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How to safely dispose of old makeup and cosmetics

You toss on some rouge, a little mascara and cap it off with a swipe of lipstick. You think: Dayum, I look fine!

And you know what? You do. But here’s the thing: even though cosmetics look good on people, they look awful on our planet. And that’s not good for anyone.

Before I fill you in on how to safely dispose of old and unwanted cosmetics, let’s look at why these products are such an issue. You might not realize it, but makeup is filled with chemicals that don’t mix well with people (or the environment). Pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs), which include cosmetics, get in our water table and stay there. And they’re messing with human physiology.

So yeah, if you were rinsing or dumping your beauty products down the drain, stop. It’ll come back to haunt you. It’ll come back to haunt all of us.

Without further ado, here’s everything you need to know about safely disposing of those problematic beauty products.

Greener is leaner

Yes, buying eco-friendly products is generally better for the environment. The same is true for makeup. Thankfully, there are plenty of options out there. The greener the product, the easier it should be to dispose of since sustainability will be factored into the packaging. Something to keep in mind next time you’re shopping.

Recycling options

Let’s start with the easy ones first.

If you bring your empties to Aveda, Everyday Minerals, Kiehl’s, Lush, MAC, Origins, or Zoya, they’ll recycle them. In some instances, restrictions apply. For example, Zoya only offers recycling once a year—on Earth Day, while Lush takes back branded packaging. TerraCycle has also partnered with companies like L’Oreal, L’Occitane, and Garnier to offer recycling programs, so there’s plenty out there.

Some companies have also moved towards refillable packaging to reduce the bulk of wasted packaging. In the US, TerraCycle is also working with Ulta in their waste-free packaging program Loop.

If you still have a lot of product left in the container, you could also consider donating it to a friend. Some women’s shelters will also gladly take your unwanted makeup. Plus, you’ll be doing someone a solid.

Okay, now for the tough stuff. Most cosmetic packaging is made from glass and polypropylene, or plastic #5 for all you resin identification number nerds, making them recyclable in most communities. Just make sure those bottles are empty AND cleaned out before tossing them in your bin. And if you’ve got half-empty bottles of makeup, remember: don’t rinse or dump them. Wipe them the clean instead.

To check and see if this applies in your community, download our app (assuming, of course, that your city is part of our network).

Worst case scenario

If you’re unable to take part in one of the recycling programs above, then you should toss it in the garbage. Just make sure the product is sealed if there’s anything left inside.


  1. Betty Bunn

    August 1, 2021 at 7:05 pm

    Are there desposed makeup brushers

    • April

      August 3, 2021 at 1:43 pm

      Most disposable make-up brushes are made of plastic, which usually ends up in the trash (tiny plastic items like that don’t tend to make it through sorting machines even if they might be labeled recyclable). There are several more sustainable options such as bamboo make up brushes which at least are made from natural materials that are biodegradable.


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