In a world where we’re facing global crises that none of us expected to encounter growing up—or months or weeks ago—it’s hard to know where we can hang our hopes. Personally, I find it helpful to celebrate the small ways in which the world is making progress. The new announcement by Nordstrom that it will begin accepting beauty packaging drop-offs is one such silver lining.
The global cosmetics industry produces over 120 billion units of packaging waste per year. But you don’t need to be a statistician to know how many cardboard boxes, bottles, sprays, nozzles, palettes, and tubes come out of our desire for beauty. Since Asian countries including China have stopped importing our plastic waste, most municipalities in the U.S. have stopped collecting these items in recycling. Even in the past, items that are irregularly shaped and require intensive cleaning—such as a tube of old mascara—were bound to go to landfill.
Nordstrom seeks to close this loop and attempt the first large-scale circular beauty economy. Teaming up with TerraCycle, a company that normally specializes in mail-in packaging recycling for a fee, Nordstrom will accept used beauty packaging and containers from any brand at 94 locations nationwide. Their goal is to recycle 100 tons of beauty packaging waste by 2025. Note: Credo Beauty, a cult-favorite clean-beauty chain, also partners with TerraCycle for a similar recycling program in 11 locations nationwide.
Once collected at a Nordstrom location, the beauty packaging is shredded and sorted by material type. It is then cleaned, melted, and remade into new plastic products, such as picnic tables and park benches. Metals are separated using magnets and smelted into new raw material, while glass is cleaned and color sorted before being turned into new glass products.
The incredible thing is that so many different types of compacts, tubes, bottles, mascara and eyeliners, and pencils can all be recycled through this process. But beware of these products that won’t be accepted: aerosol cans, blow dryers and hair straighteners, perfume bottles, nail polishes, and removers. These products are classified as hazardous waste due to their flammability. There are ways to get around this, dumplings! I have a non-aerosol hair spray from Jason, and Mary mailed me one of her hair straighteners (in a used box and bubble wrap, natch!). I focus on using my perfumes all the way instead of collecting a bunch that barely ever get used for years, and also refrain from buying a lot of nail polish for the same reason. If you get tired of the same old fragrance or polish though, consider swapping with friends instead of buying and discarding.
The fact that not every beauty packaging is recyclable should show that this isn’t a panacea to our plastic pollution, let alone the world’s problems in general. Indeed, it’s worth noting that Nordstrom probably isn’t doing this purely out of the goodness of their hearts—it will attract consumers into their stores who otherwise might not have visited, and lead to increased revenues. The best way to minimize one’s waste is still to consume less, rather than rely on recycling. But in a world where putting on a lipstick is an act of defiance—much like during WWII—I love knowing that I can put on a bold face without worrying about what to do when that tube is empty.
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Photo: Johann Kristensen via Unsplash