that and there’s no reason not to make the switch.

The Wrap Up

There’s a lot of room for improvement in our recycling systems. First, we need easy-to-understand education on what does and doesn’t belong in our bins. Then, we could definitely use stronger guidelines for companies when it comes to developing responsible packaging.  

Until then, you can do the most for the planet on your own by learning your city / state’s recycling regulations. Martha Stewart has a great guide for getting started.

Also, look for TerraCycle and Glo Recycling bins at your local retailers / salons. These companies recycle cosmetic packaging and even salon-specific waste that otherwise ends up in landfills, including hair, aerosols and foils and more. If you can’t find a box near you, consider introducing one in your own salon!

We’re all still learning. But luckily, the industry is heading in the right direction. Want to see more brands make the switch to sustainable packaging? Hit up your favorites and tell them: We deserve more than garbage!

Darby Hoffman
Darby Hoffman
Darby Hoffman is a creative and branded content writer based in Chicago, IL. She specializes in topics related to sustainability, beauty technology, and consumer health & safety.