Identifying Recycled Plastic Packaging on Your Favorite Personal Care Products

By Bridget M. Burns in Thinking Sustainably

While necessary for daily use, personal care products can create a lot of waste. The frustrating truth is that a lot of product packaging ends up in landfills because it isn't recyclable, or it's not accepted in curbside recycling programs. That said, one easy way to reduce your impact on the environment is to reduce your household trash, and doing so starts with your purchasing habits.

Do you seek out personal care products in recycled plastic packaging? When you finish a product, do you ask whether or not it's recyclable? It may not be second nature to think about sustainability when shopping, and that's OK. By arming yourself with just a little bit of knowledge, you have the power to make a big difference.

How to Identify Recycled Packaging

There's a reason the saying "reduce, reuse, recycle" is arranged in a specific order. It's great to buy products in recyclable packaging, but it's even better for the environment if the packaging is made from reused materials. By reducing the amount of raw material packaging you purchase, you can simultaneously reduce your own carbon footprint.

Companies are generally proud of the fact that they're using recycled packaging; often, they'll even include a seal or text on the product. This makes it very easy for someone who is shopping for personal care items. Seals to look for include the 100 percent Recycled Paperboard seal from the Recycled Paperboard Alliance and the Certified Recycled Content Seal from SCS Global Services. You may also find text explaining what portion of the packaging is recycled.

Bottom of Tom's of Maine product package

Interpreting the Numbers on Plastic Product Packaging

If the product you want to buy is not packaged in recycled materials, the hope is that you'll at least be able to recycle it when finished. This is definitely easier with outer paperboard packaging. Determining the recyclability of plastic packaging can be a little more difficult. If the product you want to buy comes in a plastic container, check the bottom for a recycling symbol and its number.

Plastics are categorized using a system of seven numbers. According to the Sustainable Packaging Coalition, this Resin Identification Code system was introduced in the eighties to facilitate the recycling of post-consumer plastics. Each number represents a different type of plastic with characteristics that are appropriate for different goods. For example, a number six plastic might be used for children's toys, whereas a number two plastic might be used for a gallon of milk. Number seven is reserved for all other plastics that are not included in the first six categories, making it the most difficult category to accept for recycling.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), only 29.9 percent of PET, or number one plastics—typically bottles and jars—are recycled, despite high demand from manufacturers looking to reuse the material. By learning the different types of plastic and their recyclability, you can help address this issue.

Back of Tom's of Maine product package

Curbside Recycling and Other Options

Do you ever wonder how to dispose of old toiletries? The first step is to learn your local curbside recycling regulations. Some municipalities are "zero sort," meaning you can mix plastics, paperboard, metal, and glass all in one recycling bin. Other areas only accept certain resin identification codes. It can be tempting to throw everything into your recycling bin regardless of your city's rules, but according to The New York Times, "aspirational recycling" can do more harm than good. Introducing something that is not truly recyclable, like a paper coffee cup, can cause an entire batch of recycling to be considered contaminated. When a batch is contaminated, it all gets sent to the landfill.

A good first place to start is your town or city's official website. There, you will generally find a link to information on solid waste and recycling. If accepted materials are not immediately apparent, there should at least be a phone number to call for more information.

Don't feel overwhelmed if your curbside recycling program is more limited. Luckily, there are solutions available to help you keep personal care packaging out of your trash. TerraCycle is a company that works to recycle packaging that might otherwise end up in the landfill. Through TerraCycle's Tom's of Maine Natural Care Recycling Program you can recycle mouthwash bottles and caps, deodorant containers and caps, toothpaste tubes and caps, soap packaging, floss containers, and even toothbrushes. TerraCycle also has programs to recycle things like contact lenses, lip balm containers, drink pouches, and energy bar wrappers. Many TerraCycle programs accept products from all brands regardless of program sponsor. After all, we all win when more packaging gets recycled!

Recycling bin on the curb

Steps You Can Take Today

A great first step to take in becoming more eco-conscious about your toiletry product purchases is to review the packaging of products you currently have in your home. You may be pleasantly surprised to find that some are already made of recycled plastic packaging, or recycled paperboard.

Next, identify the products with recyclable packaging and assess them based on the information you have learned about your municipality's curbside program. If they're not accepted in your city, visit the TerraCycle website to see if you can find a recycling alternative that works for your family.

Finally, identify which products you use that create the most packaging waste and evaluate whether or not they're items you can replace. When it comes to personal care, it can be hard to give up an item that has worked well for you. Once you determine which items are replaceable, you can return to the toiletry aisle armed with your new packaging knowledge to find more sustainable replacements.

Reducing your environmental impact is a marathon, not a sprint. By slowly switching the personal care products that you use on a regular basis to ones packaged in recycled materials, you can make a huge impact. Do you have tips on how you cut down on household waste? Share with us on Twitter!

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The views and opinions expressed in any guest post featured on our site are those of the guest author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of Tom's of Maine.

Why It's Good

One way to decrease your impact on the environment is to decrease your household trash that ends up in the landfill. By paying attention to packaging when buying personal care products, you can find options that are recyclable, made from recycled materials, or both! Programs like TerraCycle help you do good by offering an alternative way to dispose of packaging that cannot be recycled curbside.