The Frenshe Editors

How to Actually Recycle Your Bottles and Packaging

Just when we really need our recycling system to work, turns out that it’s pretty broken. For example, according to the EPA, less than 9 percent of plastics end up being recycled into new plastic material. And as for glass? Well, it should be easy to recycle, but it often breaks into shards and messes with recycling machines. Only cardboard and aluminum are consistently, easily, and widely recycled. (“Seventy-five percent of all aluminum ever created is still in production today,” notes Alexandra Keating, the founder of new refillable body care line Uni.)

So while “recycle everything!” is great in theory, it isn’t working in practice. But does that mean we should all give up and toss packaging in the trash? No way. Most of us do care about recycling our bottles and containers, and a few small shifts can significantly boost your chances of making that happen. Here’s what to do. 

1. Shop smart

Before you buy an item, consider whether its packaging can be reused or upcycled. Then consider whether it can be recycled. The easiest material to recycle is aluminum, since it can be reborn over and over again. Beyond that, large glass containers and certain plastics—typically those with numbers 1 or 2 in the symbol—have a better chance of being recycled than tiny bottles and other plastics. FYI, single-material packaging, like a shampoo bottle, is easier to recycle than packaging made of multiple materials (such as an eyeshadow compact).  

2. Prep your recyclables

After you’ve used up a product, take a few moments to prep its package for recycling. Whether you’re talking about plastic, glass, or aluminum, packaging should be empty, rinsed, clean, and open. (Pro tip: for plastic tubes such as those that hold body wash or shampoo, snip them at the end to get every last drop out.) Be sure to remove pumps and droppers before recycling, too.

3. Avoid “wishcycling”

We’ve all placed iffy items in the recycling bin, hoping they’ll go on to another life. But those good intentions can inadvertently muck things up in recycling facilities. (For example, plastic bags can jam the sorting machines, and black plastic is too dark for recycling scanners to “see.”) To make sure your items have a high chance of being recycled, check with your municipal waste department to learn what can—and can’t—be recycled. 

4. Pass ’em along

For hard-to-recycle beauty empties, you have options. You can pop into a Nordstrom to drop off clean, empty containers with its Beautycycle program. Likewise, Credo Beauty collects items such as lipstick tubes and plastic compacts; drop yours off and they’ll endeavor to get them recycled (even if your local municipality can’t do it). And check with TerraCycle to see if any of your items can be mailed in for recycling. 

Recycling as we know it just isn’t working the way we need it to. And as sustainability becomes more important to people, more earth-friendly packaging is becoming the norm. In the meantime, it doesn’t take much to increase the chances that your bottles and packages can find a second life—and if anything is worth the effort, this is.

Photo by Jess @ Harper Sunday on Unsplash 

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