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Recycling Beauty Products Is Notoriously Difficult: Nordstrom & TerraCycle Are Making It Easier

Brandless Skincare/Beauty Bottles on a Bathroom Counter
Image by Martí Sans / Stocksy
October 1, 2020
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Recycling beauty products is a challenge, no matter how diligent you try and be. Due to the often intricate nature of bottles (metal springs in pumps, for example), the complications with colored- or darkened-glass, the plethora of plastic, formulas (like nail polish) that simply can't be recycled after use, embedded mirrors, and so on, even if you try your best, what you toss in the recycling bin likely still will end up in the landfill

It's, by all accounts, not a great situation for green beauty lovers. In fact, it's downright disappointing. 

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The issue is there aren't great alternatives: Credo has a recycling program, and many individual brands have started doing refill initiatives in store or online. But this is only a small dent in the bigger picture. There are simply so many beauty products on the market and the fact is most of them can't be properly recycled. 

Recycling beauty products is hard—why that's changing today.

For years TerraCycle has been such a breath of fresh air for many brands and consumers looking to get smarter about recycling. Their most recent endeavor is perhaps their most exciting for beauty fans. Today, Vogue reports that the recycling giant is now working with retail giant Nordstrom, in a program called BeautyCycle. Now, consumers will be able to drop off any empties in store in a marked BeautyCycle bin, which will then be safely taken to an appropriate recycling brand via TerraCycle. (Find one of the 94 locations via their map, here.)

"Nordstrom leads with the fundamental belief that we have a responsibility to leave the world better than we found it," says Gemma Lionello, Nordstrom's general merchandise manager for accessories and beauty and an executive vice president. "Customers increasingly feel the same and look to us to be a responsible company that plays an active role in protecting the environment."

As for the details of their plan, it's pretty impressive: Nordstrom has pledged to gather and recycle 100 tons of beauty packaging by 2025. And feel free to bring in your non-Nordstrom purchases empties: BeautyCycle will accept beauty packaging purchased from any retailer and made by any brand. 

It comes following a long list of impressive deeds from TerraCycle. The company works in pretty innovative ways to encourage consumer and brand recycling programs. For example, they work with companies to properly recycle materials once destined for the trash can by offering (often free) mail-in collection programs, like deodorant sticks, razors, and makeup from some of your favorite companies like Burt's Bees, Decim (owners of The Ordinary), Venus, Herbal Essences, and so on. 

They also help big brands develop more sustainable packaging from the get-go, helping them develop bottles from ocean plastic, for example. And in the last few years, they've been pushing their innovative LOOP store, in which you can buy your favorite products from mass brands at zero waste by using refillable bottles that you send back, are cleaned and refilled, and then put back into the market. 

The takeaway.

Accessibility and education seem to be big hurdles in getting people to properly dispose of their beauty products, so this is a huge step forward. Most people want to properly recycle, but they don't fully understand the current hurdles in the system—and this takes one of the biggest hurdles right out.

Next time you've collected a batch of products you enjoyed till the last drop, head over to your nearest Nordstrom store (in a mask, of course) and drop 'em in the bin. You can feel confident they'll be properly taken care of, while you have an excuse to pick up a new favorite eye cream or lipstick. 

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Alexandra Engler
Alexandra Engler
mbg Beauty Director

Alexandra Engler is the beauty director at mindbodygreen and host of the beauty podcast Clean Beauty School. Previously, she's held beauty roles at Harper's Bazaar, Marie Claire, SELF, and Cosmopolitan; her byline has appeared in Esquire, Sports Illustrated, and In her current role, she covers all the latest trends in the clean and natural beauty space, as well as lifestyle topics, such as travel. She received her journalism degree from Marquette University, graduating first in the department. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.