To Be Recycled or Not To Be Recycled? That Is The Question... – Skin Rocks

To Be Recycled or Not To Be Recycled? That Is The Question...

You’re in the process of finally understanding what your skin needs and what routine works for you - fab! If you’re still working this out, no worries, our recent post 'How to Build a Skincare Routine' will help.

Now, one of your beloved products runs out; what do you do? Bin it? Recycle it? Keep it in an empties drawer for months (guilty)? The world of packaging and recycling products can be just as confusing as picking an actual product for your face in the first place.

Typically, packaging can be split into the following:

Primary - the component your product is in. i.e., a jar, bottle etc 

Secondary - the carton/box your product sits in

Tertiary - the shipping box your product is delivered in and or/ supporting materials such as a leaflet insert.

According to Global Recycling Day, recycling is a key component of the circular economy, setting to save several million tonnes in CO2 emissions, and “projected to increase to 1 billion tons by 2030.”

Of course, there is no guarantee consumers will recycle, even if a product is recyclable. Interestingly, a recent study found that individuals recycle approximately 90% of their kitchen packaging but just 50% of their bathroom beauty products. In response to this, by 2025, many brands will work towards 100% readily recycled or recyclable materials that consumers can rinse out, dry and dispose of at home. Some examples of these materials include glass, paper, cardboard, cork, bamboo, aluminium, steel and mono-plastics (e.g., PP, PET, HDPE, LDPE).

Once you have finished your product, look out for packaging symbols such as the Mobius Loop (the three arrowed triangle), the Mobius Loop with number/letters, and FSC badge. It should be noted that the familiar Green Dot, does not mean a product is made of recycled materials or can be recycled. It indicates that a brand has contributed money towards worldwide recycling which is not necessarily inclusive of their products.

Identifying recycling symbols and waste management processes, however, can differ country to country, city to city. We therefore advise you to check with the individual brands regarding the recyclability of their products, as well as your local recycling providers. 

Where at-home recycling is not possible for certain items like lotion and treatment pumps; there are schemes like Terracycle, Loop, and brand instore incentive schemes, to collect or drop off finished products for recycling. This collective action is great, however, this can be a big upfront cost to a brand just starting out and may not be feasible to initially implement.  

Equally, it is evident there is industry catching up to do regarding componentry compositions. The mixture of materials and mechanisms of such pumps are not widely recycled and whilst eco pumps that are 100 per cent recyclable are currently available, there is still functional development to be done for all types of formula textures and therefore may not be the appropriate solution to all brands at this time.

Other aspects of the circular economy to protect the environment include Reducing, Reusing and Repeating. The UK Plastics Pact and upcoming plastic tax has encouraged brands to use more post-consumer recycled plastics-PCR- in their packaging in efforts to reduce plastic waste. A progressive move but not one without its challenges. With increasing demand for PCR, there is potential for a decline in quality supply. Thus, leaving brands to possibly compromise on their brand packaging identity, look and feel. 

Refills are becoming a more popular choice, where customer's can refill a product on site at selected stores or order a refill cartridge online straight to their home. Such concepts are being championed by many brands and schemes like Return, Refill, Repeat. With the aim being to lessen the use of more materials or reduce carbon emissions by shipping lighter refill components with the product juice, as opposed to the entire full product unit. Finally, repurposing your empty packaging container for a different use can be an alternative solution to tackling packaging waste. Let your creativity run wild!

In the UK, a survey found that only 9 per cent of beauty packaging currently ends up being recycled with the rest sadly going to landfill. Our top tips to help ensure your beauty skincare products get recycled are:

  • Have a recycling bin/bag in or near your bathroom (wherever your beauty products are)
  • Check the symbols on your product(s) and product carton(s)
  • Check brand details and local area details regarding recycling
  • Rinse out and dry the empty product
  • Dispose of washed and dried empty product(s) and component(s) in correct bag/bin to your local area and/or individual brand recycling scheme.

Recycling and the circular economy are being tackled at localised and global scales. Slowly these processes are being integrated and companies are focusing on educating their audiences regarding recycling best practice. Through legislatively led and brand led policies the beauty industry is determined to ensure less packaging ends up in landfill. There are various sides of the sustainability debate with no one clear-cut answer, but brands and the wider supply chains are working to navigate a climate crisis, brand missions and consumer needs, without impacting their formulas and brand identity.

In an ever-growing environmentally conscious world, beauty brands are fusing the spaces of self-care and community care. Collectively and individually, brands, consumers, waste management companies, global governments and initiatives are increasingly aware of our stake in the world’s health, helping the ecosystem of skincare become more sustainable.