Tossing beauty empties may be more harmful to the planet than you think. The global cosmetics industry produces 120 billion units of packaging each year. When lip balm tubes, mascara wands, and eye shadow palettes get thrown in the garbage can, they add to massive piles of plastics in landfills, never fully breaking down, and wish-cycling, or placing in the blue bin something you think *ought* to be recyclable, has its own impacts. 

Garnier, one of the biggest personal care and beauty brands in the world, is working with us at TerraCycle® to educate more people about the recycling process and inspire action to keep more beauty and personal care out of landfills. So next time you use up the last few drops of your favorite beauty products, don’t just throw them away! 

Instead, use this step-by-step plan to determine if your empties can be placed in your recycling bin or recycled through TerraCycle. 

Research your local recycling regulations.

You may have noticed recycling programs vary state to state, even town to town, which can get a little confusing when you’re trying to do the right thing. So, one of the first and most important steps for recycling beauty and personal care correctly is confirming what your region accepts.

Different materials get recycled differently in every state, and each municipality has its own recycling requirements that dictate what can and cannot be placed in a curbside bin. This has a lot to do with economics, but you can look up your town or city’s policies on accepted waste on their official website or via the easy-to-use recycling database offered by

Wish-cycling, also known as aspirational recycling, causes problems at recycling centers. Best case, these items are sorted out and thrown away, but more often they simply contaminate good batches of recyclables and make them unusable, so adhering to your local recycling guidelines ensures your beauty empties don’t turn into an ugly mess!

Empty out any excess product.

While items don’t need to be squeaky clean, whether you are recycling an item through your local curbside program or sending it to TerraCycle through one of our programs, it is important to clean out and remove leftover product. Lingering residue on an item may contaminate all the other items it comes into contact with, making them all unable to be recycled.

Be sure to throw away any residual product in the garbage instead of washing it down the sink. When product is emptied into the sink, there is a potential for harmful chemicals and ingredients like microbeads or non-biodegradable ingredients to make their way into waterways and contribute to the marine plastic pollution crisis.

Sort your empties.

Now for the fun part! It’s time to separate your TerraCycle-bound items from the items you can place in your recycling bin. 

To make the process as smooth as possible, here are some simple tips to help you determine the proper recycling solution for your empties. 

Curbside Recyclable

When it comes to recycling, it’s best to recycle locally whenever possible to minimize shipping costs and reduce your environmental footprint. Once you know what types of plastics are accepted by your municipality, you will need to examine each of your empties for the Resin Identification Code (RIC) at the bottom of the container: a triangle made of arrows containing numbers 1 through 7. 

The RIC designates different types of plastics and will help you determine if your item can be recycled curbside. These are NOT “recycling numbers,” of which there are no such thing, and they do not equal recyclability.

Most municipal recyclers accept items labeled #1 or #2 including white or clear (white or clear are the easiest to recycle, because they can be turned into any color or kept clear or white) bottles or jars, aluminum containers, and clear glass with no attachments or added plastic. Basically, the simpler a beauty package is, the more likely it is to be widely recycled.

Caps, spouts, trigger head sprays, and other complex pieces or components are largely considered non-recyclable and will need to be removed (and set aside to send to TerraCycle!). 

Recyclable through TerraCycle 

As a rule of thumb, here are some beauty product and packaging items that are never municipally recyclable:

  • Applicators: From mascara wands to lip gloss applicators, applicators are tricky to recycle because they are composed of so many small parts—the nylon bristles or a foam tip, the stick, and the handle. Each part is made from a different kind of plastic and would need to be separated and sorted to be properly recycled.
  • Magnets & Mirrors: While these little add-ons are meant to make your favorite makeup palette or compact easier to use, they also make palettes and compacts that much harder to recycle. 
  • Pump Tops: There are currently no pumps on the market that are recyclable curbside. In most pumps, there are different plastic materials and metal springs that cannot be separated by a consumer or processed at most municipal recycling centers.

Many forms of beauty products and packaging contain complex materials that local recycling centers are unable to separate or process. TerraCycle offers effective recycling solutions to keep all of these items out of landfills

All types of skin care, hair care and cosmetic packaging from shampoo and conditioner caps, to concealer tubes and lipstick cases are accepted through one of our innovative recycling solutions, including all types of colored plastic and small, complex items such as cream pots, single-use masks, disposable razors, hair product containers, and more.

When these items are sent to TerraCycle, they will be shredded, cleaned, and sorted by plastic type. The plastic shreds will then be melted and formed into small plastic pellets that can then be molded into a variety of new plastic products like plastic lumber, decking, and playground equipment.


Recycling is a thing of beauty, and if we commit to recycling the beauty and personal care items we can municipally and correctly send the rest to TerraCycle, we can keep the environment clean and clear for generations to come.

What are your most commonly used beauty products, and do you recycle them? Tell us in the comments!

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