Recycling Beauty Bottles: Do It For The Environment (And The Freebies!)

The impact recycling can have is enough incentive for me to do it; but for the greedy and environmentally unmotivated among us, there are free beauty products!
Publish date:
June 18, 2013
mac, Origins, Kiehl's, environment, recycling, free stuff, plastic

I think I watched too many episodes of Captain Planet when I was younger. Or maybe I was feeling extra-impressionable during the “save the rainforest” lesson. Or maybe I’m just primo cult bait, because I remember learning about recycling and conservation in elementary school and getting hooked. I even went home and collected scrap paper around the house. Too bad my father promptly “recycled” my hard work into the garbage. (Fair enough, it was Mississippi in the '90s.)

But the fun didn’t stop there. I’m currently that person that brings bottles and cans and plastic bags back to the grocery store. Excuse me, did you just throw a newspaper in the garbage? That’s OK, I’ll just fish it out and PUT IT WHERE IT BELONGS (the recycle bin). My sister hates when I do that.

All those subtle hints have paid off, though, because she finally puts empty shampoo bottles in the recycling bin instead of just chucking them in the garbage. It could be one of my finest accomplishments.


Did you know that recycling six plastic bottles saves enough energy to power a hair dryer for half an hour? You’d have to recycle 41 plastic bags or 50 magazines to achieve the same effect!

I have more than six shampoo and conditioner bottles in my shower right now. In fact, I was counting how many lotion and potion bottles my sister and I had in the bathroom cabinets and had to stop because wow. I wouldn’t call us serious beauty junkies, but I could easily fill a few shopping bags with all those plastic bottles.

We’re not the only ones guilty of a little consumerism. According to the EPA, 31 million tons of residential, commercial and institutional plastic waste were generated in 2010. Only about 8% of that waste was recycled. New York City, the mack daddy of recyclers, recently expanded its recycling program to include all rigid plastics. No more sorting or worrying about those pesky numbers on the bottom of the bottle! Just throw it all in the bin that says DSNY (except don’t throw in any tubes, like toothpaste, because those aren’t accepted).

Unfortunately, not every municipality has the capacity to recycle all types of beauty packaging. My town has a basic recycling program: plastic shampoo bottles, conditioners, and face wash/hand soap containers are still accepted. So it’s possible that your town can also recycle a few common types of plastic. Be sure and check it out!


If you’re unable to recycle beauty packaging on a regular basis, consider taking advantage of a few company-sponsored programs. Deanne already mentioned the Back to MAC program: Just bring six empty containers (mascara and liquid liner tubes count, too!) to a MAC counter in exchange for a free lipstick; bringing your empties to a freestanding MAC store means you can opt for an eye shadow or lip gloss instead. Or you could just mail everything in.

Kiehl’s also has its own reward program called Recycle & Be Rewarded. It’s a bit more complicated, because you have to remember to keep track of a punch card, but here’s how it works: If you bring three empty Kiehl’s containers back to the store, you earn three punches on your card and a free lip balm; five empties (or stamps--it’s a bit confusing) gets you a free travel collection product; 10 stamps/empties and you’re rewarded with a full-size product. Pretty sweet deal!

And last but not least, Origins has the Return To Origins recycling program. You can bring any empty container from any cosmetics brand to an Origins store to be recycled for free. Your reward? Knowing you did good, kid. No seriously, there aren’t any freebies, but it’s pretty open-minded that Origins lets its empties mingle with other riffraff. There could be--gasp--drugstore empties in there!

All jokes aside, I’m not really that much of a nag. If you can recycle your beauty packaging, then you should totally do it. There are plenty of products we’d all like to try and buy, so let’s make sure there’s enough room in the landfills for all our future junk, amirite?

So, what’s your bottle count? Do you recycle your bottles already? Is the amount of beauty waste you generate alarming? Or do you buy all your products in bulk? Let’s discuss!