Most plastic packaging items (bottles, toothpaste tubes, cosmetics empties) are not municipally recyclable. Image by gwdexter on Flickr.

Repeat After Us: Not All Plastics Are Municipally Recyclable (Especially the Ones in the Bathroom)

Most of us are familiar with recycling as a way to prevent litter and save resources. We look for the blue bin in public, many of us have curbside recycling pickup, and some have access to drop-off points provided by a municipality or local retailer. But as the world is waking up to the fact that most of our public recycling is not recycled, confusion abounds.

To place in the bin, or not to place in the bin? That is the question. Image by Gary Chan on Unsplash

The focus on recycling has largely been on items generated in the kitchen or related to food and beverage (think aluminum cans, glass bottles), but the bathroom in particular is filled with products and packaging that are not municipally recyclable. All that plastic can be recycled, right? Not always, and infrequently.

Plastic personal care containers host a range of resin identification codes (not “recycling numbers,” as many believe) that indicate what type of plastic a container is made of. Because local programs accept different types of plastic, what’s recyclable in one town may not be in the next. This can be very confusing to consumers who want to do the right thing.

These are resin identification numbers (not “recycling numbers,” as many believe), and not all containers with these numbers can be recycled.

But the fact is very few items generated in the bathroom, many entirely made up of plastic, fall into the curbside recyclable category. The small sizes of the caps, pots, wands, trays of makeup and tubes of skin care fall through the cracks at recycling facilities. In addition, multi-compositional packages (i.e. metal spring in a plastic pump top, tube made of layers of plastic and foil) require separating and processing that your municipal recycler does not have the capability to handle.

Plus, nearly every color of plastic that isn’t clear or white (most beauty packages) is considered non-recyclable, because colors cannot be turned into any other color, which makes them undesirable in the market for raw material. With the high collection and processing costs for most personal care and cosmetics, landfilling and incineration are considered the easiest, least costly options.

Of course, this is at the expense of the environment, and the demand for accessible recycling options for cosmetic and beauty care products is recognized around the globe. Paula’s Choice, a premium beauty brand, is one of the latest companies to team up with TerraCycle to create a national recycling program to fill the gaps in the current system.

We’ve partnered on a free recycling program for all Paula’s Choice Skincare packaging. Image via TerraCycle.

Those familiar with TerraCycle know we believe everything is technically recyclable, having proven items such as cigarettes, chewing gum, and even dirty diapers can be repurposed into material for new products. The technology is there. But by sponsoring a national solution, beauty brands working with us also support an end-market for the material, ensuring the beauty and cosmetics empties are cycled around and turned into something new.

Not all plastics are considered recyclable, but personal care and cosmetics products are updating their offerings to address our desires to recycle more and reduce our impacts. By choosing brands committed to this ethos, you support companies and manufacturers stepping up to change, drive a shift away from the “business as usual” of non-recyclability, and create a more beautiful beauty industry overall.

Founder and CEO of TerraCycle and Loop, encouraging all to eliminate the idea of waste. #circulareconomy

Founder and CEO of TerraCycle and Loop, encouraging all to eliminate the idea of waste. #circulareconomy