“What do I do with old cosmetics and skincare?”

A question I get asked aaaallllll the time: “what do I do with old cosmetics and skincare?” It’s a tricky one because many people have a lot of old products hanging around, and in their quests to choose better products, they’re often left wondering what to do with it all.

I’ve gone through this myself—and cosmetics have so much excess packaging. It makes my heart hurt when I try to imagine how much is actually out there in the world, and how much is being created still. Buying a powder compact that comes with a mirror, and then throwing out the mirror? Terrible. Here’s what I do, personally.

  1. Use it up if you can. It exists, so you might as well use it.
  2. Can’t use it, but it’s not expired? Look up local organizations that accept donations. Some organizations such as women’s shelters may even take partially used cosmetics and personal care products. (Vancouver folks: Wish drop-in centre)
  3. It’s expired? Remove the product from the packaging as best you can. If it’s a very, very natural product with simple ingredients, you may be able to compost it (without the packaging, of course.) This is tricky and something that needs to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. If it’s not, it’s trash, unfortunately.
  4. Now, what to do with the packaging. Look up the company and see if they have a packaging take-back program. If not, email them and put the pressure on them! Ask them what to do with it. If they say it’s garbage, tell them why this is wrong and irresponsible.
  5. Research your local recycling rules to see if the packaging can be recycled. Remember, every city is different.
  6. If it’s not recyclable, you still have a few more options: See if you can repurpose it in some way or give it to someone who can. Or, research other recycling programs such as Terracycle.
  7. Finally, going forward, try to choose better options. This can include refills (such as Elate Cosmetics or Kjaer Weis), glass, recyclable tins, or cardboard tubes. Don’t beat yourself up—just do what you can.

Have you struggled with this? What did you do with your old products? What types of cosmetics/skincare do you like?


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