Blueland is known for their refillable cleaning products: pop in a capsule, add water, and another bottle of cleaning liquid is at your fingerprints. Now, the company is doing the same, but for a face cleanser. It’s part of their quest to reduce plastic waste in everyday personal care items.

But with it, they’re launching a unique campaign called Beyond the Bottle, in which customers can tweet at Blueland with a picture of any beauty product they’d like to dispose of, and the Blueland social media team will get back to the customer with the right route for recycling (or trash).

Packaging is the largest generator (46%) of all plastic waste, and the personal care industry is among the largest producers – creating more than 120 billion units of packaging every year globally, most of which is not recycled, says Sarah Paiji Yoo, founder and CEO of Blueland.

“Packaging in the beauty industry is also notoriously unclear in terms of how to responsibly recycle or dispose. We looked into the top beauty brands in the category and found that less than 10% of them actually had instructions on how to recycle their products.”

So I asked her why she’s decided to pursue this campaign, which goes beyond the realm of Blueland, especially when brands themselves are unclear on what to do with a product at the end of its life.

Esha Chhabra: So Sarah, why did Blueland feel the need to do this for all beauty products — and maybe not a select few?

Sarah Paiji Yoo: Blueland’s mission has always been to make eco easier for everyone. The current reality of beauty packaging makes that really hard! Our mission extends far beyond our products, and this is a perfect example of how we bring it into practice. Now for the first time in history, figuring out what you should do with your beauty packaging is completely free and easy, no matter what the product or local recycling rules are.

There is such a massive opportunity for us to really impact the broader industry, and that’s something that we’re so proud of having done in the cleaning space.

The cleaning industry is years ahead of the beauty industry when it comes to labeling packaging with information on material or end-of-life instructions. With the launch of our facial cleanser and entrance into the beauty space, we knew we wanted to take the same progress the cleaning industry has seen and bring it to beauty. Our hope with Beyond the Bottle is that:

One, it helps educate consumers about different material options that are available and so we can start understanding which are better for the planet, which can influence what products we choose to purchase, and

Two, creates an incentive for brands and retailers to create and merchandise products in better materials, thus creating a virtuous cycle.

Since our products are made to be refilled forever, they aren’t meant to be discarded after final use, thus never facing consumers with the question “how do I recycle this?”

Chhabra: How did you build this tech out?

Paiji Yoo: No tech, all human-powered! We have worked with our team to train and prep them to provide the best support possible.

It’s a testament to just how complex it is as this information is not readily available to be aggregated using technology.

It will often require us manually reaching out to customer service teams of brands to get more information on the material (since it’s typically not provided on packaging or brand websites), as well as looking up the specific recycling rules where the person lives since recycling capabilities vary widely by municipality.

Chhabra: How accurate is it? Is there anything you can’t provide info on?

Paiji Yoo: We’ve done our best to compile information on popular products in the category, local recycling rules, and common materials used in beauty packaging.

There are times that even the customer service representatives at brands may not be able to provide more information on the material, or the information that they provide is too general to be helpful – e.g., if they tell us it’s a plastic but can’t specify what type of plastic.

Chhabra: One of the biggest issues in recycling/compostability is that the infrastructure has not been there. Do you run into this problem as well?

Paiji Yoo: Absolutely. Recycling is very local and dependent on local infrastructure and capabilities.

Recycling rules are also extremely local. The seven types of plastic – some not recyclable anywhere and others only recyclable in certain locations. And some towns do not recycle glass or metal at all. It all depends on the facility that is servicing your area’s recycling equipment – e.g., some sorting facilities want you to keep caps on versus off. If you keep them on and the facility can’t process, the caps become dangerous because bottles subject to high pressure can force caps off at high speeds. For others, if you don’t keep on, they will fall through the equipment and clog machinery.

We can only be as informed as facilities let us, but the good news is, there is always someone to call or information to find online.

And beyond that, it’s dependent on demand for those recycled materials. China used to be the largest recipient of US recycled plastic, but beginning in 2018 they’ve stopped importing recycled plastic and paper and thus a lot of our recovered materials still don’t have anywhere to go but landfills.

Recycling is important but still a very imperfect solution. Ultimately, we need to consume less, reduce packaging and replace disposables with reusable materials.

Chhabra: This new facial cleanser puts you in the beauty space. Does that mean you’ll be doing more beauty products?

Sarah Paiji Yoo: Blueland is an innovation company, and we are so proud of all the game changing new innovations we’ve introduced to the market in such a short period since we’ve launched. That said, we also push ourselves to the highest standards of sustainability, and we don’t want to just launch things for the sake of launching things. And the world certainly doesn’t need more beauty brands and more beauty products!

We will continue to focus on only creating products that can have outsized impact, and most importantly, will only create products that consumers truly need and use. And create products that are unique, positive contributions that move us towards a cleaner planet.