How to properly recycle your beauty products and electronic tools in Australia

From refillable products, zero-waste packaging and ocean waste plastics, to what you can and can’t actually recycle, Kelsey Ferencak and TerraCycle’s Jean Bailliard explain how to properly dispose of your #empties.

As we become more sustainably savvy and environmentally educated, we’re also becoming more aware that what we can and can’t recycle is trickier than we originally thought. Especially when it comes to our favourite beauty products and personal care.

Although big brands are focusing on switching to environmentally respectful methods of not only what’s inside the packaging, but the packaging itself and how it got there, (fashion is taking a huge step in sustainability too, FYI) it’s still up to us to make informed decisions when it comes to both buying and throwing away goods.

So, instead of just throwing your empty products straight in the bin, recycling them properly with beauty-specific programs like TerraCycle is the best way to go. Jean Bailliard General Manager of TerraCycle Australia and New Zealand explains how.

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Why can’t all beauty products be recycled?

“Because beauty products aren’t made equally – some come in recyclable packaging while others don’t, it makes it harder than just throwing them all in the same bin. We have to look at what makes something recyclable. Why is a shampoo bottle recyclable, while a lipstick container isn’t? The reason is purely economical. It costs more to recycle certain items (often complex smaller and made up of more than one material), than the recycled material of that item is worth.

This is where TerraCycle steps in. They’re able to recycle the items and products that your regular kerbside bin can’t take. Our brand partners (including innisfree, Kiehl’s, Jurlique, L’Occitane, The Body Shop, Burt’s Bees, Edible Beauty and Colgate) sponsor the programs and thereby fill the economic gap in the system pay for the recycling of their products. This type of approach is called product stewardship; where brands take responsibility for the end use of their products and packaging.”


How do we know what we can and can’t recycle?

“Each state and region differ in regards to what council collection schemes will accept. A handy way to tell is to look underneath a plastic item and look for the chasing arrow symbol. If it contains the number 1,2 or 5 then it will most likely be kerbside recyclable. But again, this differs across the country. For the most accurate information it would pay well to do some research into the recycling system in your area. For example, the City of Sydney provide many resources on what can and can’t go in your recycling bin.”

For cardboard boxes, bottles, caps, plastics and glass visit the Australasian Recycling Label to find out exactly where packaging can be thrown out – whether it be into your normal kerbside recycling bin, taken into a store or into general waste.

For hairdryers, straighteners and electrical tools if your item still works and can go to charity, pass it on, if not you can check out Recycling Near You to find where you can drop off your e-waste items.

For smaller items like makeup including mascara, palettes and brushes it’s best to do a quick check first. Mascara and foundation bottles can often be rinsed and recycled without the pump or wand, while some palettes and brushes may need to go in general waste.

What can we do to help?

Where possible, look to packaging materials that are easy to recycle, such as glass. Or, make the switch to zero-waste packaging. 2020 is the year of the bar with more and more brands choosing to create or reformulate eco-friendly no waste shampoos, body wash, cleansers, moisturisers, scrubs, serums, bath salts and even laundry and stain removers. Try Bar None Shampoo Bar ($16, at Woolworths) and Ethique The Perfector Face Moisturiser ($44.95, at Nourished Life). There’s also the option of refillable products. Brands like L’Occitane offering eco-refill products, which required 65-90% less plastic. L’Occitane Shea Verbena Shower Gel Eco-Refill ($45, at L’Occitane).

What does the future of recycling and beauty packaging look like?

“The future is green. With more and more brands realising that not only do consumers want to use more planet-friendly products, but that they have the power to change the industry for the better, I think we will see more examples of product stewardship and innovation moving forward. In the near future in Australia we will actually be able to buy our favourite beauty products in durable, reusable and refillable containers through our new platform, Loop.

Launched in Paris and New York early last year, Loop has signed up big name brands such as REN, Pantene and Gillette to offer their products on this online service. In Australia by mid-2021, customers will be able to purchase Loop products at participating Woolworths stores which, when returned, will be cleaned and refilled, thereby eliminating single-use, disposable packaging. As an unintended consequence of using Loop, you wouldn’t have to know what can and can’t be recycled because Loop will be a zero-waste system, turning off the ‘tap’ of waste at the source.”

Blue beauty

In an industry that undeniably has a plastic problem, with a lot contributing to the eight million tonnes dumped in our oceans every year, there’s a movement in place to deal with the damage. Although not necessarily new, many are thinking the coronavirus pandemic and it’s impact on the environment has refuelled the crusades fire.

Founded by Jeannie Jarnot, blue beauty focuses on wider issues (inclusive of those that the green beauty movement does – cleaner formulations, sustainability and recycling), but spotlights being ocean safe by encouraging brands to adopt to better packaging choices and consider the full life cycle of a product (including what’s inside the plastic), while contributing to environmental philanthropy. Australian haircare brand Kevin Murphy is the first beauty brand to use packaging made with 100% reclaimed ocean waste plastic, saving around 360 tons of plastic from hitting the ocean every year.

Try: Kevin Murphy Smooth.Again.Wash ($40.95, at Adore Beauty).