The Glasshouse Guide to Beauty Recycling

From lovingly lacquered nails to carefully applied contours, applying makeup is an integral part of the day for people the world over. But it turns out all those years spent perfecting our beauty routines weren’t just bad for our bank balance, they were – and still are – bad for the planet too.

In 2018 alone, we bought a whopping 152.1 billion units of beauty and personal-care packaging, and its effect on the environment is less than pretty. More than 70% of beauty waste is packaging, which ends up polluting our waterways, poisoning our oceans or being buried in already bulging landfill sites. The good news is we’re waking up to the ugly truth behind our favourite looks, demanding transparency from brands and seeking out sustainable alternatives. With the arrival of Zero Waste Week, we’ve put together a guide to maintaining your grooming habits without scarring Mother Earth.

Refills are all the rage

Did you know that more than 95% of beauty packaging is discarded after just one use? Refills are one way to rid yourself of the scourge of single-use plastic.

Often described as the milkman of the beauty world, Loop, is an eco-friendly shopping platform allowing us to buy from the brands we love (confirmed partners include Ren Clean Skincare and The Body Shop) while ensuring the packaging stays in circulation. All you have to do is save up your empties and return the packaging where it’ll be given a thorough cleaning (in order to comply with the EU’s strict hygiene standards) before the circuit starts again. The scheme is already live in Paris and parts of the US with the UK launch set for early 2020.

If your favourite products aren’t yet on Loop, you could save up your bottles and refill them at your local zero waste store. Useless is a handy interactive map of London’s bulk buy shops. Just top up your bottle, pay by weight, then rinse and repeat.

Closest bulk buy shop a bit of a schlep? Make a beeline for the Beauty Kitchen. Its skincare range ticks all the organic, vegan and refillable boxes. You can pop into Boots in Covent Garden for your refills and drop off your empties at any Holland and Barrett store (just look for the green refill, repeat logo) or print off a free postage label and take to your nearest Collect+ location.

As anyone with a crowded cabinet of lotions and potions knows, there’s no one size fits all sustainable beauty fix. In a feature examining how sustainable refillable products really are, Elle argues that investing in beautiful, refillable compacts (like this lovely golden number from Jane Iredale) only really works if we stay loyal to the same brand and don’t tire of rehashing the same colour pallet every morning.

Finish what you have

Finishing an entire eye shadow might seem like an alien concept to anyone still holding onto a lipstick from five birthday’s ago, but Khandiz, an eco makeup artist, clean beauty advocate and founding member of the Conscious Beauty Union, reckons the most radical thing we can do for the planet (in terms of beauty) is finish the products we already own: “There’s a lot of conversation around packaging and not enough conversation around product waste. Many of our products – even the organic and natural ones are made up of finite ingredients, such as minerals which are not going to be around forever. If we slow down our consumption then brands will produce less, which in turn means less packaging.” You heard her.

Make it multi-use

As well as curbing our impulse buys, Khandiz recommends choosing multi-use products and looking out for packaging with as few components as possible. Our Glasshouse Hair Hand & Body Wash was created with these criteria in mind – from the ingredients (natural, certified organic and sulphate-free) to the packaging (a 500ml bottle fashioned from the byproduct of sugarcane harvesting). It can be popped straight into your recycling when it’s done and you can buy the pump separately. Switching to multi-use products also has the added bonus of shrinking your bathroom clutter. When it comes to your makeup bag, RMS Beauty’s Lip2Cheek, Master Mixer and Ilia’s Multi Stick are multi-tasking must-haves that are kind to your skin and the planet. Did we mention all three are plastic-free?

Choose consciously

You only need to join the 55,000 strong waiting list for a shampoo soap bar to see that conscious consumerism is on the rise. And packaging is only one part of a products’ supply chain so what else should we be looking out for? Laura Rudoe, a slow beauty advocate and founder of organic skincare range Evolve pinpoints the questions we should find the time to ask before we make a purchase. “Where are the ingredients sourced from (issues include ingredient miles, water usage and bio piracy)? What about the packaging (it could release harmful chemicals either during production or during use which contaminate the product)? Who manufactured it (modern slavery)? What will happen to it during use (micro beads and water pollution)?. What about the packaging at the end of its use (is it recyclable or refillable? When it breaks down does it release any chemicals?).” And of course, she practices what she preaches. Evolve’s products are an eco-friendly combo of recyclable post consumer PET plastic (which, unlike PVC doesn’t leach chemicals into the soil), partly recycled glass from Europe and FSC certified card.

Image: Charlie McKay
Image: Charlie McKay

Don’t waste it - donate it or upcycle it

If you are thinking about giving your bathroom the Marie Kondo treatment, the Beauty Bank takes unopened toiletries, while Give & Makeup accept unspoiled open products. Founder Caroline Hirons says “Whilst we accept everything second hand or new (with the exception of lip glosses and mascara), please do not send really old makeup, or lipsticks that are pretty much used up. If you would be embarrassed to give it to a friend, please do not send it to these women.”

Getting savvy about your recycling also requires a little imagination. As we chat, Khandiz mentions she’s just finished uploading an Instagram story about upcycling her moisturising jars into scented candles. Similarly, Jane Iredale has put together a blog post full of creative ideas for repurposing your empties.

Get rewarded for recycling

Aside from that warm fuzzy feeling you get from doing your bit, there are some other perks to being planet-conscious.

Natural beauty pioneers Lush give out a free face masque for every five black pots you return (just make sure they’re clean). The Back-to-Mac scheme gives you a free lipstick (worth £17.50) in return for six empties. Skincare specialist Kiehls has a loyalty card programme. For every 10 empties returned you get a free travel-sized product. Body Shop Love Your Body Club members can swap five empty Body Shop bottles, tubs, tubes or pots for a £5 voucher. Ethical indie brands are offering incentives too. Fit Pit’s 100% organic deodorant comes in a glass jar which can be returned to maker The Green Woman in exchange for a discount on your next purchase. Buying a perfume refill is cheaper than buying new if you’re reordering from Brighton-based Eden Perfumes, whose cruelty free range is handmade in the UK using organic ingredients.

Image: Charlie McKay
Image: Charlie McKay

Recycle the recyclable

Have you ever hovered over your bins, while clutching an assortment of containers with a puzzled look on your face? Confusion over what goes in which bin could be one reason why only 50% of bathroom waste in UK homes makes it into the recycling. Deciphering the ingredients on the back of a cosmetics bottles is hard enough, without having to decode the recycling symbols too, so here’s what you need to know.

The Mobius Loop

The exotically named triangle made of arrows is a sign that your packaging is recyclable (in theory). However, thanks to the UK’s confusing and varied recycling system, you’ll still have to check whether your local council takes this specific type of plastic.

How do you find out the type of plastic of plastic used? Look for the letters below the triangle and the numbers, (which range from one to seven) inside it. PETE 1 and HDPE 2 are the most commonly churned out (for things like shampoo/conditioner bottles) and these are widely recycled. Beyond 1 and 2, the recyclability reduces – so much so that anything with a 7 on it (mixed materials) is completely unrecyclable.

At the risk of provoking Inception-levels of confusion, a triangle made of arrows inside a solid circle means the product itself is made from recycled materials. Sometimes you’ll also see a percentage inside the circle indicating how much of the material is recycled. Also it’s worth noting that PETE is intended to be single use only whereas HDPE is reusable.

The Green Dot

The less imaginatively named symbol of two interlocking green (or black) arrows are often misinterpreted as an indication of recyclability. In fact, it just means the manufacturing company contributes to the cost of recovering and recycling the packaging waste it produces, something we hope more brands will adopt.

Refer to insert

This little symbol of a hand pointing to a book means you can peel back the label, where you’ll find further information/instructions.

Forest Certified

If you see this symbol on paper/cardboard packaging it means the material has been sourced from responsibly managed trees. Although, as Ethical Consumer has highlighted, this might not always be the case. They say a safe bet is to opt for packaging that is recycled, or carries the FSC 100% label. Another tip is to choose products who only use local suppliers. “Choose those known to come from local (that is, UK) sources, or from nearby in Europe, where forestry practices tend to be well regulated by governments.” Choosing locally made skincare (hello Guy Morgan Apothecary) also helps reduce your carbon footprint.


Unlike plastic, which degrades during the recycling process, aluminium can be melted down and remoulded into new products again and again. Increasingly brands, such as Ilia Beauty are turning to aluminium as an alternative to plastic.


The seedling logo indicates the product is compostable and can be placed in your garden waste. Compostables will contaminate your normal recycling, so best to check your local council has an industrial compost first.

Recycle the unrecyclable

Don’t worry if you haven’t quite made the switch to natural deodorant or you’re dutifully using up the contents of your cupboards first. Thankfully, the How2Recycle scheme is attempting to standardise and improve recycling labels but until then, there’s one ace company who is taking care of all the irritatingly hard-to-recycle items that most councils don’t have the facilities to deal with.

Terracycle, the company behind Loop accepts plastic pumps, trigger sprays, rolls on deodorants, and wet wipe packets. It melts them down into plastic nodules and repurposes them into children’s playground material and watering cans. Neal’s Yard Remedies and The Body Shop have recently launched in store recycling points so you can offload your plastic guilt to Terracycle and it doesn’t matter what the brand is. Additionally Cloud Nine Hair, are tackling beauty e-waste. Just print off a free postage label and send in your old hair straighteners for recycling. It’s also worth remembering that you can hand over plastic lids to Lush and they’ll be reborn as the company’s black plastic pots.
And if saving the planet wasn’t enough motivation to green up your beauty routine, these videos of cute animals being preened and cleaned by recycled mascara wands should do the trick.

Words: Kyra Hanson

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