04 February 2011

4 cosmetic package recycling programs offer makeover for your eco-conscience & wallet

Parting is such sweet sorrow, at least when it comes to bidding your favorite lip colors, eye shadows and beauty staples adieu. There comes a time in every girl’s world when – despite her very best attempts at being green -- it’s simply impossible to squeeze or scrape any more product out of its packaging. That’s when there’s no other choice but to plunk it into the closest garbage can. Whoa, Nelly…hold on a second. There’s got to be a better way!

Allow this factoid sink into your brain for a moment: the EPA says that approximately 1/3 of our typical landfill waste is composed of cosmetic packaging such as glass/plastic jars, bottles, tubes, caps and lipstick covers. Talk about being a staggering figure, particularly in light of how small all of those tubes, caps and containers actually are. Have you ever considered how many you’ve personally disposed of in the last year alone?

Most of us don’t realize that the majority of the spent cosmetic packaging that we cast away is still potentially recyclable. From compact mirrors (which can be repurposed for art, craft and décor projects) to metal lids/caps, steel/aluminum cans, glass, plastic and cardboard (all of which can easily be dropped into a recycling bin), beauty product packaging is just as worthy of eco-scrutiny as its mainstream plastic, newspaper, cardboard, glass and metal brethren.

That's all fine and good, but who really has the time in their schedule to scrutinize specifically what in their beauty product arsenal is actually recycle-worthy? Well, actually, you do. The good news is that several of today’s most popular and environmentally dedicated manufacturers are coming to the rescue, so there's no need for any of us to lose extra sleep in the process. To make the task slightly easier for consumers, a handful of notable cosmetic brands continue to offer convenient recycling programs and in many cases, they even offer a tangible reward for doing right by Mother Nature. So, no more excuses, okay? You like freebies for a job well done, right? I thought so!

M.A.C. Cosmetics

Originally designed for professional make-up artists, the MAC line of cosmetics – now owned by Estée Lauder – can be found in department stores and free standing boutiques around the world. Their Back To M.A.C. program enables die-hard fans to return six empty M.A.C. brand containers (in person) to a local M.A.C. department store counter or complete an online form and then mail them your empties. The reward? Receive a free full sized M.A.C. lipstick for your good green efforts! Wowzers...that's got to make you an eco-believer.


Most cosmetics groupies are already aware of Origins’ recycling program, Return To Origins, which encourages you to bring old cosmetic containers (no matter what brand they are), to their nearest Origins location. In exchange for your eco-friendly donations, they offer a free sample of a featured product in their line, which is a nice little thank you for cleaning up your corner of the planet. What makes their program even more intriguing is that all of the plastic/glass resin bottles, jars, caps and tubes that they collect are separated and sent to recyclers who grind, wash and re-palletize or isolate recyclable components so that they can be reused in new items (such as bottles, jars, closures, paint cans and park benches). Materials that cannot be recycled, such as secondary packaging like sample containers, cosmetic applicators and tools, puffs, sponges, spatulas, swabs, sharpeners, etc. are instead used for energy recovery (meaning that mixed municipal waste is fed into large furnaces, producing power via the production of steam and electricity, "while strictly controlling emissions"). While it's not a perfect system, it is definitely a step in the right direction, so get involved and don't forget to spread the word!


Municipalities across the United States generally don’t process rigid #5 plastics (typically used to create durable plastic jar lids, laundry detergent caps and flip top/threaded caps) and not surprisingly, people end up throwing them away with their normal household waste. This ends up being a big problem for marine life (as is evidenced by the Great Pacific Garbage Patch) when smaller rigid plastic items are swallowed, often with tragic consequences. Aveda offers a fantastic solution with their “Recycle Caps” program, which collects the formerly ostracized polypropylene plastic, melting it down and creating new product containers and caps with it. In instances when the donated materials are not easily recyclable, they are reserved for energy generation, meaning that they are incinerated. Make sure that your local brick and mortar location is participating in this program by calling ahead or mail all of your #5 caps to the following address:

Distribution Center
Aveda Cap Program
Attention: Cesar Soto
475 West Apra Street
Rancho Dominguez CA 90220


The 150 year old natural product purveyor has always focused on whipping up chemical free, botanical-based formulas that are dispensed in 100% recyclable packaging, and now through their very popular “Recycle and Be Rewarded” program, consumers can benefit as much as Mother Nature. Receive a free full sized lip balm when you return three empty Kiel’s product containers to one of their stores. Better still, score a 2.5 ounce Travel Collection item when you return five empties or a full $25 value product when you recycle 10 empties. Free goodies, just for returning packaging that has reached the end of the line -- sounds like a great excuse for a ka-ching-a-green celebration!

Elizah Leigh | @elizahleigh
Elizah Leigh's master's degree in education combined with her passion for the written word and deep-seated interest in environmental issues has proven to be the ideal trifecta for her present status as a green journalist. Currently commissioned to write a reference book on vegetarianism, Elizah hopes to inspire people through her words. Follow Elizah on Facebook.

Photo credit: Kiehl's