How to dispose of beauty products you tried but didn’t like

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Yes, it is possible to recycle your barely-used beauty products.

Before you know it, these products (and more) end up in the “bottom drawer of doom” alongside discarded scrunchies and dried-up mascaras to spend the rest of their days before you inevitably throw them out.

It’s no secret the beauty industry has a major waste problem — with an estimated 120 billion products per year winding up in landfill.

Rather than contribute to the problem and bin a too-dark foundation or a too-sweet scent, there are other means of recycling your beauty clutter that are kinder to the planet (and in some cases, benefit your bank balance).

Sort

Not solely reserved for spring, a deep clean of your beauty drawer may uncover a treasure trove of forgotten-about products you may wish to reintroduce to your routine, given they’re not past their best.

Equally, it offers up the opportunity to be realistic about the products you will and won’t use — such as that metallic green liquid eyeliner you’ve been saving for “one day”.

Treat your tidy-out like taking a stockroom inventory — sort through products by category, starting with makeup then skincare, hair care, body care and fragrance.

Separate any double-ups, empties and lightly used products into three piles — to recycle, to donate, or to keep.

Recycle

For hygiene purposes, there are a handful of products that can’t be given a second lease on life.

Any product that’s been opened and has a reusable applicator, like mascara, lip gloss, concealer or nail polish isn’t suitable for donation or resale, same with any open-jar packaging that requires you to dip your fingers in to get product out.

It’s a good idea to part ways with opened or swatched cream-based makeup, which can harbour bacteria, along with anything that’s expired, only available on prescription, or used for oral hygiene.

Thankfully, there are a number of recycling initiatives available in Aotearoa that make easy work of disposing such beauty items in a way that’s kind to the environment.

TerraCycle, the country’s largest waste management and recycling provider, has partnered with several beauty brands and department stores with take-back initiatives or free recycling programmes that encourage consumers to bring back empty or almost-empty beauty products to be cleaned, sorted and recycled before being reintroduced to the chain.

Garnier, Gillette, Jeuneora, Kiehl’s, Maybelline, Mecca and Sephora are just a handful of the brands aligned with TerraCycle, while others like Emma Lewisham and Aleph Beauty employ their own circularity initiatives to extend the life cycle of a single jar and close the loop.

Donate

Your first port of call when it comes to donating lightly used beauty products might be not-for-profit organisations or homeless shelters, however, many hold strict policies on offering out pre-loved items.

Charities like Auckland City Mission, Women’s Refuge and Dress For Success readily accept all manner of lotions and potions in their unopened forms, but it’s best to call ahead to ask before you donate any products that have been lightly used.

Auckland City Mission accepts toiletries such as shampoo and conditioner, soap and moisturiser. Donations can also be made through charitable organisation Soap For Society, who partners with the Mission to address hygiene poverty in Aotearoa.

Dress For Success asks for shampoo and conditioner, toiletry bags, small bottles of body lotion, perfume and shower gel to aid women as they re-enter the workforce.

Women’s Refuge ran a Love Grace Handbag Appeal in February last year in honour of Grace Millane, issuing a call-out for the donation of toiletries, beauty extras like hand cream and luxuries like makeup and perfume.

The Aunties, a charitable organisation which supports women healing from abusive relationships, asks for hotel-sized or full-sized toiletries to help women in need.

Sell

Beauty consignment company Second Skin collects, sanitises and sells unloved or unused beauty products on behalf of the seller, an idea that was dreamed up by founder and managing director Anastasia Donnachaidh during the March 2020 lockdown.

What began with a single exfoliating product that Anastasia herself had tried and disliked, quickly morphed into a bona fide business proposition to combat beauty waste.

It took Anastasia six months to establish how to protect both the consumer and seller in the previously untapped beauty resale market, and in September 2020, Second Skin launched with an e-commerce platform and burgeoning social media offering.

Second Skin adheres to strict product resale criteria to uphold consumer safety and build trust. All products must be authentic, within their shelf life and not damaged, while unopened items must be able to be verified as exactly that.

Opened products must be checked for a rough percentage of how much product is remaining and be within their PAO listed on the bottle.

Anastasia says the initial response to a beauty consignment business was a hesitation but adds that after consumers became aware of the strict hygiene and sanitisation processes every product underwent, sellers came quickly.

Of course, many items like mascara are unable to be resold, but a large proportion of the business (approx. 80 per cent of sales) is that of new, unopened products.

“I didn’t want a peer-to-peer marketplace model where used beauty products are sold directly as there’s a lack of confidence and authenticity. Instead, I started a consignment model with a robust product criterion. Every product is assessed by me via an auditing process, which means our customers can shop with confidence,” Anastasia says.

She adds Second Skin is an excellent antidote to the current cost-of-living crisis, with sellers receive up to 60 per cent of the sale price (ex GST), and buyers being able to purchase high-quality beauty products from popular brands like Mecca, Paula’s Choice, and Drunk Elephant at a fraction of the RRP.

“We’ve offered a solution to get something for their products that were gifted but would never be worn, and the buyer can select their favourite unopened or lightly used products at a heavily discounted price. It’s very appealing,” Anastasia says.

Sellers can deliver barely used or brand-new products directly to the Second Skin warehouse in Westmere, or purchase a Selling Kit to pack their own items and book a courier collection. Any products that are rejected in the auditing process are collected as part of TerraCycle’s Zero Waste Box.

Moving forward, it’s Anastasia’s hope that Second Skin will continue to capture the attention of beauty lovers wanting to make a little room in that drawer of doom.

“We’d love to generate a greater awareness that you can do something with your unloved or unused products – our number one goal is to grow our selling and buying audience,” Anastasia says.

“We want to make the beauty resale process as efficient and frictionless as possible.”

Jose Reber

Jose Reber is a professional writer based in Wisconsin. He guides editorial teams consisting of writers across the US to help them become more skilled and diverse writers. In his free time he enjoys spending time with his wife and children.

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