Is it Worth Recycling in the Salon?
In the 1970s, when concern over the proliferation of single-use plastic was building, attention was deflected to the problem of litter. The “Keep America Beautiful” campaign freed the nation from the worry of plastic by making them feel part of the solution. Genius! And it worked, at least we thought, until recently. But now we have marine life being suffocated by a sea of plastic and shopping bags strewn on the climb to Everest. Almost everyone, especially in the beauty industry, recognizes we can’t continue as we have. But instead of being urged to stop buying plastic, we are being told to recycle. Apparently, it will save the planet.
“Sadly, the focus on recycling has become another deflection to free us from guilt. But it’s wish-cycling. We are told to recycle but not how to do it properly, so 91% of the plastic in America still ends up in landfill, or the sea, or on the peak of a desolate mountain few people have ever climbed,” says Valorie Tate, founder of the Sustain Beauty Community. “We’ve barely cut back on plastic use, and indeed half of the plastic we use is single-use only. Most of it will never be recycled, regardless of whether it goes in the recycling bin.”
The process of wish-cycling, where we optimistically put all our garbage in the recycling bin hoping it will cut back on pollution, is as ineffectual as the ‘Keep America Beautiful’ campaign was in reducing plastic consumption. It can also be dangerous. According to Will Simpson, lead educator at Green Circle Salons, which is working towards ‘Zero Waste to Landfill’ for the beauty industry, the problem is a combination of how we sort and process our waste and how it was designed in the first place.
“Wish-cycling in its simplest form refers to people putting materials that can’t be recycled into the recycling stream— it’s a combination of hopefulness and lack of knowledge about our systems that actually creates serious challenges for the whole recycling world,” explains Will.
Begin with education
“Educate yourself and your team about what can and can’t be recycled by contacting your local municipality to find out, because if you are putting non-recyclable or dirty plastic into your recycling, it will contaminate the entire batch and it will all be sent to landfill,” he says. “Innocent ignorance is one of the biggest obstacles to successful recycling.”
Green Circle Salons advocates local solutions to common waste such as paper, plastic, cardboard, and glass and actually helps its partner salons identify the best recycling company. It then removes all the “hard to recycle” beauty waste streams such as hair clippings, excess hair color, foils, color tubes, and aerosol cans, and single-use items such as cotton, balayage materials, wax strips, and make-up containers.
“These are difficult to recycle or repurpose, and few local material recovery facilities (MRF) will take these,” adds Will. “But you must ask your local MRF what can and can’t be recycled and how it should be presented for collection.”
Checking the imprint on any plastic can help improve recycling rates. There are seven types of plastic. If it is marked PET* or HDPE, it can be recycled. PP can be recycled but only 3% is, often because it isn’t clean. LDPE can be recycled but it can be difficult to find a recycling company that will take it. PVC is downright dangerous to recycling while polystyrene or Styrofoam is so fragile it breaks up easily and goes into the environment, and has been found in the stomachs of many marine creatures. It is also dangerous when heated. Finally, if there is #7 plastic, which covers all other unspecified plastic waste, it most likely will not be recycled.
Get it sorted
A major headache for the recycling industry is multi-stream collection, where everything, not just plastic, is put in the same bin. This is near to useless for the collectors and even dangerous. Some plastics become toxic when heated while others are combustible. Meanwhile glass, paper, and cardboard go through completely different processes. So separating your waste into various streams increases the chances of it being properly processed.
Give it a wash
It must also be clean. Many of the recycling processes involve heat, so foils will end up with baked-on color, cartons with boiled milk or glass jars with the leftover sauce at the bottom will risk contaminating not just your recycling, but the whole batch collected together, sending it to the landfill even though you ‘wished’ for it to be recycled.
Check your source
The last step to limiting wish-cycling is to source thoughtfully. Cut out single-use plastic, introduce tech like Vish at your color bar to reduce color waste, precisely trim your foils to only use the inches you need, or convert from foil to Paper Not Foil to limit aluminum waste, avoid waxed cardboard that can’t be recycled, check the imprint on any plastic so you don’t buy non-recyclable versions and stop buying bottled water or offering refreshments in disposable cups.