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Junk in the Trunk: Earth-Friendly Ways to Toss Makeup

There’s one in every household (at least, every household that has even a modicum of estrogen): the cosmetics graveyard. It’s usually a drawer in the bathroom or bedroom where old, impulsively bought or out-of-season makeup products go to their final rest. But what if you’re one of those brave souls who actually intends to unclutter your drawers for spring cleaning? Where and how can you dispose of the makeup mayhem?

The Environment Can Read Your Lips

Your lipstick, anyway. According to, 1,484 tubes of lipstick are sold in the United States every minute and discarded lipstick tubes contribute to the 12 percent of solid waste composed of plastic. And it’s not just the plastic tubes that pose an environmental risk; most brands’ lipsticks contain petrochemicals and lead acetates. The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics found that one-third of brand-name lipsticks contain lead in levels exceeding the federal limit for safety and that improper disposal of those lipsticks contaminates landfills and groundwater.

Never throw lipstick in the trash. Instead, purchase your pucker paste from a company that has a returns program for used tubes. Through the Back to MAC Program from MAC Cosmetics, you can receive a free lipstick of your choice in exchange for every six primary packaging containers you return to a MAC counter or through the MAC Cosmetics site. Lip-Ink International offers free lipsticks and free shipping for every four empty Lip-Ink Lip Color vials you return for recycling.

The Face of the Earth

Lipstick is the biggest culprit of makeup drawer clutter. (Count how many tubes are in yours right now, I dare you.) But forgotten eye shadows, pencils, and powders take up a lot of space in there, too. Luckily, there’s Origins, the first and only cosmetics company in North America that allows customers to bring in any product containers from any brand to their nearest retail outlet or department-store counter for recycling. Since the program started in 2009, Origins has recycled more than 34,000 pounds of cosmetic packaging, according to the company’s website.

Can’t Polish Off Your Polish?

I have never, ever seen the bottom of a nail polish bottle and I don’t know anyone who has. By the time I’ve used up half of one, I’ve already deserted the color for another, younger hue that treats me better. So I have a nice little (okay, quite large) collection of shades from cherry red to neon green conquering my bathroom shelves.

Here’s the thing about nail polish and nail polish remover: Don’t ever throw them out or flush them down the toilet. They’re hazardous waste, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and it’s illegal to dispose of them improperly. Consider them the equivalent of the household cleaners under your sink, because nail polish and nail polish remover are just as harmful to the environment and human health.

Locate your city’s household hazardous-waste program and bring your nail polish bottles there, and check the EPA site for more hazardous-waste regulations.

Clean Look Cosmetics

A good makeup artist will tell you to choose one or two quality products that highlight your best features and to not overdo it with too much gunk. The same goes for your makeup drawer. Keep it clean and streamlined by disposing of your unused products properly. Wondering when it's time to ditch old mascara or lipsticks? Check out our guide on when to toss or keep beauty products.

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