Plastic bottle recycling: what and how can you recycle in your beauty cupboard?

Posted by
Chloe Burcham

We’re all trying to do our bit when it comes to kitchen recycling, but what about the bits in the bathroom? Here’s our guide to what can - and what can’t - be recycled.

The shift in our attitude when it comes to both sustainability and reducing our usage of plastic is evident, especially in the beauty industry. From a plethora of eco-friendly brands, including Lush’s packaging-free skincare line and the UK launch of Ethique, the world’s first zero-waste beauty company to biodegradable cotton pads and reef-safe SPFs, it’s clear we’re all united when it comes to helping to save the planet. 

While it’s fairly simple for kitchen waste, the lines are a bit more blurred when it comes to make-up, skin and hair care. Can shampoo bottles be recycled? Are make-up wipes really that bad and what about disposing of old mascara wands? 

Recycling beauty products can be tricky territory to navigate, so we’ve broken things down in order to (hopefully) clear up the waste. 

What you can recycle:  

Hairdryers, straighteners and electrical tools

Things like your hairdryer, curling wand or straighteners aren’t usually thought of easily recyclable goods, but take them to the right place and they’re actually widely recycled. These kinds of bigger, electrical items cannot be recycled at home, but most local recycling centres will be able to accept them. Does your hairdryer still work? Donate it to a charity shop or make some money by selling it on depop instead.

Shampoo and conditioner bottles

Shampoo, conditioner and shower gel tubs vary from brand to brand but broadly speaking— as long as you ensure you remove any plastic caps, wash and dry the bottles thoroughly first— plastic bottles are usually recyclable. Hurrah. Not 100% sure if yours is? Check the label for the triangle with arrows symbol and if it’s there, you’re good to go.

Deodorant cans and other aerosols

If your deodorant, hairspray or dry shampoo is housed in steel or aluminium, it should be recyclable. Make sure the can is completely empty and detach any removable parts. Don’t try to pierce, crush or flatten any items though as this can be dangerous. 

What’s partly recyclable:

Foundation bottles

Even though many foundation bottles are made of glass or recyclable plastic, there are currently no foundation pumps on the market that are recyclable. If your foundation bottle is glass (or made from recyclable plastic) then there’s nothing stopping you from recycling that, but make sure you’ve taken out the pump first so the rest of your recycling isn’t contaminated. 

Make-up palettes

The problem with a lot of make-up palettes is that they often contain mirrors and magnets, which aren’t recyclable. Check the label on your make-up palette to see if the material used if recyclable, and if so, make sure you remove any mirrors or magnetic parts and dispose of these separately.


Typically, mascara tubes are often made from recyclable materials so they can be disposed of in your normal recycling bin. Make sure you thoroughly wash and dry the tube first— hot, soapy water should do the trick. Mascara wands aren’t typically recyclable materials but the Appalachian Wildlife Refuge accepts used (clean) mascara wands and turns them into brushes to maintain the fur of small wild animals. Cuuuute. 

What you can’t recycle:

Make-up wipes

Unless labelled as biodegradable (i.e. Simple’s Kind To Skin Biodegradable Cleansing Wipes, £2), make-up wipes are not recyclable or very eco-friendly. Ditch the wipes altogether, or consider buying reusable make-up pads or biodegradable sheets like Jinmee Hydrapuff Skincare Sheets, £6.50.

NB: Remember, ‘biodegradable’ items do not belong in your recycling bin. Anything that’s labelled 100% biodegradable should be disposed of in your food waste bin or compost heap.

Nail varnish bottles

Due to the hazardous toxins found in nail varnish, the glass bottles are not recyclable even when thoroughly rinsed. Don’t try to recycle your nail varnish bottles as they could contaminate the rest of your recycling.

Make-up brushes

Make-up brushes are made of tiny, superfine, non-recyclable nylon, plastic or animal-derived hairs meaning they’re not currently recyclable. Dispose of them in your normal bin, and make sure you’re looking after yours well to prolong their life span. 

Still unsure? Get to know your labels:      

Always check your bottles and packaging for the relevant recycling symbols. If it’s got the famous three arrows in a triangle sign (aka the Mobius Loop) it can go right into your recycling bin.

If the label shows two arrows in a circle, then the packaging is not necessarily recyclable. This usually signifies that the producer has made a financial contribution towards the recovery and recycling of packaging in Europe.

Still unsure? Recycle Now has information on widely used European labelling. 

Give back to beauty: 

More and more beauty brands now have their own recycling or exchange schemes, so it’s always worth checking with your favourite brand first— you might even bag a freebie.

LUSH offer free face masks to customers once they’ve brought back five empty Lush pots. Cult fragrance brand Le Labo offer customers 20% off a refill when you bring your empty bottle back to any Le Labo boutique, and Origins accept empty products from any brand to recycle on your behalf.  

Image credits: Unsplash


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Chloe Burcham

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