Recycling Considerations for Plastic Cosmetic Containers

Only 5% of plastic waste is recycled globally, 12% is incinerated and the rest goes to landfill or is leaked into the environment.

Consumers are increasingly aware of the impact that plastics have on the environment, however information provided on plastic containers is not always clear and actionable. Many beauty and personal care products are packaged in plastics and consumers often look at the pack for information on the correct way to dispose or recycle the container

A recent study by Consumers International and the UN’s Environment Programme (UNEP) found most labels confusing and inconsistent in their disposal and recycling advice. Of 31 labels assessed only 19% provided consumers with quality information to make informed recycling and purchasing decisions.

Advice on biodegradability and compostability emerged as the most problematic.

The report suggested recommendations on labelling should include:-

  • Global consistency on definitions around packaging content and reusability
  • Restrictions on the use of the “chasing arrows” symbol
  • The adoption of informative and verified recycling labels worldwide


The UK’s Cosmetics Toiletry and Perfumery Association (CTPA) has shared guidance on the use of recycled materials in plastic packaging.

Current regulations and technical restraints mean that it is often impossible to incorporate recycled materials into many types of plastic packaging due to the rigorous safety requirements in place to protect human health. Whilst including recycled material in packaging can obviously have environmental benefits of resource efficiency and carbon savings the safety of the consumer must be paramount.

EU Cosmetic regulation 1223/2009 does not have specific regulations governing the use of recycled material it does however demand that packaging purity and stability have to exist to ensure the safety of the finished product

In 2022 the government has planned to impose a tax on all plastic packaging that does not contain a minimum of 30% post-consumer recycled content.

We need new solutions, new technical innovations to help tackle the plastic waste problem.

Some work has been done on creating wood and plant-based binders for containers that biodegrade rapidly but we have a long way to go as these are not suitable for water based products.

Bioplastics are plastic materials produced from renewable biomass sources, such as vegetable fats and oilscorn starchstrawwoodchipssawdust, recycled food waste, etc. Bioplastic can be made from agricultural by-products and also from used plastic bottles and other containers using microorganisms. Not all bioplastics are biodegradable nor biodegrade more readily than commodity fossil-fuel derived plastics. Bioplastics are usually derived from sugar derivatives, including starchcellulose, and lactic acid. The problem here is that, at the end of the day, you still have plastic.

Most plastics can only be recycled once, at which point they are normally converted into clothing or some other commodity which can’t be recycled again. This means that once the second item reaches the end of its lifespan, so too does the original plastic – and it ends up in a landfill.

Recyclable plastic usually comes with a little recycling symbol printed on the bottom and depending on the product, there might be a 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, or 7 stamped in the centre of the “chasing arrows” symbol. It’s easy to miss, but this tiny digit is actually pretty important, because it’s an ID.

Plastic No. 1

Even if you don’t know the term “polyethylene terephthalate” (PET or PETE), you’ve probably encountered this type of plastic before. It’s the most frequently recycled plastic. Often used for cosmetic/personal care packaging

Plastic No. 2

This coding refers to high density polyethylene, or HDPE. It’s a little tougher than PET, but nearly as common.

Plastic No. 3

Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) is best known for its use in pipes, but that’s not the only product that relies on plastic no. 3. PVC also appears in cooking oil and shampoo bottles, and window cleaner spray bottles.

Plastic No. 4

We’ve already covered HDPE, so now meet LDPE: low density polyethylene. LDPE can be found in squeezable condiment bottles and toys as well as personal care products. It is often found in combination with HDPE in cosmetic tubes.

Plastic No. 5

Polypropylene, or PP, has a high melting point that makes it great for containing hot liquids. Syrup, ketchup, and medicine bottles all rely on PP, but you’ll also find it in bottle caps and printed labels

Plastic No. 6

Polystyrene (PS) is an incredibly versatile plastic. It can be manipulated into a soft foam, like packing peanuts, or hardened into a sturdy CD case. PS is further used in take-out containers, disposable plates and cutlery, aspirin bottles, and egg cartons and some cosmetic jars.

Plastic No. 7

There’s no long or fancy name for this plastic, because plastic no. 7 is more of a miscellaneous category for everything that didn’t fit into the last six slots.

You can safely assume that you can recycle PET and HDPE (plastics 1-2) but after that, it becomes a bit of a guessing game as different authorities will offer different services



We believe that as things stand at the moment the best we can do is to use a product that can be used over and over again. PET can be recovered and recycled again and again by thorough washing and re-melting for use in new PET products, or by chemically breaking down the PET into its constituent raw materials, which are then purified and converted into new PET.

We at Allingham Beck have also been working hard on alternatives to water based product and have been developing powders for many uses such as facial cleansing and shampooing, as well as shampoo bars, conditioner bars, moisturising bars and deodorants in fact all cosmetic products in alternative formats so that we can look seriously at our clients requests for removing single use plastics

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