This month I tasked myself with finding out how or how it’s best to be recycling beauty products. I can separate my empty containers into glass, plastic etc. and take it to my local recycling dump. But, how do I know if it’s even being recycled once it gets there? Worse even, according to this article published by Refinery29, the mirror, pump, applicator and magnet components of makeup packaging are not recyclable.


*Updated June 2020


What I set out to do, is find out if any of the countless beauty companies lining the shelves of our stores, are doing anything to encourage their customers to bring their empty products back. The factories making them could recycled or re-purpose them once returned. Brands use the same packaging, surely they can be used again?


In my deep dive into beauty companies represented in South Africa, I found only two that specifically mention recycling on their websites (more on that later). I then contacted 23 beauty companies sold in South Africa with a South African social media presence. I asked a simple question:


“Do you have any consumer driven recycling programs in place? I.e. what customers can do with their finished product containers.”


Only 5 replied, and of that 5, none offer a consumer driven recycling program. Let that sink in.


The global cosmetics product market was valued at USD 532.43 billion in 2017. By 2023 this figure is expected to reach USD 805.61 billion. Production and consumption of makeup is certainly not slowing down and while brands will easily pump millions of dollars (not Rands) into advertising, in favour of more sales aka. more production, why aren’t they visibly taking a percentage of that figure and putting it into managing the waste their products create? If companies don’t make changes at production level, what choice do they give us, their consumers, in trying to be more environmentally conscious and eco-friendly? It’s either, find an alternative that gives us a better choice, or turn a blind eye to the waste our choices create.


This isn’t to say that no companies are doing anything. Yves Saint Laurent, a brand that falls under the L’Oréal group were one of the companies that responded my request. They said that although they don’t have a consumer driven recycling programme in place, they do have a sustainability programme which amongst many other objectives, is working on optimising packaging.


Since January 2018, the Group has not used any PVC-based material in the production of its finished products, and they are also working to reduce their resource consumption through large-format or refillable packaging. Their website explicitly states that by 2025 50% of the plastics used in their packaging will either be of recycled origin or bio-sourced.


Also, 100% of their plastic packaging will be refillable, rechargeable, recyclable or compostable.


Currently the group owns Lancôme, Giorgio Armani, Yves Saint Laurent, Biotherm, Kiehl’s, Urban Decay and IT Cosmetics (to name a few), which means sustainability improvements should be applied across all.


When it comes to refillable products, South Africa may have options for groceries but are lagging behind in cosmetics. Loop by Terracycle (which is being called the international leader in recycling) is the most innovative solution I could find.


Loop is currently available in certain states of North America, Canada, France and the UK. They partner with brands to create refillable packaging. This packaging is unlike what you would expect to find your favorite shampoo in. The design makes use of innovative features, materials, and aesthetics. These products are then available in the Loop Store for purchase.


There are no subscription fees or memberships required. You just pay for your item with a small refundable deposit fee (for borrowing the packing it comes in). Your products are delivered to your door in a Loop tote, which was designed to eliminate disposable shipping materials. You put your used empty products back into the Loop Tote, once finished and schedule a free pick up from your home. Loop then hygienically cleans the empty packages you send back so that they are ready for reuse. They also give the option to set your favorite products to “auto-refill when returned”.


Despite their newness, cosmetic brands that they have already created some products with include the Body Shop, Pantene and REN skincare. Perhaps refillable makeup and a completely international presence isn’t too far away.


Who currently offers a consumer driven recycling beauty products program in South Africa?


  • M·A·C offer a “Back to M·A·C program” internationally. M·A·C accepts returns of its primary packaging through the Back To M·A·C Program. By returning six M·A·C containers to a M·A·C counter, you will receive a free M·A·C lipstick. Some exclusions apply.


  • Hey-Gorgeous, a proudly South African Skincare company (That sells makeup products too) are doing quite a bit in the recycling arena. They use PET (recycled plastic containers), recycled packaging and print their labels on recycled paper. Hey-Gorgeous also have a consumer driven recycling initiative. They welcome the return of clean empty jars to them where they will be autoclaved and reused. For each return they donate R1 to CleanC.


  • Lush, a fresh handmade cosmetics brand. They have a 5 pot promo – when you bring 5 black pots back to them you get a free fresh face mask.


Do you;

  1. Know of any other cosmetic companies specifically in South Africa that offer a consumer driven recycling beauty products programme?
  2. Recycle your cosmetics/makeup in a specific way or try to minimise waste?


Let me know in the comments, I’d love to hear so I can update this article with new information!

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  • Marcha
    June, 19, 2020

    This is a great article, thanks so much. Please keep up the search. I really want to get rid of my old and used makeup and it’s a problem.

    I know Lush also has a program in which you return 5 empties and receive something in return. not sure of the details.

    Thanks again, will check in again in hope of more related information.


    • Feige Lewin
      June, 19, 2020

      Thanks Marcha, Unfortunately as of now I haven’t found any other beauty recycle programs. I have just been recycling in plastic/ glass etc. but I feel like it’s such a missed opportunity for beauty companies. I will definitely update as I find relevant info. With regards to Lush, I have confirmed the details with them and updated this article to include them. They have a 5 pot promo – when you bring 5 black pots back to them you get a free fresh face mask. Thank you for contributing to this piece!