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Beauty waste has been un-recyclable for so long. That is no longer the case.

Image by Twylamae
Words by Hannah Cole

Terracycle is shaking things up.

The recycling news that hit us in 2018 was a blow for the environmentally-inclined. China would no longer accept our plastic waste, sending local councils into turmoil. The decision felt like a big step backwards in the green movement; the death of a primary school mantra drilled into us like a Gregorian chant.

Reduce, reuse, recycle.

No matter how hard I tried to do the right thing – rinsing shampoo bottles, removing plastic lining – the success of a recycling system was still reliant on forces outside of my control. Not to mention that every local council has different recycling capabilities, rules and collections. 

Sharehouse living also opened my eyes to this fruitlessness. Contamination within recycling bins is a huge factor in the likelihood and success of an internal recycling system. (Side note: Give this helpful quiz a go to determine to which bin all sorts of waste belong – from polystyrene to pizza boxes and broken glass.) If you’ve lived in an apartment block, there is a very loose and creative definition applied to items categorised as ‘recyclable’ (coffee cups an oil-slicked takeaway containers, anyone?). 

The same goes for beauty products. Although most of the excess packaging from moisturisers, shampoo, and makeup is technically recyclable (primarily made from hard plastics), that doesn’t mean it always happens. 

Items like mascara tubes or lipstick containers are often too difficult for many local recycling plants to deal with appropriately. The cost of collection and processing is more than it is worth, leaving us hanging on to the single-use economy out of convenience. The short-term cost outweighs the long-term environmental effect. 

That’s where innovative global recycling company, Terracycle, comes in. With an ethos of “Eliminating the Idea of Waste”, the global company is determined to make all that was previously single-use the exact opposite: recyclable. Its goal is to reduce the use of virgin materials and instead use the elements we already have in existence and make them circular.

Terracycle’s CEO, Tom Szaky, notes that pigmented plastics (basically any bottle that isn’t opaque or white) are notoriously difficult to recycle. We may mean well by washing our shampoo bottles diligently and disposing of them via the recycling bin, but there’s a high chance these don’t make it through the system.

Put simply, Terracycle collects various waste streams and cleans, shreds and melts them down to form hard plastic pellets. The pellets are given new life as a material used to build playgrounds, benches, picnic tables, etc.

It seems Terracycle can recycle almost anything: bread ties, writing utensils, coffee pods, toothpaste tubes, contact lenses, electric toothbrushes. 

At the moment, Terracycle Australia has partnerships with Burt’s Bees, Jurlique, L’Occitane and Innisfree, who return their packaging to Terracycle for recycling.

Alternatively, local vegan/ethical/cruelty-free e-tailer, Flora & Fauna, has recently teamed up with Terracycle. The program accepts plastic beauty containers and tubes from any brand in exchange for in-store credit. This partnership offers the cover-all we need in the meantime.

But why stop there? As Bailliard recommends, move from room to room on your recycling journey and eliminate waste as you go. Oral care, contact lenses and electric toothbrushes in the bathroom; dishwashing packaging and coffee capsules in the kitchen, and so on.

Avoid any hoarder likeness by taking Bailliard’s advice for collection. He proposes keeping a receptacle in each room to gather the waste stream. Squeeze it in the pantry or beside the bathroom bin and wash out each bottle as you go.

Clean beauty is only really ‘clean’ when it promotes safe products and a safe way to dispose of the packaging. Our eco-guilt can dissipate a little, knowing we can place our waste in like-minded hands. Ultimately, Terracycle and these associated programs offer us a reliable, fail-safe option for recycling our everyday waste. No ignorant neighbour can take that away. 

To check out Terracycle’s other available programs, visit the website.

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