How TerraCycle recycles beauty products

At TerraCycle, we develop first-of-their-kind processes for recycling complex waste streams, like beauty products, that are not accepted in municipal recycling programs due to their size and composition of multiple materials.

It all starts in our research and development labs, where our in-house scientists develop technical recycling solutions. They first work to understand the material composition of the products, and once they define a process, our Operations team leverages our network to find third-party facilities with the capabilities and equipment to bring our innovative solutions to life.

Though the waste may be complex and the processing solutions highly-technical, we make it easy for you to recycle your beauty products with us! No need to wash and clean out every lipstick tube and mascara wand—we’ll recycle all accepted waste.

Want to start recycling your beauty empties? It's easy! Browse all beauty and personal care recycling programs.

How TerraCycle recycles complex beauty waste

Receipt & check-in

When you send us your shipment of beauty waste, we receive it at one of our many TerraCycle Material Recovery Facilities, which are located in the same country in which the waste originates.

Inspection & aggregation

When a shipment is opened, we do a visual inspection and sort out any non-compliant waste. Compliant waste is aggregated so it can be efficiently sent to one of our processing partners. 

Cleaning & sorting

Because beauty packaging often has residual product in it, these items are shredded and then washed so they can be properly separated and recycled.

  • Plastics are processed by polymer type so we have to separate them further using:
    • Sink-float separation, which uses water to separate co-mingled plastics based on density.
    • Air density separation, which uses fans to create a column of air. Low-density items like remaining paper from labels are blown upward, and heavier items fall.
    • Optical sortation, in which items pass under infrared sensors which record the light waves that bounce off of each item. This allows us to sort plastic shreds by type of plastic material.
  • Metals must be separated out through magnetic separation. 
    • Magnetic separation uses magnets to separate “ferrous” metals, like steel, from other materials. The shreds are then smelted into metal sheeting, ingots, rods, and bars.
  • Glass is separated through screening by feeding it into a rotating drum with screens of different sizes.
    • Smaller items like glass pass through the screen while larger items continue to the next screen.
    • Glass is pulverized and may be used in applications such as aggregate in construction materials.
  • Aerosols are collected and recycled separately with a specialized aerosol recycler.

✓ We guarantee that we recycle all of the accepted beauty waste sent to us through our free and paid recycling programs. Learn more about our third-party auditing and verification.

Completing the recycling journey

Our sales team and processing partners then sell the materials to manufacturers who produce new products and complete the recycling journey. These end products may include things like shipping pallets, thermoform packaging, piping, conduit and other industrial products, outdoor furniture, and much more. We also make our own line of products from the recycled material.

Learn more about how TerraCycle is working to eliminate the idea of waste.