Return & recycle: A new lease of life for unwanted cosmetics

Lily Holbrook reports on the new return and recycle scheme for unwanted cosmetics

Lily Holbrook
10th September 2020

With progression towards a more circular economy becoming increasingly essential for a sustainable future, big brands are making noticeable efforts to cut down their environmental footprint. Or are they?

The latest news comes from cosmetic brand L'Oreal, who have pledged to completely eliminate non-recyclable, non-compostable and non-reusable plastic from their products by 2025.

Partnering with TerraCycle to introduce 1000 makeup bins to popular UK stores such as Boots, Tesco and Superdrug, the 'Makeup not Make Waste' scheme is intended to make disposal of used cosmetic products easy and accessible for consumers.

Accepting the majority of products from eyeshadow palettes and lipsticks, to compacts and concealers (but excluding makeup brushes, nail polishes and aerosols), the scheme aims to repurpose unwanted items into alternative products such as outdoor furniture.

But is this initiative enough to make up for the waste being created?

According to Will McCallum, Head of Oceans at Greenpeace UK, the answer is no: 'Given the almost daily torrent of research revealing the extent to which plastic pollution is damaging our planet, it's frustrating to see a major plastic producer like the make-up industry fail to commit to reduce its overall plastic footprint.'

With lots of big brands like Coca Cola and now L'Oreal bringing in recycling schemes to justify continued plastic production, it is important to be wary of 'greenwashing', where performative actions act as a cover up for continued unsustainable practices.

"Greenwashing is considered an unsubstantiated claim to deceive consumers into believing that a company's products are environmentally friendly"


The source of the problem remains excessive consumerism, and it is this that must be addressed if we are to make meaningful change. The conflict between ecomony and environment is likely to intensify as the need to safeguard the planet becomes unavoidable. With this in mind, perhaps the way we dispose of our cosmetics is not the only thing that needs a makeover.

Perhaps a timely publicity stunt amid Zero Waste Week (7th-11th Sept 2020), the sincerity of L'Oreal's pledge is difficult to determine.

While the latest initiative may look like a step in the right direction, clinging on to customers may be the biggest driving force for change here.

Featured Image: Pixabay

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AUTHOR: Lily Holbrook
MA Media & Journalism student and science sub-editor for the 20/21 academic year.

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