White bathroom counter and mirror

Photo courtesy of Logan Ripley/​Unsplash

It’s official: we are way more conscious of what fills the bottles, tubes, and jars in our homes. The natural products movement is exploding, experiencing growth rates two to three times the industry average, allowing companies that are genuinely invested in promoting human and environmental health to grow and thrive.

While this shift towards cleaner cleansers is encouraging, it has also created a little-discussed problem with big consequences: What should we do with all of those old, potentially harmful products still lurking under the bathroom sink?

Here’s how to clean up your cabinets without creating more waste.

Microbeads

The Dirt

Microbeads are tiny plastic spheres generally found in personal care products, including face scrubs, body washes, and even toothpastes. They are a type of microplastic, defined as a plastic fragment less than 5 millimetres in length. Another, more recently-disputed beauty product additive, non-biodegradable glitter, also falls under this category. Likely because of the major threat it can cause to sea creatures, the US government has prohibited companies from manufacturing products containing microbeads in 2017, and US stores may no longer sell such products beginning in 2018. 

Disposal Recommendation: Divide and Conquer

The best (though not ideal) way to dispose of microbead products is to salvage what you can, then carefully send the rest to a landfill.

If the product comes in a recyclable container, you can transfer it into sealable, non-recyclable packaging bound for the trash, then recycle the empty container.

Pro Tip

Many companies offer packaging recycling services of their own. Contact your supplier to see what takeback options they offer.

Hands making a circle

Photo courtesy of Nicole Honeywill/​Unsplash

Nail Polish

The Dirt

Getting rid of those cute little jewel-toned bottles may seem like a simple task, but big fumes can come in small packages. Filled with flammable and toxic ingredients, many nail products are actually considered household hazardous waste (HHW) and should be treated with care to prevent from causing harm after disposal.

Disposal Recommendation: Use It, then Lose It

If you don’t mind using up the rest of what you have before painting away safely, that’s totally acceptable. Yes, the polish will eventually be released into the environment as it either chips off your nails or when you eventually wipe it off. However, once the polish is used, you may be able to recycle the glass bottle yourself or through the manufacturer. To get the most out of each bottle, try adding nail polish thinner to thickened polish.

Disposal Recommendation: Call for Backup

Since conventional nail polish is considered HHW, most waste disposal companies have established procedures for disposing of it. Generally, you are required to let your uncapped polish dry out in its bottle, then give it to your waste management facility either through a drop-off or scheduled pickup at your residence.

Disposal Recommendation: Make it a Team Effort

Chem​wise​.org offers a nail polish recycling program that salvages both containers and polish for maximal material reclamation, with a mail-in kit including all materials needed to complete the recycling process. A handling charge of $98.97 covers the kit and round-trip shipping from and back to the Chemwise processing facility. Yes, it’s pricey, but the shipping container can hold at least 200 bottles. Make safer disposal a group effort and split the cost with friends to ease any wallet shock.

Woman facing away from the camera with long blue hair

Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Lies/​Unsplash

Hair Dye / Bleach

The Dirt

Home hair dying and bleaching kits are a bit of a mixed bag when it comes to disposal, especially since ingredients can vary so widely. These treatments are technically designed to go down the drain, but should you let them? 

Disposal Recommendation: Ask an Expert (or Two)

Since hair dyes vary in chemical composition (older formulations tend to contain more, and greater concentrations of, questionable ingredients), and water management systems vary in their filtering capabilities, there are two sources worth consulting. First, contact your local water treatment plant and ask if they have any recommendations. You can also ask your local waste disposal service if it considers hair dye to be HHW and follow their disposal procedures accordingly.

Disposal Recommendation: Water it Down

Diluting potentially harmful chemicals before releasing them into the world is a little safer than letting ashy bronde” loose down the drain. Mixing your leftover dye with plenty of water before pouring it out is strongly advised for those with septic systems, as tank bacteria is sensitive to changes in chemical environment.