Everything you need to know about recycling beauty products and plastics in your bathroom

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Hanna Ibraheem
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We carry reusable water bottles, angst about air miles and recycle our wardrobes, so why are our bathrooms so often an eco-friendly fail? Time for some home improvements… 

The statistics, though familiar, are still shocking. Every piece of plastic we’ve ever owned – the toothbrushes, moisturiser tubs, make-up palettes – still exist and could take another 500 years to decompose. Plus, by 2050, there will be as much plastic in the ocean as there are fish.

Driven by these figures – and an eye-opening wake-up call courtesy of David Attenborough and Blue Planet II – we’re more eco-conscious than ever and, as a result, an impressive 90% of packaging gets recycled in our kitchens. Yet only a mere 50% of bathroom packaging is being recycled, according to Recycle Now, the national recycling campaign for England. 

The issue? Most experts boil it down to the confusion around recycling. “You might not realise, but shampoo and conditioner bottles, toothpaste boxes and even your glass perfume or aftershave bottles are recyclable,” explains Craig Stephens, campaigns manager at Recycle Now. Add to that the fact that recycling symbols are harder to crack than the Da Vinci Code and that every local council has different recycling capabilities, and it soon becomes a minefield. 

But now’s the time to act. Not only will plastic-stemmed cotton buds be banned nationally by next April, there’s a growing stigma around the use of wet wipes, with brands such as Holland & Barrett and The Body Shop vowing to remove these environmental nightmares from their shelves.

Nobody wants to make their life more complicated but thankfully it only takes a few small changes to achieve an eco-friendly bathroom. If everyone in the UK recycled just one bathroom cleaner bottle, it would save enough energy to vacuum 82,460 homes, not to mention the massive impact it could have on reducing the amount of plastic waste in our oceans. And that’s only the beginning.

Read on for our essential guide to bathroom recycling. 

The rules of bathroom recycling

  • 1. Dismantle


    Take your product apart and separate the different materials

  • 2. Clean


    Give each part of the product a good rinse.

  • 3. Dry


    Use a microfibre cloth to dry the product entirely.

  • 4. Dispose


    Place the pieces in their respective recycling bins

Recycling electricals 

Electrical items like hair straighteners, hairdryers and epilators are widely recyclable. If they have plugs, use batteries, require charging or have a crossed-out wheelie bin picture on them, then they can be recycled. Many local authorities will collect them or you can take them to a recycling centre (find one at 

Clean up

When you recycle used products, it’s crucial to give them a good clean first. Here are the clever – and eco-friendly – devices that make it a breeze.

Ditch the wipes 

They may come in handy for flights and festivals, but polyester-fused make-up wipes are a major problem for our environment. Around 9.3 million wet wipes are flushed down toilets in the UK every day and, as a result, they account for 80% of blockages in Britain’s sewage system. Brands have begun to roll out biodegradable wipes but there’s still confusion as to how to dispose of these properly. While at-home compost heaps or food recycling bins may seem like the best place, most biodegradable wipes don’t biodegrade quickly enough for this form of disposal. Instead, they need to be industrially composted, and there are only 170 industrial composters in the UK. Contact your local council to see if they offer this service, or swap wipes for the reusable Face Halo ( make-up remover pads. 

Go sustainable

Making your bathroom greener doesn’t need to be a chore. The best option is to switch out plastic packaging altogether in favour of these more sustainable options.

Brush it off

Every year, 3.6 billion plastic toothbrushes are thrown away worldwide, ending up in landfill or the sea. Bamboo toothbrushes have skyrocketed in popularity for good reason. Not only are the handles 100% biodegradable, bamboo is also antimicrobial and water-resistant. Try The Eco-Toothbrush, £9.95 for four. Once you’ve finished with it, pull the bristles out with pliers – they are made from a polymer that will break down in a compost heap in four months. Put the bamboo handle in your recycling or composting waste. 

Ditch metal springs

  • Step 1


    Find or borrow a nutcracker. Large pliers will work equally well.

  • Step 2


    Use it to crack open the plastic part of the pump that surrounds the metal spring.

  • Step 3


    Remove the spring and place the plastic and metal into their respective recycling bins.

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Illustrations: Peter Kyprianou for Stylist


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Hanna Ibraheem

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