This may sound like a familiar scene: You’ve reached the final pump of a beloved serum or the last inky swipe from a mascara tube, and before you go to chuck the vessel, you take a look and wonder, “Can I recycle this?” For many beauty products, the answer is often an unhelpfully murky “sort of.” Aside from the dismaying realities about recycling that have come to light in recent years, there are conundrums of which plastics are commonly recyclable in a curbside bin, how the various components should be disassembled, and whether hidden pumps are a disqualifier. It also leaves you questioning whether all this packaging was necessary to begin with.
Brands know you are thinking this, of course. Some are even run by individuals hand-wringing about the same. Today, you’ll see marketing for post-consumer recycled (PCR) materials, compostable bioplastics, “forever bottles” designed for easy refill, and “infinitely recyclable” aluminum tubes. There is even an international circular packaging system called Loop, with refill options from participating mass brands like Pantene and Crest (navigable through the accompanying app). The intent is to be the 21st-century milkman for beauty and beyond.
“The proliferation of single-use products has increased exponentially over the last several decades and resulted in a global waste crisis that threatens our oceans, our ecosystems, and human health,” says Loop and TerraCycle founder Tom Szaky. “Today less than 10% of all single-use packaging is recycled, leaving the remaining 90% in landfills, incinerated, or discarded and ending up in our oceans.”
While there is no definitive solution in terms of sustainable packaging, the latest innovations are proving creative and ambitious, without compromising the quality and efficacy of the beauty products themselves. Here, 16 brands that are moving the needle with the planet in mind.
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