Recycling & The Beauty Products Industry

Why is it that beauty products are seldom packaged in recyclable containers?

Even when their containers are plastic, they seldom have recognizable recycling symbols on them. Sometimes they have what I assume are European symbols on them.

Did you know that this symbol:

The German ‘Green Dot’, has no environmental significance at all? It only means that the manufacturer has paid a fee towards the packaging recovery system in Germany.

Is the beauty industry too upmarket to put the little triangle on the bottom of their packaging? Do they think their little packages would make the symbol too tiny to read? If that’s the case, why couldn’t they just print the recycling symbols on the cardboard backers? Beauty products are so notoriously over packaged, their makers should be striving to ensure that most of that waste gets recycled.

I’m sure that printing everything on the package in French and using the European symbols fools us silly Americans into thinking the products are somehow better than if they printed the same thing in English and gave us the little 1 or 2 in a triangle.

Or is it because they aren’t actually using recyclable plastics at all?

Interestingly, in 2007, Revlon Australia was highly commended in Packaging for their recycling initiatives and lobbying of overseas manufacturers to reduce the environmental impact of used packaging in personal care and cosmetics products. As 90% of product manufacture takes place outside of Australia, Revlon Australia endured the challenging task of educating US packaging designers about minimizing the amount of excess packaging produced. With 85% of new product development occurring in the US, Revlon Australia will continue to encourage designers to use recycling logos on new, and existing products, and to use recyclable materials where possible.”

Since I became more frugal I’ve started using a lot of Revlon cosmetics and, in preparing this article, I checked them all and discovered nary a triangle upon any of them. I guess they need to encourage a bit more. In fact no cosmetics I own, from Maybelline to Lancome to Channel have a recycling symbol.

Perhaps, though, there is hope.

For 2009 Almay is announcing their Almay Pure Blends line. Pure Blends “is a natural collection that offers eco-friendly products and packaging made from 44% post-consumer recycled materials, on average (emphasis mine), and traditional blister cards are being replaced with more environmentally-friendly hang tags”.

Aveda is reputed to be using a good deal of post-consumer recycled material in their product’s packaging. If that’s true, I applaud their efforts.

On the other hand, in 1991 the L’Oreal group formed an Environment Management Department and created all sorts of lofty goals about reducing their environmental impact in packaging, shipping, point-of-sale displays and at their work sites. In 2006, they bought The Body Shop, known for its strong stance on many environmental issues. Although they have achieved some of their goals and even won some awards, in the nearly 20 years since they reportedly turned their attention to the environment, no little triangles on their products.

I found the following statement on their website: “The impact of our products and our activities on the environment, as well as the preservation of biodiversity, are a central concern to us. All of these aspects are integrated in each step of our processes, particularly in the very basis of what we expect from our suppliers.”

Okay, so…? They have a lot of blue sky and green grass on the Sustainable Development section of their website, but have they really made a big impact?

I’m not picking on L’Oreal specifically; I’m just using them as an example of what I believe is an industry-wide problem. Everyone is talking the talk. How many are actually walking the walk?

What we do see a lot of is the word “natural” on our cosmetics. There is no law defining the use of the word “natural” to describe a cosmetic ingredient. Despite its widespread use, no standard, certification or central authority exists at present to guarantee both product and process in the cosmetics industry as being “natural”.

In addition to my online research, in order to ensure I was completely up to date, I spent one day going to every store that sells cosmetics in my admittedly very small town and checked all the packaging for signs of recyclability. It didn’t take long but I did find some of the Almay Pure Blends line already on the shelf and, although they are trumpeting 98.2%  “natural” on their labels, nary a recycling symbol did I see. I also stopped by a local salon which sells Aveda products and, although all the labels reported on Aveda’s use of post-consumer recycled materials, which is wonderful, again, I saw no recycling symbols anywhere. In fact, Maybelline’s Pure Minerals line was the only cosmetic I found adorned with the trusty triangle.

When I ambled into shampoos and conditioners I was happy to see lots of triangles. Interestingly enough, though, the ones which were packaged top down, seemed to be missing them. Pantene had triangles on their shampoos but not their upside down conditioners. The same was true of Garnier Fructis. Did the triangle upset their design esthetic? Even more interesting was that while Suave Naturals had the triangle on everything, Suave Professional had the triangle on nothing! Does that mean the triangle somehow demeaned the product? The higher end they wanted to be, the less environmentally responsible?

So, what’s an environmentally responsible person to do?

Be conscientious about seeking out beauty products in recyclable containers and with post-consumer recycled materials in their packaging.

In spite of my doom and gloom article, there are products out there with the PET triangle logo on them. Glass bottles are recyclable in most areas, as are those little lip balm tins. Buy products with minimal packaging. The beauty industry will eventually come around. Support them as they do. Your dollars will convince the others to follow suit.

An original 5 Minutes for Going Green post. You can read more of what Mary is thinking about at SimplyForties or you can follow her on Twitter.

And remember the Ecostore USA giveaway is going on until Sunday January 25th at 7pm EST, and all you have to do to enter is comment on the giveaway post with a valid email address; if you haven’t entered yet, what are you waiting for?

11 Responses to Recycling & The Beauty Products Industry
  1. Jaime
    January 19, 2009 | 9:11 am

    Aveda is recycling plastic caps:

  2. Mary (Simply Forties)
    January 19, 2009 | 12:03 pm

    @Jamie – They did tell me that at the salon and I think that’s great. The only issue I have with Aveda is that, as the end user of their products, there is no indication that you can recycle your empty containers. That would lead me to believe that a lot of them will end up in the trash.

  3. Ann
    January 20, 2009 | 12:04 pm

    Are you aware that most communities only actually have the facility to recycle a select few type of recylables? I know in mine it’s the 1 and 2 I believe. If a product doesn’t have a recycling symbol on it then it’s safe to say it’s not recyclable but even if it does have a code it may not be recycable. You need to do more research on what is truly recyclable in your community. Plastic bottles are easily recyclable. Conditioner tubes are not because they are a softer type plastic. There are many types of plastics and some of them do NOT recycle well because the technology doesn’t exist yet. It’s also very complicated to remanufacture recycled bottles. The plastic becomes brittle, etc. This is why you rarely see 100% recycle bottles in consumer goods.

    While you may not have an option on conditioners, etc. You can still be more environmentally responsible by purchasing the largest size possible (less packaging) and support manfacturers who do use PCR bottles and sustainable eco-friendly ingredients. Take a good look at the ingredients being used in Revlon. Being Green is also about using eco-friendly products and I can tell you that most of the chemicals you are putting on your face in those type of products are NOT eco-friendly. Petroleum never has been.
    I know Aveda has up to 97% PCR in a lot of their shampoo bottles and if you look on their website there is a lot of information about ingredients sourced sustainably (and you know what they are by the names). As for makeup packaging unless you are buying glass bottles they are probably not the kind of plastics that can be recycled.

  4. Mary (Simply Forties)
    January 20, 2009 | 12:31 pm

    Ann – thank you so much for the comment. In my community, like yours, we can only recycle 1 & 2 plastics. It’s discouraging. You are certainly right about the need to look at all aspects of the products which you choose to use. My feeling is that if some of the companies can use recyclable containers then they all can. If Suave Naturals conditioner and Maybelline’s Pure Minerals line can be packaged in recyclable containers then we know the technology exists and the manufacturers are choosing not to use it.

    By the same token, if Aveda can use more environmentally friendly ingredients in their products, then everyone can. Just imagine if all our beauty products were more environmentally friendly both inside and out! That’s my hope for the future!

  5. Lisa
    January 21, 2009 | 6:37 pm

    I use a 100% natural (with some organic) ingredients makeup. It’s made in Texas, was started by a stay at home mom and is a truly eco-friendly company.

    They do so much it would be hard to post it all so read this page.

  6. Mary (Simply Forties)
    January 21, 2009 | 6:58 pm

    Thank you Lisa, for that link. It’s good to know everyone is trying!

  7. jessW
    January 22, 2009 | 4:19 pm

    My Arbonne products all have the triangle!

  8. Mary (Simply Forties)
    January 22, 2009 | 5:00 pm

    Thanks JessW, I’m glad to know there are some responsible choices that we can make now!

  9. Shelly
    January 24, 2009 | 1:36 pm

    I completely agree with Ann in that we should be concerned about what goes into a product and how its made and use our purchasing dollars to voice our opinions about that more than what we can do with the leftover packaging. All of the “common” companies you named use many chemicals, along with animal parts, and freely test on animals. These are deplorable, unnecessary practise that wreak havoc on our environment. It would be nice if all packaging were recyclable, but these companies have proven by the product that they are only interested in their profits.

  10. Mary (Simply Forties)
    January 24, 2009 | 4:36 pm

    Shelley –

    Thank you so much for your comment. I guess my point, which I probably stated poorly is that we should be looking for, advocating for, purchasing, and thereby rewarding companies that do both. Obviously the technology exists to use both environmentally responsible ingredients and recyclable packaging. It shouldn’t be an either or proposition where we’re being forced to decide which choice is “greener”. We should be able to buy beauty products which are made with environmentally friendly ingredients and packaged in recyclable containers.

    Thanks again for your thoughts!

  11. Leslie
    October 6, 2009 | 3:00 pm

    Hi Mary:

    I recently spoke with our local recycling metro regarding cosmetic containers. It was explained to me that the glass used for cosmetic jars is too heavy and does not melt at the same temperature as other glass bottles and jars that are typically accepted for recycling. Therefore, they are not recyclable.

    Also, plastic containers under 6 ounces are also not able to be recycled at the curb because they are too small and can damage the recycling sorting equipment. They can be taken to the recycling depot and be recycled there because they are not being put into the sorting equipment. This of course means personal trips to the recycling center.

    Therefore, it was explained to me, by the center for recycling, that due to these limitations, no cosmetic jars, or perfume jars are recyclable. This may be why there is no recycling symbol on the jars. It is not the fault of the cosmetic manufacturers; but the current limitation, at this time, of the equipment used for recycling at the plants.

    In order to see a change in what is being recycled, an effort would have to be made with focus on the recycling plants themselves. It is my belief that the cosmetic companies would probably be happy to put the symbol on their jars. In today’s world which is so focused on being green, it is a great marketing tool.

    Let’s hope someday that new recycling equipment can be introduced in our recycling centers that can accommodate the different glass jars that cosmetic companies use. Apparently this would mean a different heat for melting. It is surprising to me that the cosmetic companies do not explain their dilemma. Perhaps they themselves would have the strength to initiate a strategy for changing the recycling equipment.