A Waste-Free Makeover of the Beauty Industry. Tom Szaky, TerraCycle


In the beauty and cosmetics industry, waste is one of the least glamorous topics, but an important one nonetheless. Each year, more than 120 billion units of packaging contribute to one quarter of landfill waste, much of it produced by the global cosmetics industry. The complex plastics of squeeze tubes, cream tubs, eyeliner and mascara wands, body wash bottles and powder compacts can take over 400 years to break down in a landfill.

Plastic decomposing isn’t pretty. The chemical components accumulate in the surrounding environment to leach into lakes, streams, rivers and public water systems.  As packaging breaks down in landfills, the reaction between heat and organic materials releases methane gases into the environment. A powerful greenhouse gas, 25% of Canada's methane emissions are produced by landfill, providing yet another reason why all measures, including recycling, should be considered before throwing items away.

But as it stands, most beauty and cosmetics packaging aren’t traditionally recyclable. Plastic containers that are difficult to clean, multi-compositional (i.e. metal springs and plastic in a pump dispenser), and have varyingly small sizes (as does most skincare and cosmetics packaging) fall outside the scope of public recyclability due to the high collection, separation, and processing costs. So, landfilling and incineration are the most viable options.


Even so, consumer demand for greater brand responsibility and more solutions is resonating across industries, cosmetics included. Consumers do care about recycling. In a survey conducted for a Packaging Digest Sustainable Packaging study, a majority of participants cite a product’s recyclability to be top of mind when it comes to the environment and sustainability, a product featuring recycled content and reduced packaging coming up for second and third place.

The majority of consumers see recyclability as the most important factor in choosing sustainable products, and it is consumers that ultimately drive company behavior. L’Occitane en Provence, a prestige beauty company with high-quality skincare, body care, and fragrance, has partnered up with TerraCycle, the global leader in recycling typically non-recyclable waste, to integrate sustainability into the end-of-life of all the products they sell, as well as those of other brands.

Consumers can bring their beauty and skin care products and packaging to participating L’Occitane en Provence retail locations to be diverted from landfills through proper handling. In addition, when customers bring in empties to be recycled, they will receive a 10% discount on any L’Occitane product purchased that same day. Once collected, the beauty and skin care packaging is sorted and separated by material composition. The separated items are then cleaned, shredded and made into new recycled products.

If you don’t have a retail location nearby, another solution is TerraCycle’s Zero Waste Box*, an easy to use product for nearly every waste stream, including personal care and beauty products. Many beauty retailers today are using the program to become drop-off points and offer clients a safe and sustainable solution for their personal care recyclables, and households can easily select the size of box needed, fill and ship the box back to TerraCycle using the pre-paid shipping label once full. For the month of August, the Personal Care and Accessories Zero Waste Box is 20% off with code AUGUSTBOX20.


Another way to solve for the issue with beauty and cosmetics waste is to rethink the materials used in packaging. In light of alarming statistics that there could be more plastics than fish in the ocean (by weight) by 2050, TerraCycle and Suez, the largest waste management company in Europe, helped in creating the world’s first fully recyclable shampoo bottle made from beach plastic for Procter & Gamble’s hair care line Head & Shoulders, the #1 shampoo brand in the world. This is a major step offsetting demand on new resources, a “trend” that other personal care brands will hopefully follow.

Consumers can do their part to by supporting brands dedicated to using recycled content in their packaging, and ensuring its recyclable or reusable. You vote every day for the future you want with the purchases you make. Cleaning up the beauty industry starts with your cleaning up your bathroom cabinet to include only brands doing the work to offset their impacts. This makeover, the one to your consumption, is the key to reducing personal care and beauty waste.

* Save an extra 10% on any Zero Waste Box purchase by using the discount code ECOMARKET at checkout.  

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About the Author

Tom Szaky is founder and CEO of TerraCycle, a global leader in the collection and repurposing of complex waste streams. TerraCycle operates in 21 countries, working with some of the world’s largest brands, retailers and manufacturers to create national platforms to recycle products and packaging that currently go to landfill or incineration. Through TerraCycle, Tom is pioneering new waste management processes to create circular solutions for materials such as cigarette butts, laboratory waste, coffee capsules, personal and oral care waste and even food packaging that otherwise have no path to be recycled. Tom and TerraCycle have received hundreds of social, environmental and business awards and recognition from a range of organizations including the United Nations, World Economic Forum, Schwab Foundation, Fortune Magazine and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.


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