I started collecting the empty containers of my beauty/cosmetics/makeup products as a personal experiment. Two years later, and my "small" collection looked like a shelf in a pharmacy. I looked for a program that will recycle the empty containers - and there was none. Is ethical recycling for the rich? Or is it for the ones that care?
I couldn't just throw it all away, knowing that cosmetic containers rarely ever get recycled when dumped in the "regular" recycling bin. So, I did the responsible thing to eliminate my own carbon footprint - and paid for it. Here's what I learned in this experiment.
Why Did I Collect All of the Empty Containers?
I wanted to see all the waste I'm creating in one aspect of my life- with my own eyes. Getting it out of your site one at a time doesn't help you remember how much you throw in a single year.
Collecting all of my products made me accountable to finish every product to its last drop. That's a great personal goal we can have to eliminate waste.
Seeing everything together helped me evaluate my purchases. Not just to see what was a "bad" VS a good product - but I saw how much of what product I use more. I measured how quickly I go through serums VS creams VS sunscreens. This helped with the planning of replenishments.
I evaluated how much money I spend on beauty. To be better aware of my spending.
Is Recycling a Luxury?
Despite recycling being perceived as an honorable act, it is actually the minimum you can do to support sustainability. The order is (1) Reduce, (2) Reuse, (3) Recycle - for a reason. Recycling should be a last effort after exhausting all others. But what if recycling is not even an option?
I looked for a way to recycle my products and couldn't find any free programs. I found TerraCycle, a paid service that collects different recyclables to make sure it gets recycled. But that's expensive.
I don't know many that will pay $100+ to recycle their own products. But I will (I calculate the expense as part of buying cosmetic products with it being 10% of my overall beauty spent).
Throwing your cosmetic products in the recycling bin does not mean they get recycled. In fact, oftentimes, because of the complexity of the containers/packaging - they get thrown into the regular trash anyways. Why? Because there's no money in trash separation, as a business, it doesn't make sense. To make recycling accessible, it has to be government funded, publicly educated, and enforced.
I would like to see more luxury cosmetic brands take responsibility for their efforts in manufacturing. Not only in creating and distributing but also in collecting and recycling. Some brands do (read more under conclusions).
What was the "Damage" I created in Two Years?
I sent out to recycle 120 products
Including makeup, haircare, skincare, perfumes, and medicine.
Some are minis
The empty containers weigh 11 pounds
The items would have been thrown into the landfill otherwise.
I spent $990 of my own money on these products (some were gifts)
An estimated additional $300 was spent on what I'm currently using/have unopen.
In case you were wondering, this is within my budget.
It cost $115 for the small TerraCycle Beauty Products and Packaging - Zero Waste Box™
Make sure you find coupons for 10% off!
What Did I Learn From this Experiment?
I will never again subscribe to the "Beauty Subscription Boxes" (Like Allure, FabFitFun, IPSY, and BoxyCharm). In my opinion, It is not expensive and it is tempting, but I believe that it creates a lot of waste.
Nobody needs that many products on a monthly basis. So, finishing everything before its expiration date is not reasonable.
I got a lot of stuff I didn't want or didn't end up using.
In the future, I am going to prioritize brands that subsidize TerraCycle programs. My favorites are Murad, Bliss, Paula's Choice, and Kate Somerville.
If you always finish every product that you buy to its last drop - it is not wasted. Extra points for recycling!