The “beauty” in keeping beauty care packaging out of landfills

By Tom Szaky in Sustainable Packaging on April 23, 2014

Makeup and beauty products might bring out your eyes or add some style to your hair, but the only addition to the environment is more packaging waste. And considering the top 100 personal care, beauty and cosmetic product companies sold an astonishing $195 billion worth of products in 2011(http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/09/loreal-beauty-industry-2833-bil...), it’s no small addition either. A substantial chunk of those products find their way into salons around the country, making product manufacturers and hair and nail salons some of biggest generators of beauty waste in the world. Many salons do what they can when it comes to recycling: they collect conventional recyclables like cardboard, #1 and #2 plastics, and glass bottles. But everything else from pumps and trigger heads, to cosmetic packaging and product tubes, ends up in a landfill. The worst part is that even if some of these items were put into the recycling bin, they are likely not accepted by municipal recycling programs.

This is where modern recycling companies like TerraCycle and Preserve come in, making it possible for salons and manufacturers to not only reduce the amount of product packaging waste that they generate, but to actually move closer towards “zero waste” altogether.  Through a partnership with Garnier, TerraCycle has developed an effective collection and recycling system for any kind of hair care, skin care or cosmetic product packaging—regardless of brand or type—through the Personal Care and Beauty Brigade program. For no cost, salon owners, manufacturers, and any other interested individuals or groups can collect their waste, download a prepaid shipping label, and then send it all to TerraCycle. As an extra incentive to collect, participants also earn points for each unit of waste sent in, which can go toward charity gifts or cash donations to a favorite school or non-profit. 

Since 2011, 2.8 million pieces of beauty waste were collected through the Brigade. But what happens to all of the personal care waste once it’s been collected? Some might be turned into cool “upcycled” eco-friendly products, or maybe bulk plastic pellets for manufacturing, or even recycled plastic lumber. Garnier and TerraCycle are actually even building a community garden made out of this recycled beauty waste plastic lumber in an urban area somewhere in the country. Where the 2014 Garnier Green Garden will be built is up to a public vote.

Other TerraCycle partners have beauty waste collection models that work for them. Cosmetics producer Kiehl’s, for example, has a “Recycle and be Rewarded” program for customers who bring in old Kiehl’s product packages into their stores, getting free products in return. All the old packaging is sent to TerraCycle where it will be recycled. To date, efforts to reduce waste caused by their products have resulted in 1.3 million Kiehl’s bottles being recycled since 2009.

For those who want to go a step further, TerraCycle’s new Zero Waste Box program makes the mythical “zero waste” goal more achievable than ever. These boxes allow salons, manufacturers, and any other interested participants to send 100% of their own waste to TerraCycle. Everything from plastic wrappers from product deliveries, foil hair coloring tubes, to even hair trimmings can be collected and sent to TerraCycle. Anyone interested in going towards zero waste will be able to purchase a variety of collection boxes, from highly separated single-stream boxes for things like beauty products, to no-separation boxes for any and all waste. After collection, it’s as simple as sending the full box back to TerraCycle.

The ultimate goal is to prevent beauty waste from entering into a landfill or from being incinerated and having toxic gases billowing in the atmosphere, and these programs are realistic solutions to make that possible. Besides, if we are willing to buy products to make ourselves beautiful, we should be willing to return the favor by keeping the environment beautiful.

Author Tom Szaky, founder/CEO of TerraCycle, has won more than 50 awards for entrepreneurship, also writes blogs for Treehugger and The New York Times, recently published a book called "Revolution in a Bottle" and is the star of a National Geographic Channel special, "Garbage Moguls."

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