“My love of beauty products used to feel like a harmless habit — except to my bank account! — but when I was doing a spring clean of my bathroom shelves I got really upset over how much stuff couldn’t go in the recycling. How do I cut down my footprint without killing my new beauty product buzz?” —Guilty in Guelph, Ont.

Recycling day always makes me sad. Does everyone else keep a bag of random things that you know won’t be ever be recycled? Does @thehomeedit make a bin for that?

In a special report last year, the Kit beauty director Katherine Lalancette did the math on Canadian beauty product waste with a Greenpeace spokesperson: They estimated 773 million plastic personal care containers end up in landfill here each year. Globally, the beauty industry generates 120 billion cosmetics packages a year, as estimated by the U.S. green beauty emporium Credo Beauty, launched by former Sephora executives.

How does one person go about making a difference? I had a long and enlightening conversation with Toronto skin care entrepreneur Graydon Moffat, and I hung up feeling more hopeful than guilty. She explained that there are some short-term options — like more, better programs for hard-to-recycle-items — and that longer-term solutions on the manufacturing end are starting to take shape.

Here is a quick rundown on the current state of beauty recycling options for consumers: Many glass jars and plastic containers can go in curbside recycling if you wash out the product (check your local program for details; in Toronto you can search the handy Waste Wizard tool at toronto.ca to see what can go in).

Still, there are limitations. “Most municipal recycling is wish-cycling,” said Moffatt. That’s because lids, spray tops, springs, droppers and all the little component parts can only be recycled by specialist companies, so wash and collect those and seek out a collection bin for them. A new one to check out is Pact Collective — you can drop beauty empties in their bins at Hudson’s Bay locations or mail them in (go to pactcollective.org).

Plenty of stores now have TerraCycle boxes in which you can drop beauty empties from any brand to be reused or recycled: Find one at Nordstrom, the Detox Market, Holt Renfrew, Deciem, L’Occitane or Pure + Simple.

You can bring Aveda, M.A.C, Kiehl’s and Lush empties back to the store to drop in their own recycling boxes, and some locations offer incentives for doing so. Lush, of course, is also a longtime pioneer in package-free products, and more companies are offering shampoo and conditioner bars in simple cardboard packaging, like Attitude from Montreal.

Rest assured that many brands are now doing the work to switch to more responsible practices on their end. “I feel guilty, too,” said Moffat, a former vegan chef with a background in corporate food production, who began her beauty line, Graydon Skincare, out of her kitchen sink. Many of her superfood-powered formulas are made with upcycled ingredients from food production, such as the blueberry seeds in her Berry Rich cream. Today, her line is sold in the Detox Market and Credo, which means her “little Canadian brand” has to comply with those retailers’ strict clean ingredient standards, as well as emerging requirements for quantifiably sustainable packaging.

“Everything is in the process of changing,” Moffat said, of the transition to eco-conscious packaging. “We are in the muddy water right now.”

Indie brands are leading the way, says the Detox Market founder Romain Gaillard, and it is a crowded field. “With so many brands launching every week, we see more innovation and commitment toward recyclable and biodegradable packaging.” Smaller brands can be more nimble, he said, because even if mass brands are committed to recyclable and sustainable packaging, they “need to move through some of the packaging purchased two to three years ago.” Economies of scale are tough to retool midstream.

Moffat says the best environmental packaging options are much more expensive to procure in smaller quantities, especially for an indie brand in a business with tough margins — and this illustrates the hard fact we as consumers also need to confront in our purchasing choices. “Making the changes we want is very risky,” Moffat said, citing the fact that the 100 per cent post-consumer recycled glass she wants to use for her hero serums can cost $2 more per bottle, or three times the price of regular glass. Consumers, similarly, have to be willing to pay a bit more for items that align with their values. “When you support indie brands, you are on the team with them and have a vested interest in their efforts,” Moffat said.

Switching to post-consumer recycled plastic comes with its own challenges: It can be more brittle and is often discoloured; virgin plastic is a lot easier to work with. “But I also realized that if I don’t make these changes, I won’t have a business,” said Moffat. “You have to walk the walk on sustainability.”

For its part, the Detox Market, which has three stores in Toronto, one in New York and two in L.A., is aiming to go plastic neutral by 2023. To that end, Gaillard said, “for every pound of plastic sold through the Detox Market, an equal amount of nature-bound plastic will be retrieved and appropriately disposed of, either recycled or repurposed.”

He also sees refillable container programs in the cards for the future of luxury beauty, citing Kjaer Weis, La Bouche Rouge, Tata Harper and Pharrell Williams’s new Humanrace brand as early adopters. Beautycounter and Charlotte Tilbury offer some refillable products, too, as do various fragrance counters. That means committing to a product you like and actually refilling it over the long-term.

Nothing, and no one, is perfect yet. Take heart knowing that there are brands fighting for your hearts and wallets by playing the long game in sustainability and do the same with your empties — as best you can.

Shop the Advice

Shop Canadian indie brands working to transition to environmentally friendly packaging and practices.

Graydon Skincare Fullmoon Serum, $87, thedetoxmarket.ca SHOP HERE

Graydon Skincare Fullmoon Serum, $87, thedetoxmarket.ca

This popular serum adds radiance, smooths fine lines and nourishes skin with vitamin C-rich moringa, moth bean extract and coffee. The bottle is made of 50 per cent post-consumer recycled glass, and $1 from each sale goes to the Ocean Legacy Foundation.

Everist Waterless Body Wash Concentrate, $28, helloeverist.com SHOP HERE

Everist Waterless Body Wash Concentrate, $28, helloeverist.com

A Toronto-based company created this concentrated body wash scented with bergamot, rosemary and peppermint. Just add water in the shower! It comes in a recyclable aluminum tube with a zero-waist tube key for squeezing out every drop and there’s a cap return program.

Attitude Nourishing Conditioner Leaves Bar, $15, attitudeliving.com SHOP HERE

Attitude Nourishing Conditioner Leaves Bar, $15, attitudeliving.com

This Montreal brand features terrific quality bar shampoo and conditioners for various hair goals (nourishing, volumizing, detox) and they come in recycled cardboard packaging.

Three Ships Dew Drops, $45, threeshipsbeauty.ca SHOP HERE

Three Ships Dew Drops, $45, threeshipsbeauty.ca

Another Toronto start-up that made the cut at The Detox Market and Credo. Dew Drops hydrating serum is Three Ships’ hero product, made with hyaluronic acid sourced from mushrooms and upcycled bark extracts, a by-product of the Quebec lumber industry. In 2022, the brand promises all its plastic components will be minimum 30 per cent PCR, and it will become climate neutral too.

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