The beauty industry has a waste problem. Many brands are trying to do their part to solve this problem, which is why more are turning to recycled ingredients, refillable packaging solutions, and even special recycling programs for their consumer empties. But one of the industry’s most egregious sources of waste goes unmentioned — and it has to do with the cute samples and mini-products you buy before a trip or receive as a gift with a purchase. or in vacation sets.
It’s hard enough to recycle bulky beauty products; they often contain parts – such as caps, droppers and pumps – that are not accepted by regular curbside collection programs. However, even these products are more likely to be recycled than sample-sized plastics.
“Basically, all sample-size and travel-size containers are completely non-recyclable,” Mark Falinski, PhD, sustainability scientist at Finch (an organization that helps consumers make informed, sustainable choices), told POPSUGAR. “That is to say, even though they are made from some of the most recyclable plastics, they are almost never recycled.”
The reason is their size. “Recycling-sorting machines are designed for standard-size products, like water bottles, so the machines may not recognize miniature products,” says Lea d’Auriol, founder of Oceanic Global, a non-profit organization dedicated to the protection and conservation of the oceans. As a general rule, products under two inches are not recyclable, which means that many of the small single-use packets, tubes and jars that brands often distribute are destined for landfill – or worse, the oceans and rivers. .
If you’re trying to recycle these sample-size products, Dr. Falinski says the “best-case scenario” is for the product to end up in the landfill after the machine has sorted it. However, there is another very likely possibility: “In the worst case, these containers can actually contaminate the rest of the recyclables and ruin the whole batch, leading to dumping all the items that would have been recycled.”
There are some sobering statistics on this: “We know that only 9% of the plastic we put in the recycling bin is actually recycled,” d’Auriol says.
But plastic isn’t the only material sample-size products are made of – and you might wonder if these alternative options are better in terms of recyclability. “Generally, products made from infinitely recyclable materials, like metal and glass, are better than plastics,” d’Auriol says.
However, that does not mean that they are Well“If we think about climate change, there is no doubt that metal containers and glass containers are much worse than plastic containers,” says Dr Falinski. “It takes a lot more energy, heat and, therefore, fossil fuels burned.” This results in a larger carbon footprint.
It’s also worth noting that while metal and glass materials have a better chance of actually being recycled, size still matters. “Single-use glass samples and travel packages are essentially non-recyclable if they are smaller than about the size of a credit card,” says Dr. Falinski.
The bottom line: Even if recycling machines were designed to extract miniature plastics and give them a second life, these materials would still be bad for the environment “from a waste perspective,” compared to full-size products. “They each carry less volume and therefore use more plastic per ounce of product,” says Dr. Falinski. “As a result, more containers are needed for the same volume of product, but more importantly, more plastic is needed for the same volume of product.”
Unfortunately, the best course of action when it comes to single-use, sample, or mini-products is to avoid them altogether. “When it comes to travel, the best thing a person can do is invest in reusable travel containers,” says Dr. Falinski. These types of reusable items, although often also made of plastic, end up compensating with each reuse for the high carbon footprint it takes to make them.
In cases where sample-sized containers are used for consumer testing, Dr. Falinski encourages people to rely instead on virtual trialware whenever possible: “You can always perform this test, but without creating difficult problems to manage the waste.
There is no overnight solution, but according to d’Auriol, “the change in behavior around the acceptance of these single-use sampling products needs to change, and we need to challenge brands to design their packaging to make it truly more sustainable”.