Recycle More: What You Can And Can’t

We’re used to recycling kitchen waste – great job on properly disposing of that milk carton – but when it comes to beauty product packaging, things aren’t as straightforward.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

Some 120 billion. That’s the number of units of packaging produced yearly by the global cosmetics industry – according to Zero Waste Week, an annual waste awareness campaign held in Britain every September for landfill reduction. As for the cardboard packaging that you discard after extracting a new beauty buy? They say that’s a loss of 18 million acres of forest each year.

These are big, unfathomable numbers. They are also numbers that anyone who has ever bought a moisturiser, shampoo or lipstick has contributed to. And the answer to combating unnecessary waste doesn’t lie in just recycling. It lies in informed recycling.

Cecile Gauthier, co- founder of Lime Agency (a Singapore marketing and design agency that specialises in helping its clients promote their green initiatives), knows a fair bit about this. First, clean out, wash and dry anything meant for the recycling bin. More tips here:



Anything that’s multimaterial – containing metal, plastic, a mirror and so on in a single item – has to go into the bin, unless the packaging clearly specifies that it can be recycled. This is because the materials have layers or coatings on them that make them impossible to recycle. Mirrors in compacts, for example, have a reflective coating painted on the back of the glass – and the mixed-glass material can’t be combined with “virgin” glass for recycling. Magnets, too, can’t be recycled.

Pumps and droppers

These are also multimaterial items, with metal springs and different plastics. Unless you actually painstakingly take the pump apart section by section, it’s going into the bin. The bottle, however, can be recycled if it’s made from a single piece, and if that piece is made from the same plastic/glass base throughout.

Makeup wipes

Unless the packaging states they’re biodegradable, they’re virtually indestructible. Bin them.


Plastic tubes and containers

By tubes, Gauthier means those that return to their original shape after squeezing. Separate tube from cap, then recycle both. With plastic containers such as those for shampoo and facial cleansers, remove and discard any pumps first.

Glass containers

Recycle only clear, brown or green glass. Bin any multi-material components first.

Lipstick cases

Leave the caps on bullet casings so they don’t fall through the cracks when sorted by the recycling machines. For liquid lipsticks (and concealers), only the tube can be recycled – bin the multimaterial applicator.

Dry shampoo and hairspray canisters

Most canisters are made of steel and aluminium, which are recyclable. Press the nozzle to ensure they are totally empty before recycling. – CT