How Can I Tell If The Packaging Of My Cosmetic Products Can Be Recycled?

by Gio

recycling symbols cosmetic packaging

When it comes to beauty shopping, does packaging influence your decision? I’m a sucker for pretty packaging and, when I was younger, I bought my fair share of products because they looked so irresistible. But as I’m getting older, I’m becoming less interested in how pretty a bottle is and more concerned about whether it can be recycled or not.

Separate waste disposal has now become mandatory in many places, but there are some materials that just cannot be recycled, or others that are often refused by recycling plants because they are difficult, and therefore expensive, to recycle. That’s why it is important to choose, whenever you can, products that come in eco-friendly packaging.

But how to recognise them? Here’s a quick guide to help you:

plastic recycling symbols

Deciphering plastic recycling symbols

Plastic packaging can contain a weird symbol. It’s a triangle made of three arrows surrounding a number that ranges from 1 to 7. This number identifies the type of plastic the container is made of. The name of said plastic can also be found, shortened (example: PET stands for Polyethylene Terephthalate), below the symbol. These are useless, though, if you don’t know what they mean, so here’s a quick guide:

#1 Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET or PETE)
Inexpensive, lightweight and easy to recycle, this type of plastic is used mostly in containers for mouthwashes, water, soft drinks, and body oils. It can be recycled into, among other things, food and drink containers, carpets, tote bags and furniture.

#2 High Density Polyethylene (HDPE)
A versatile and recyclable type of plastic, HDPE is used in bottles that house shampoos, detergents, cereal boxes and shopping bags. It can be recycled into recycling bins, household cleaning containers, benches, pens and many other things.

#3 Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC)
A tough type of plastic that’s used for containers that house shampoos, detergents, cooking oils and can be used in windows, medical equipments and railing. It can be recycled, but because it contains chlorine, which releases toxins when burned, the recycling process is difficult.

#4 Low Density Polyethylene (LDPE)
A flexible and versatile plastic, LDPE is used to make squeezable bottles, toys, furniture and clothing. It can be recycled into shipping envelops, furniture, floor tiles and many other things.

#5 Polypropylene (PP)
Because PP has a high melting point, it is used for containers that house hot liquids and foods, such as take-outs, but it can also be found in medicine bottles, straws and syrup bottles. This too can be recycled. It can then be used for many things, including storage bins, brushes, ice scrapers, and trays.

#6 Polystyrene (PS)
When PS is made into foam products, it is called Styrofoam. It is used in egg cartons, disposable plates, furniture and packaging for electronics. It is very difficult to recycle, so many recycling plants don’t accept it. When they do, they can reuse it for light switch plates, foam packaging, and rulers.

#7 Other
This number is used for all the other types of plastic resins. They can be found in sunglasses, DVDs, water bottles, and some food containers. They aren’t always recycled, but when they do, then are turned into plastic lumber and bottles.

recycling symbols

Other symbols

The type of plastic used to make a bottle, a jar or a tube, isn’t always stated on the label. Sometimes, the packaging contains only generic symbols. These are the most common:

Mobius Loop
This means that an object can be recycled, but not that it will be accepted by all recycling plants. When the symbol includes a %, followed by a number, in the middle, it means that the packaging contains only that percentage of recycled material.

This symbol doesn’t tell you if a container can be recycled, but only that you should dispose of it carefully and thoughtfully.

The Green Dot
This symbol can be seen on the packaging of products sold in European countries and signifies that the producers and suppliers have made a financial contribution towards the recycling of packaging. But it doesn’t mean that the container itself is made of recycled material or that it can be recycled.

Not every containers feature a recycling symbol

As I was writing this post, I went through my stash to see how many of my products are made with recyclable materials, and I was astonished, and disappointed, to discover that most of them do not contain any symbols at all. Not even a tiny useless tidyman (ok, the tidyman is not entirely useless, but it just reminds us of something that we should practice anyway). This makes it difficult for consumers to make an informed choice and the most eco-conscious of them will simply leave these products on the shelves.

The Bottom Line

Next time you go shopping, pay attention to the label and opt, whenever possible, for products housed in recyclable containers. And if a container can’t be recycled, why not use it for something else? An empty jar can house your homemade concoctions or all kinds of small things like pins and buttons. Or you could use empty containers for you craft projects. Use your imagination, and try to minimize waste as much as possible. The environment will thank you!

Do you prefer to purchase products with an eco-friendly packaging, and don’t you care if it can be recycled?

Take The Guesswork Out Of Skincare Shopping

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MonicaP March 21, 2014 - 3:48 pm

I have to say .. I toss almost everything into the recycle bin (except food container items) and let the recycle folks sort. Hmm, I suppose that’s rather bad 🙁


Gio March 21, 2014 - 9:41 pm

Monica, that ‘s always better than not recycling at all. 🙂

Ana March 23, 2014 - 9:17 am

Yes, I pay attention to the recyclability and hate excessive packaging.
There are not many recycling plants around, so I’d rather just buy as little as possible.

Gio March 23, 2014 - 8:27 pm

Ana, well done! I agree, recycling is great, but not buying too much in the first place is even better. And I so hate excessive packaging too. There’s just no good reason to do that.

Marianthi March 23, 2014 - 8:33 pm

Thank you! I wondered about the different numbers but never really knew about their meaning.
We’re still trying to convince people not to throw food waste on the recycling containers, we’ll get to the different types or recycled materials eventually…

Gio March 23, 2014 - 8:41 pm

Marianthi, you’re welcome.

It’s such a shame that so many people still refuse to recycle properly. I guess we’ll just have to take it one step at a time, and hopefully, one day soon, recycling will become second nature for everyone.


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