What is TerraCycle? The Possible Solution To Beauty Industry Waste

6 min reading time

Beauty is experiencing a waste crisis. Every year, the industry produces around 120 billion units of packaging. And because most of that can’t be recycled, bottles, caps, and pumps used for cosmetics are clogging up landfills and polluting the ocean. Without major change, things are only going to get worse.

By 2025, the beauty market is predicted to hit a value of more than $750 billion. That’s a heck of a lot of products to waste, so something has to give. Enter: TerraCycle. Could the New Jersey-based recycling giant be the answer to beauty’s plastic pollution woes? Let’s investigate. But first, let’s take a look at what TerraCycle actually is.

What is TerraCycle?

Founded way back in 2001, TerraCycle has made a name for itself in the world of corporate recycling. In fact, it’s now the biggest in the industry, counting brands like Maybelline, Clarins, L’Occitane, and most recently, Murad, among its beauty partners.

The idea is simple: brands pay TerraCycle to provide their customers with a free recycling program for products that would be difficult to recycle anywhere else. 

For example, the variety of materials required to make pumps (used in soaps, skincare products, etc) mean that most local recycling facilities won’t accept them. But TerraCycle will; it shreds the pumps and melts them into usable pellets (which are then utilized for new products, like watering cans).

If there is no brand partnership for a specific item, customers can pay TerraCycle directly for a box to fill up with packaging to recycle. 

The company’s innovative approach to recycling difficult products has earned it worldwide acclaim, and last year, it even received a spot on the TIME100 list of Most Influential Companies. 

Is TerraCycle Really Making a Difference?

Nowadays, consumers really care about sustainable makeup and skincare. Last year, one survey found that around nine in 10 shoppers look for sustainability credentials when making a beauty purchase.

For Murad founder Dr. Howard Murad, this was a key factor behind the brand’s partnership with TerraCycle. He said in a statement: “Today, consumers understand more than ever the importance of sustainability. It has been my life’s work, and the foundation of Murad, to help people attain healthier skin and happier lives.”

“Through our newly founded partnership with TerraCycle, we further strengthen this pledge by providing easy steps to help our community support the health of our planet,” he continued. “Because wellness for the planet is just as important as wellness for the people.”

But while TerraCycle claims to make recycling easy, it isn’t without its critics.

Last year, reports surfaced that its brand programs were not actually that easy for consumers to access, due to long waitlists. And before that, in 2020, a lawsuit filed against TerraCycle claimed it was not being transparent about how recyclable the packaging of its corporate partners really is. 

One documentary, called The Recycling Myth, showed some of TerraCycle’s packaging being sent to an incinerator. But Szaky told Vox that the only packaging it burns is “noncompliant” packaging that has been sent in incorrectly. 

TerraCycle Tries To Do Better

The lawsuit was settled when TerraCycle and eight companies (including beauty giant L’Oreal and personal care multinational Procter & Gamble) agreed to introduce clearer product labels to indicate recycling limitations. TerraCycle also agreed to launch a new supply chain certification program to verify recycling claims.

Since then, the company has announced a new partnership with Evreka, a leading Sustainability as a Service Company. Together, they revealed new waste management software that can monitor waste as it moves through the recycling process.

TerraCycle’s CEO Tom Szaky said of the new launch: “This software provides us the ability to centralise and scale the tracking of all waste movements through each step of our global supply chain from receipt through multiple stages of sortation and processing to final recycling.”

“The centralisation and tracking methods implemented will allow third party certification of our recycling claims beyond any standards we’ve seen within the waste industry.”

TerraCycle is also the creator of Loop, a global reuse platform. It works with corporations and manufacturers to incorporate refillable packaging in to their supply chains. Through a deposit system, it ensures the packaging is returned so it can be reused again.

For example, last year, Loop partnered with Ulta Beauty, the largest beauty retailer in the US. Ulta shoppers pay a deposit when they order their item, which they get back when they return the empty packaging to be sorted and refilled.

The Key Solution To Beauty’s Waste Problem

There’s no doubt, TerraCycle is trying to level up and do better when it comes to recycling and reusing.

But, when we zoom out on the problem, it becomes clear that no matter how innovative, TerraCycle can’t totally bail the cosmetics industry out of its 120-billion-unit-a-year problem. Even Szaky himself once admitted: “the only silver bullet is purchasing less things.” It’s simple. If we are producing and buying fewer products, there is far less beauty waste to deal with. 

For corporations, the answer is to move away from a reliance on plastic. And for us consumers, the answer is to buy less. And when we do buy, to buy more sustainably. One solution is making use of TerraCycle and Loop when possible, but there are also a  growing number of low-waste, plastic-free brands available to us now.

Cruelty-free brand Ethique, for example, offers low-waste lipsticks, cleansers, and moisturizers, all packaged with paper and cardboard. There’s also Meow Meow Tweet, which makes use of glass jars, and Axiology offers the world’s first zero-waste lip crayon. Even better, all of these brands are certified cruelty-free too.

List of TerraCycle Brands

  • Amika
  • Acure
  • Alaffia
  • Arbonne (MLM)
  • Aussie (not cruelty-free)
  • Arm & Hammer (not cruelty-free)
  • Beekman 1802
  • Better Natured
  • Bliss
  • Colgate (not cruelty-free)
  • Deciem
  • EOS
  • Eva NYC
  • Garnier
  • Glow Recipe
  • Good Chemistry
  • Head & Shoulders (not cruelty-free)
  • Herbal Essences (not cruelty-free)
  • Josie Maran
  • Kate Somerville
  • Kopari
  • L’Occitane (not cruelty-free)
  • Living Proof
  • Mad Hippie
  • Monat (not cruelty-free, MLM)
  • Murad
  • Necessair (not cruelty-free)
  • Pantene (not cruelty-free)
  • Paula’s Choice
  • Schwartzkopf (not cruelty-free)
  • Strivectin
  • Gold Bond
  • Tom’s of Maine
  • Tula
  • Weleda
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