For most companies, what happens to their product when it reaches the end of its lifecycle is largely out of the company's control; even if they use recycled materials, they don’t know if the consumer will recycle the product when it's empty, or recycle it so the life of the materials can be expanded just a little bit longer. Some beauty companies are hoping to change that — by rewarding their customers for recycling and returning their empty products when they’re done with them.
Sure, it sounds a little bit like bribery — but they do it for a reason: incentivizing works. Lush offers free products in exchange for Lushies who bring back their empties (which is just what makeup and skincare enthusiasts call the products they completely use up and, well, empty), and last year alone, they collected more than a million black pots that could have otherwise ended up in the landfill or not properly recycled. Instead, they helped make more black pots to hold more beloved Lush products.
While it’s an obvious victory for the Earth and for the brands, it’s also a win/win for consumers: Not only do you get free products or store discounts, but it also takes any guesswork out of recycling your beloved products that you used until the last drop! are now empty.
Unsure which brands offer discounts and rewards for recycling their containers when you’re done with them? Keep reading for a list of some of our favorites!
Perhaps the most well-known of all recycling programs is MAC’s Back to MAC program. Recycling with Back to MAC is simple: All you have to do is bring in six empty “primary containers” (meaning, an empty bottle of foundation, a panned compact or lipstick tube, empty pigment jars — in other words, the actual container that encases the product, rather than the cardboard box it may come in). In exchange for your six empties, you’re entitled to one free lipstick of your choice (valued at $17).
If you can’t make it to the store, you can also request an online form and print a mailing label to get your empties out of your vanity (or your handbag) and return it Back to MAC.
Kiehl’s reward program for recycling — appropriately called Recycle and Be Rewarded — understands that you may not finish all your products at once, and you also probably don’t want to hold onto your empty skincare products (because who has room for that, right?!). Instead, you can recycle your empties as you finish them, and each time you bring them back to a Kiehl’s store, you’ll get a stamp; once you get 10 stamps, you’re eligible to trade it in for your choice of a travel-size item (worth up to $11).
A spokesperson for Kiehl’s tells us that, since introducing the program in 2009, customers have recycled 5,290,865 empties — and last year alone, they brought back an average of 67,683 empties each month.
There are a few stipulations, however; only full-size items can be counted as a “stamp” on your rewards card, but that shouldn't stop you from recycling, of course — Kiehl’s will accept any travel-size or complimentary items to be recycled. If you’re a skincare enthusiast, or live in a home with multiple skincare enthusiasts, and are constantly going through products, you can still only collect one reward per month.
Lush’s dedication to the environment is one of the many ways it has earned a cult following — and being a fan of their lotions and scrubs can pay off: If you bring back five empty and cleaned black pots, you’re entitled to a free Fresh Face Mask of your choice. They currently only reward for the black pot returns for a couple of reasons, Lush spokesperson Eva Cook previously told Green Matters.
First of all, the black pots are the most used or all of Lush’s packaging (not surprising, considering many of their non-liquid products are sold “naked”), and can be difficult to recycle because black plastic is typically more difficult to recycle than clear plastic. It’s also made of a special material that “can be ground down and made into new pots close to our manufacturing facilities,” Cook explained.
While it’s only the black pots that are rewarded for being recycled, Cook added if you do not have a way to recycle or compost Lush’s other packaging, they’ll still collect the items and recycle them on your behalf. In the rare cases where it isn’t possible, Cook recommended upcycling the pots for your needs.
"Customers can definitely bring in other Lush packaging, like clear recycled plastic bottles and compostable items like the Natureflex, which is a biodegradable cellophane, used to protect naked items in transit, and our shop staff will recycle or dispose of appropriately," Cook said.
"The only exception is a handful of stores where local recycling or composting infrastructure is not available. We are working on a program whereby we can collect recycling in those areas and use a third party vendor to ensure those returned materials are recycled or responsibly disposed. For those areas where recycling isn’t possible, we encourage people to reduce and reuse as much as possible: to opt for naked versions of the products they love, choose eco-friendly ways to transport their products home, and reuse any of our recycled packaging (our pots make great plant pots!)."
Since 2009, Origins has allowed their empty packages to, well, get back to its origin (sorry, couldn’t help myself); while they don’t have a ton of information online, Origins will actually make it easy for you to recycle any empty cosmetics you may have — not just their own — with their Return to Origins program. In exchange, you’ll get a free sample of your choice.
The most recent information came from a Redditor, who shared an email she got from the company.
The email stated:
Origins launched the Return to Origins Recycling Program in 2009.
Origins will accept packaging from any cosmetic company regardless of the manufacturer. Bring your empty cosmetic tubes, bottles, and jars, etc. — regardless of brands — to your nearest Origins retail store or department store counter nationwide. (*Excluding Nordstrom, Canada, and Puerto Rico.)
After being collected, all packaging is sent to a local recycling location near the Origins store or department store counter location. All packaging is then recycled, when possible, or responsibly converted to energy. We believe that the more we collect from consumers, the more we can keep cosmetic packaging out of landfills. And we hope this program will encourage other companies to follow our example.
To thank you for joining us in our commitment to the environment, when you bring back your packaging for recycling, we’ll treat you to a free sample of your choice to one of Origins high-performance skincare products.
Le Labo’s fragrances have earned a dedicated following in the world of luxury and high-end perfume; but luxury comes with a price — and their fragrances and room refreshers can definitely cost a pretty penny (unsurprisingly, as all their products are handcrafted, and free of parabens, preservatives, or coloration).
But there is one way you can cut down on a cost: By refilling your empty fragrance bottle.
Like the fragrance itself, Le Labo’s packaging is undoubtedly luxurious — and probably part of what you’re paying for. Fortunately, when you finish your fragrance, you won’t have to pay for it again. Instead, you can go to Le Labo with your empty bottle and get a “refill” for 20 percent off the normal price.
While it isn’t necessarily “recycling,” it is reusing — which may be even more important!
Pacifica has become a bigger player in the world of “clean” beauty since all their makeup and skincare products are always vegan and cruelty-free — and they’ve made their environmental reach even more impactful by instituting a reward system when you return and recycle their products.
All you have to do is go on their site and fill out a form with your personal information and what you’re recycling; they will then provide a free shipping label to mail in your products to be recycled, and when your return is processed, you’ll be rewarded with 10 loyalty points in your account, and those points can turn into discounts to be used when shopping on Pacifica’s website.
Their recycling program is made possible thanks to Preserve, which takes your used plastic and turns it into new products, such as toothbrushes and razors (which, conveniently, you can buy on Pacifica’s site).
Haircare and skincare giant Garnier (which is owned by L’Oréal) is one of the biggest names to work with TerraCycle, a private company dedicated to recycling otherwise hard-to-recycle products. The partnership between these two massive companies has made it easier than ever to recycle all of the products you use in the shower (and to style your hair when you get out).
Getting involved is easy — you just sign up on Garnier’s site, and TerraCycle will send you a prepaid label, where you can recycle all your empty goods. Unlike some of the other programs, Garnier and TerraCycle’s “Personal Care and Beauty Brigade” has a unique reward program: For every shipment over 10 lbs., you’ll receive 2 “TerraCycle Points” per unit; those points can be redeemed for TerraCycle products (such as a hanging planter or eco-friendly school supplies), or donated to a charity of your choice.
Garnier will also donate two cents to the charity of your choice for every unit of waste they collect via their recycling program. And, well, isn’t being charitable the most rewarding?!
This article is part of Green Matters’ #EarthAfterEarthDay, a campaign to remind readers that preserving the Earth is just as important after Earth Day as it is on the annual holiday. To help you keep up your sustainable habits year-round, Green Matters is hosting a giveaway for a $500 gift card to Lush, a cruelty-free beauty and skincare store with numerous package-free products.