Every time I get through a bottle my favorite Givenchy Matissime Velvet foundation, I pick a new one up from Sephora and throw the old one in the trash bin in my bathroom.

I usually don’t think twice about the fact that beauty products, much like products found in your kitchen, can sometimes be recycled. I’m not alone in this. In a study found by Unilever, in 2015, 42% of Americans didn’t recycle their bathroom products because they didn’t know if they were eligible for recycling, and 27% didn’t think their bathroom products would actually get recycled.

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The skepticism and confusion aren’t unwarranted. Most recyclables aren’t immediately made into new products. When they’re picked up from your curb, they’re sold to facilities that can recycle them. What’s worse: historically, the U.S. and most other Western countries have sold their recyclables to China. Since January of 2018, China has refused to import waste from other countries for the protection of its population and environment. According to NPR, a lot of the waste which was previously recycled by China is just ending up in landfills, or being sent to countries that don’t have the proper infrastructure to deal with it.

Besides the political factors making recycling difficult, the process of recycling beauty products can be tricky. “Bottles for shampoo and detergent are considered ‘high-density polyethylene’ and are generally regarded as safe to recycle at your local facility,” says Sophia Gushee, author of “A to Z of D-Toxing,” told FashionistaHowever, nail polish is known for its toxic qualities and harmful chemicals, so disposing of it is not as easy as just tossing it away in the trash or recycling bin.

Though beauty brands are putting more focus on sustainability and reducing their ecological footprints, it’s really hard to know how to recycle products that aren’t made out of traditional plastic or aluminum. So what can you do to ensure your beauty products are actually recycled? Read on, below.

Clean your bottles

That’s right, clean them – but it doesn’t have to be squeaky clean. According to Self, if you don’t clean out your containers before recycling them, then they won’t get sorted properly. This means that for all the conscious effort you put in, they’ll just end up getting tossed. Further, every city has different rules when it comes to what materials can be recycled, so just because you could recycle one beauty product in New York, doesn’t mean you can do the same in LA. Check your city’s regulations for that. 


You’re in the clear

To make matters more complicated, odd-colored materials are difficult to recycle. Meaning, recycling facilities really only have the capability to sort clear, brown, and green plastics, so if your moisturizer comes in a pink plastic container, think twice before tossing it in the recycling bin. Finally, squeezable tubes (like toothpaste), pumps, and droppers (basically every serum ever) should be thrown in the trash can because recycling facilities don’t have the infrastructure to properly recycle them. Moral of the story is this: If you want to be green, you shouldn’t buy containers that come in beautiful colors no matter how beautiful you #shelfies turn out to be.

When in doubt

The downside to recycling incorrectly is that even though you’re making the effort to separate your items and put them in the recycling bin, they still end up in a landfill. But fret not, if you have a beauty product you have no idea how to recycle, you can send it to a company that does. It’s called Terracycle, a company that hopes to do this all for you. All you have to do is drop off your difficult to recycle waste at a Terracycle drop off point, or mail it to them in one of their zero-waste boxes.

If you need more of an incentive, some of your favorite brands will reward you for exchanging your old containers – they’ll recycle them responsibly for you. Lush, M.A.C., and Kiehl’s are some of the brands who will literally give you free products in exchange for bringing in your old ones.

Give it away

Another great way to help the environment while also supporting other humans is to actually donate your unused products for a good cause. One great org is Share Your Beauty, which launched in 2014. Unused, unexpired and unopened beauty products get distributed to homeless and domestic violence shelters along with foster care agencies. An additional great org is Beauty Bus, which provides beauty help to those in need, bringing a salon-like experience to a person’s home. You can donate your full-sized and unused beauty here. For those who don’t have unused products but many that you used once, that’s good as well. An organization based in Washington, called Project Beauty Share, takes those and puts it to use. “Women who are poverty-stricken or women-in-transition cannot afford these luxury items,” Julie Farley, founder of Project Beauty Share, says on their website. “A lot of what we do is about health and hygiene, but it’s really about dignity. Project Beauty Share wants to help women regain their dignity and get back on their feet.”

If you’re going to make the effort to recycle, make sure you’re doing it the right way. The whales and turtles – and us fellow humans – will thank you.