Up to your eyeballs in empty lotion and potion containers? These beauty behemoths will take them off your hands – regardless of brand.
Anyone who engages with Big Beauty will know that your aging, sagging, mottled face is not the only thing the industry will make you feel terrible about. When it comes time to dispose of your lotions, your potions, your snake oils and your snail mucins, consumers are forced to shut their eyes and say a prayer to Dr Dennis Gross as they chuck their empties straight in the bathroom bin. Where it goes after that remains unclear, like La Mer pricing or the purpose of this thing.
The sheer scale of beauty waste is enough to furrow even the most Botoxed of brows. Given that the beauty industry is worth $532 billion globally, it is perhaps no surprise that it is also responsible for producing over 120 billion units of packaging every year. International studies have found that over 91% of plastic beauty products go to landfill, where they will sit for 450 years. And that’s even before we get to makeup wipes blocking sewers, microbeads turning fish toxic and the fact that about 80% of all beauty products purchased aren’t even actively used.
Not good! And not much better here! Alex Kirkham, Auckland Council senior specialist in waste planning, says that while they don’t have data on the volume of beauty-related waste generated in Aotearoa’s biggest city, they do know where it all ends up: landfill. “They often don’t get picked out as they make their way through the recycling plant,” she says. “This is because these sorts of containers are often small, still contain some contents or are made of mixed plastics or plastics that are not accepted in kerbside [recycling].”
So what to do with our all our empty bottles and tortured souls? Well, Kirkham suggests holding onto them all and doing occasional drop-offs at participating TerraCycle beauty stores. In Aotearoa, two of our biggest beauty behemoths – Mecca and Sephora – are part of this recycling scheme that sends empties to a processing centre in Australia (also home to all our old vapes). Once there, they are cleaned, separated and recycled into materials that manufacturers then use to make outdoor furniture, watering cans, playground equipment and more.
What you may not know is that both Mecca and Sephora will even accept empty beauty packaging from brands they don’t sell, which is great news for Chemist Warehouse tragics. Simply visit any store, plonk them in the bin and, if you are a Sephora customer, get points for your hard work. What they don’t want are aerosols, perfumes, nail polish, wipes and cloths, wooden pencils and electronics, so maybe leave that broken vibrator/face tool hybrid at home.
Kirkham acknowledges that the responsibility should not just fall on us as consumers to Be Better. She says the cosmetic producers need to take responsibility for what they made, referencing local brands such as Emma Lewisham and Aleph that have packaging that can be returned, refilled, and recycled. Others, like AoteaRoad and Ethique, have done away with plastic altogether. “Brands need to engage in better upfront design of product packaging so that recyclability is considered at the outset,” she says.
Of course, we could also just scrap mainstream beauty standards altogether – but something tells me neither Mecca nor Sephora has a special bin for that yet.