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May 22, 2023

Sephora adds recycling bins for empty beauty products at U.S. stores

The cosmetics giant has launched a national program — including at its two Philly locations — to transform used packaging into carpet, asphalt and energy

Sephora shoppers might notice some new additions at the beauty chain's stores, but they're not serums or eyeliners. Instead, they're green recycling bins where customers can discard empty bottles, tubes, jars and applicators that might otherwise end up at a dump.

The beauty retailer teamed up with the nonprofit Pact for the Beauty (Re)Purposed program, which officially launched this month. All of Sephora's standalone U.S. locations — including the stores at 1714 Chestnut St. and in Fashion District — will now collect used products from any makeup or skincare brand. Recycled containers will be transformed into asphalt, carpet, pallets, packaging and even energy, so long as they are cleaned of any remaining product.

Products Sephora cannot accept are those made with materials already eligible for curbside recycling: cardboard, aluminum, stainless steel, clear or frosted glass and plastic containers larger than a fist. Sephora at Kohl's will not participate in the program. Pact also runs a collection service with one of Sephora's primary competitors, Ulta Beauty.

Cosmetics can be notoriously difficult to recycle due to all the caps, droppers, pumps and other small pieces that make them work. It's an ongoing concern for the beauty industry, which produces 120 billion units of plastic packaging each year. 70% of that packaging ends up in landfills.

Sephora's program arrives as cities like Philadelphia are struggling to get their recycling programs back on track after COVID-19 setbacks. Demand for plastic, which is made from fossil fuels, surged during the pandemic as millions reached for gloves and face shields for protection, or ordered takeout and household items from online retailers, Reuters reported. At the same time, many U.S. cities scaled back their waste collection programs, staggering trash and recycling pickup and suspending bulk collection entirely. In the early months of the coronavirus outbreak, for example, Philly only collected recycling every other week.

But COVID-19 merely exacerbated existing problems with plastics, which had been piling up in landfills prior to the pandemic — especially after China stopped importing the rest of the world's waste in 2018. Last year, Greenpeace reported that only about 5% of plastics in the U.S. are actually recycled.

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