How to Recycle Cosmetics & Makeup

Cleaning out your makeup drawer to make room for organic lipsticks and eco-friendly eye shadows?

By Maryruth Belsey-Priebe

Fact checked by Sander Tamm

Recycling Cosmetics & Makeup
Recycling Cosmetics & Makeup / Sander Tamm / Ecolife

If you’re cleaning out your makeup drawer to make room for only organic lipsticks and eco-friendly eye shadows, you may find yourself in need of some cosmetic recycling solutions for disposing of your old makeup. While it can be a challenge to recycle makeup and the containers it comes in, it just got easier with our guide to recycling cosmetics.

Preventing cosmetic toxins and waste from entering the environment

Why is it important to recycle your makeup packaging and leftover cosmetic products? Here are some good eco-reasons for eco-friendly disposal methods:

  • Volume of garbage: The average American woman uses 12 beauty products every day, and with more than 160 million women, that’s a lot of packaging waste.
  • Toxic pollution: Disposal of consumer products, including things like medicines, personal care products, and makeup, is now the primary cause for contamination of fresh and ocean waters in industrialized nations, especially since water treatment plants are unable to break down the majority of the toxins that we put into them.

There are many types of packaging used to wrap up our cosmetics and makeup, including the following:

  • Cardboard and paper boxes
  • Disposables like puffs, sponges, spatulas, tweezers, curlers, sharpeners, and swabs
  • Fabric makeup cases
  • Glass and mirror
  • Metal
  • Plastic of various numbers
  • Ribbon
  • Shopping bags

Some commonly used cosmetic packages, like cardboard boxes, can be easily recycled with other packaging materials, though many makeup containers are made from less common recyclable plastics (plastics #1 and #2 are the easiest to recycle). Unfortunately, due to the fact that many types of plastics aren’t labeled with a resin number, community recycling programs will often refuse things like cosmetic compacts and lipstick cases.

Reducing your cosmetic packaging waste

As always, the simplest way to lower your cosmetic packaging waste impact is to choose better packaging before you bring your makeup home from the drug store or the makeup shop. Look for these eco-friendly packaging characteristics to make more sustainable cosmetic choices:

  • Biodegradable
  • Recyclable (with a plastic resin number stamped on the package)
  • Recycled (made with post-consumer recycled plastic or cardboard)
  • No extra wrapping (like ribbon, cardboard, and film plastic)
  • No shopping bags (take your own reusable shopping bag!)
  • Buy only what you need (don’t stock up on cosmetics you can’t consume before they expire)
  • Choose refillable makeup containers that you can add different colors to as your style changes
  • Take care of your brushes and makeup applicators by cleaning them so that they last a long time

Expiration of cosmetics and makeup products

When your color preferences change or your lifestyle dictates a new makeup style, you’ll need to find a way to recycle unused cosmetics. And of course, all makeup has a shelf life, so there comes a time when you’ll need to recycle your cosmetics (especially the organic ones that are often made with fewer preservatives) whether you’re done with them or not. The shelf life of common makeup products is as follows:

  • Liquid eyeliner and mascara: 3-6 months
  • Concealer, cream eye shadow and blush, cream foundation: 12-18 months
  • Lip gloss: 12-18 months
  • Blush, bronzer, (dry) eyeliner, lip liner, lipstick, and powdered eye shadow and foundation: 12-18 months

Remember that a bad odor indicates spoiled makeup, regardless of the suggested expiry date!

So when your style changes or your makeup expires, here’s how you should get rid of leftover product:

  • Donations: When you’ve got an unopened package of makeup that has yet to expire, consider donating it to the local women’s shelter or career center so that other women can make use of it.
  • Proper disposal: If you can’t find a way to reuse your old makeup, carefully remove it all from the containers (see below for recycling container methods) and put it all in a sealed jar or packaging that you can then send to the landfill.

How to recycle cosmetics and makeup containers and cases

The containers that cosmetics are carried around in can be equally difficult to recycle, but here are some tips to make your makeup recycling job easier:

  • Make ‘em clean: Just as with any other type of recycling, your cosmetic containers should be completely clean and free of all product (see notes above as to what to do with leftover product). As a result, you should rinse out, scoop out, and otherwise remove all product from your containers before sending them for recycling.
  • Reuse containers: If you’re clever, you may be able to turn old cosmetics containers into new things, like tiny pill containers for traveling, cases for carrying pins or jewelry on road trips, and things like that. You may also want to experiment with making your own makeup and storing it in your old containers.
  • Recycle curbside or at local centers: If you can’t reuse your old containers, send them for recycling with your other plastics, metals, glass, and so on, being sure that they will be accepted by your local recycling facility first. Things like lipstick tubes and eye shadow containers are often made of plastic #5, which is sometimes recyclable. Even aerosol containers are recyclable, so don’t throw those away!
  • Retail drop-off programs: Some makeup retailers will accept used cosmetics containers and recycle them for you, so ask around to see if there’s an eco-friendly cosmetics company at your local shopping center.
  • Mail-in programs: Some cosmetic companies now offer mail-in programs for recycling cosmetic packaging, which is a great option for those without adequate curbside or drop-off recycling facilities.