A commonly asked question I receive is how to dispose of old toxic, chemical-filled cosmetics and personal care products in an environmentally responsible manner. Once you’ve switched over to natural products, the last thing you want to do is create more pollution by washing them down the drain or dumping in the toilet. Here are three responsible options to discard those bottles without trashing Mother Earth:
1. Drop off at your local hazardous waste facility
This is the best and most environmentally responsible way to dispose of toxic products. Most hazardous waste facilities will accept cosmetic and personal care products where they will be discarded properly. In fact, most cities have banned personal care and cosmetic products from being poured down the drain to prevent pollution in local waterways. Yes, that’s right, the conventional personal care items formulated for our bodies have to be disposed of at the same facility as paint thinner.
While some suggest at least recycling the plastic bottles, there’s still the dilemma of what to do with the contents that shouldn’t be rinsed out. And mixing in bottles which still contain product with other recyclables can contaminate the entire contents of the blue bin. Placing items in the trash is not a great option because landfills leach chemicals into nearby soil and waterways.This brings us back to the first, and best, option to treat conventional beauty products as hazardous waste.
Make the most out of your excursion to the town hazardous waste dump (no, just me?) by gathering up other hazardous items most households have lying around like batteries, bulbs, leftover paint from that cat condo DIY, cleaner, medications, electronics, etc. and drop them off, too. Some facilities have schedules for different materials or require appointments so make sure to call or check their website for the posted schedule.
2. Return unused products to the brand
Unlock your inner activist by mailing the product back to the brand or returning to the store and explain why you’re no longer a customer. Post on social media, making sure to mention the brand. This signals to the company that if you’ve stopped buying their toxic sludge, so have other customers, affecting their bottom line. I’ve created a customizable template letter to express your concerns about the harmful chemicals used by the company to include in your package:
To the X Company,
I am writing to inform you that you have lost me as a customer because of the presence of chemicals linked to serious health issues and environmental harm in the products sold by your company. Enclosed is the unused portion of (list product), which I no longer choose to use. As ingredients in this product are classified as hazardous to local waterways under state and federal law, I trust that your company will dispose of the remainder of your toxic product in accordance with local and federal hazardous waste regulations.
If you would like to win me back as a customer, remove these harmful chemicals from your formulas (list ingredients, if you choose). Make a pledge to find safe, non-toxic formulas that are tested for long-term environmental and human safety and sign The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics.
I hope to see (company name) take the well-being of its customers and the environment seriously by phasing out dangerous chemicals.
3. My thoughts on using up or donating products
If you absolutely cannot get to a hazardous waste facility and the idea of wasting products keeps you awake at night, then this is the last resort. I’ve gone back and forth with this, but ultimately, we have to think about the big picture: Yes, the chemicals are still going to be used and end up going down the drain but the impact of your new toxic-free lifestyle has a positive impact that eclipses the negatives of using the last bit of that ‘Toxic Brand X’ conditioner. You’re happy and thriving with your natural, eco-friendly products and have most likely influenced the purchasing behaviors of your family and others in your life and have now prevented multiple bottles of ‘Toxic Brand X’ from being purchased.
Understanding this, combined with the spirit of using up items that have already consumed precious resources to produce, I’d say that finishing up or donating the last few bottles to those in your community who really need it, is a reasonable option.