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How To Recycle Empty Beauty Products, According To R29 Editors

Have you ever finished a beauty product — scraped the very last glob of cream out of your moisturizer with your pinky finger — and thought: Now how am I suppose to recycle this? Oh, have we been there. In the past few months, our Refinery29 Beauty team has been thinking about how we, as editors, can work to be more sustainable, which is a unique challenge given that large part of our job is testing out beauty products to tell you about the ones we love.
It's confusing, because many beauty products are too small to be effectively recycled in traditional recycling facilities. Then there's the challenge of separating the component parts into what can feasibly be recycled and what can't. (For example, pump bottles are a mix of metal and plastic, and the metal part can't be recycled.) Luckily, beauty brands are starting to think about ways to make recycling more user friendly, offering all-glass packaging or a send-back program where they'll recycle your empty product for you. Additionally, we're seeing more drop-off programs, like Nordstrom BeautyCycle, where you can drop off any of your empty products at your local Nordstrom store for proper recycling.
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To make our own recycling dilemmas a bit more relatable and more personal, we're giving you a guide to how we're recycling our empty products, from face wash and eye cream to lipstick and conditioner. We pulled together some of the beauty products we've recently emptied, with a quick review of why we liked (or maybe, didn't like) it, plus a breakdown of how each particular type of packaging should be recycled. So, even if you don't have the exact same niacinamide serum Karina calls her "most repurchased skin-care product of all time" (high praise), you can use this guide to glean some guidance on how to recycle — or even better, repurpose — your own glass serum bottle when you're good and empty. Read ahead to find out how.
How Good Was It? "This is my go-to makeup remover and it's lasted me close to a year — a little really does go a long way. I love it because it makes the process of taking off my makeup a lot easier. I don't like the fuss of makeup wipes, and I find micellar water a little too runny, so this cleansing oil serves as the perfect in-between. I like to use it in the shower — mainly to spare my bathroom vanity of the mess that taking off a full face is — and it effortlessly melts away my makeup and limits how much I have to scrub my face, which allows me to be gentler with my skin. I'm pretty much done with this bottle and will definitely be replacing it with another." -Nadia Ebrahim, Assistant Editor of R29 Style
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How To Recycle: According to Biossance, you should rinse any remaining oil from the bottle. Then, discard the pump and tube — which can't be recycled because they're made of mixed materials — then place the empty bottle in your curbside recycling bin. (The label is biodegradable, so you don't have to peel it off.)
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How Good Was It? "For beauty editors, the highest stamp of approval for a product is repeat use; and The Ordinary’s Niacinamide & Zinc serum is probably my most-repurchased skin-care product of all time. Not only does it work wonders to keep breakouts and excess oil at bay, but the price is so, so right. The perfect serum most certainly does exist.” -Karina Hoshikawa, Beauty & Wellness Writer
How To Recycle: The Ordinary's parent company, Deciem, has created a website with Packaging Disposal Guidelines, detailed instructions on how every kind of beauty product should be disposed of or recycled — it's a super-helpful resource, especially if you frequently shop The Ordinary. For this serum, the recommended guidance is: Bring your empty tincture to the closest Deciem location to be recycled via the company's in-store recycling program.
Another option that The Ordinary loves to highlight: Repurpose the glass dropper. "We love to recommend repurposing glass jars with a dropper," explains Deciem's Sustainability and Social Impact Director Jackie Kankam. "There's an entire subculture of people who reuse and re-purpose their Ordinary products. One of our internal employees sterilizes the bottle and actually uses it to make vanilla in the kitchen. With beauty products, I think the best advice I can give is to find an at-home reuse option."
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How Good Was It? "I bought this self-tanning serum and stopped wearing foundation or tinted moisturizer; it's that good. I mix a few drops into my moisturizer, morning and night, and it makes my skin glowy and a teeny bit bronzed. The best part: Unlike other self-tan drops, this one has never made me break out. I recommend it over and over and I'm about to start a new bottle." -Megan Decker, Beauty Editor
How To Recycle: Because of the mixed materials in the pipette packaging, the dropper has to be separated from the glass. The dropper should be discarded, then the bottle can be rinsed and recycled with glass recycling.
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How Good Was It? "Though some experts I’ve interviewed say that a dedicated hyaluronic-acid serum isn't particularly necessary — lots of moisturizers contain the ingredient anyway — I was convinced to give this serum go. I’d heard great things about it and I can safely say that the added hydration surge has hugely improved the appearance of my dehydration lines, especially underneath my eyes. This serum is on the expensive side, though, so I wouldn’t be so quick to purchase. Instead, I’m going to move on to the Alpha-H Hyaluronic 8." -Jacqueline Kilikita, Senior Beauty Editor
How To Recycle: Again, this pipette is made up of multiple materials therefore, unless separated, cannot be recycled. The glass bottle is recyclable, but the dropper must be removed and discarded.
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How Good Was It? "I bought this serum 'booster' mid-quarantine, and I loved that it was low-commitment. You know how some relationships start as a non-thing and become a marriage? This is booster is now my Vacation Boyfriend. It's perfect for travel and good enough to repurchase multiple times. It hasn't made its way into my permanent arsenal, but if I am ever in a pinch again, this is a must-have."
-Amanda Mitchell, Senior Beauty Writer
How To Recycle: Versed offers a ship-back recycling program. Rinse out any residue (you can cut a small slit, if that helps). Place empties aside until you have at least three Versed products ready to recycle. Email hello@versedskin.com with the subject 'Recycle Responsibly' and the brand will send you a prepaid FedEx shipping label to mail the plastic empties back for proper recycling. (As a Climate Neutral Certified brand, Versed offsets all emissions associated with shipping.)
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How Good Was It? "I have lost count of the number of these oils I've gone through. It's a forever repurchase, especially because it's so luxurious." -Amanda Mitchell, Senior Beauty Writer
How To Recycle: Recycle any Mara products with a dropper by first separating the bottle and dropper. Then, gently press the silicone bulb through the aluminum cap using a slight amount of pressure and a light twist. Then, carefully pull apart the glass pipette from the silicone bulb. The bulb goes in the trash and everything else — bottle, pipette, and aluminum cap— can be recycled. If you're more visual, there's a video.
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How Good Was It? "I love this eye cream. Summer Fridays founder Marianna Hewitt has a really-convincing Reel in her Highlights where she shows how the eye cream reflects the light and makes the skin under the eye look fresh and even. My only qualm is that I emptied this jar too fast." -Megan Decker, Beauty Editor
How To Recycle: The guidance to how-to recycle is right on the Summer Fridays website (which, we love). It's simple: Remove the cap from the glass jar and discard the cap. Wash out the glass and recycle the glass jar — or repurpose it.
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How Good Was It? "I was looking for an easy, lightweight moisturizer, and this one did its job. It's a gel-cream that feels cooling on the skin. For its weight, this is super hydrating, with both hyaluronic and polyglutamic acid in the formula. My dry skin drank it up." -Megan Decker, Beauty Editor
How To Recycle: Glow Recipe's refillable moisturizer comes in a weighted glass jar with a refill pod of moisturizer encapsulated inside. Once you run out of moisturizer, just pop the pod out of the glass, rinse it out, and place it in the recycling bin. Reorder another refill pod and lock it into the same glass jar. Or, if you don't want to make a refill, the jar is 100% recyclable as well.
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How Good Was It? "I love the idea of tinted lip balms, but I have found that in my never-ending search for the perfect one, I end up having to settle for long-lasting color or hydrating benefits — it's rare to find a formula that can do both. This product is my dream product come to life. I love this formula and all of the shades it comes in, so I go through them quickly, which is saying a lot for a lip product!" -Sara Tan, Beauty Director
How To Recycle: Empty makeup products, like lipsticks, are tough to recycle in general recycling facilities because they can fall through the sorting apparatuses and end up in landfills. To get around this problem, Ilia will send you a prepaid shipping label with instructions on how to clean your empty components — remove all remaining product and labels — and then mail them to PACT Collective facilities for proper sorting.
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How Good Was It? "It took me years to finish my Living Luminizer balm highlighter, which probably means I should've thrown it out prior to now for sanitary reasons, but I couldn't part with it. I love the natural, dewy glow it gives my cheekbones, nose, and sometimes my eyelids — just when I'm feeling extra. Also, it's small and fits into all my makeup bags, which makes it perfect for travel. 10/10 would recommend." -Megan Decker, Beauty Editor
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How To Recycle: Clean the glass jar and toss it into the curbside bin (or repurpose). The hard-metal 'rms' lid can be sent to PACT for recycling.
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How Good Was It?  "A few months ago, I got subtle brunette highlights, courtesy of Mai at Bumble and Bumble Salon. While I still like to see her for touchups every few months, I’m stretching out salon appointments as much as possible with the help of this Redken duo. The blue tint helps neutralize any copper, brassy undertones in my hair, keeping my brighter pieces looking their best." -Karina Hoshikawa, Beauty & Wellness Writer
How To Recycle: ​​The large Redken Brownlights shampoo and conditioner bottles (size 300 ml and 500 ml) are recyclable, excluding the caps. The caps should be removed and discarded and the bottles should be rinsed and recycled.
At Refinery29, we’re here to help you navigate this overwhelming world of stuff. All of our market picks are independently selected and curated by the editorial team. If you buy something we link to on our site, Refinery29 may earn commission.

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