We all use deodorant to avoid a stinky situation, but all those tubes can present a disposal dilemma. What exactly are deodorant tubes made from? Can I recycle them? Where can I recycle them? And what other options do I have? Earth911 gets to the bottom of these questions and more in our latest recycling mystery.
Feature image: Flickr/Neil Conway
Editor’s note: Originally published on September 4, 2012, this article was updated in October 2018.
Can I Recycle My Deodorant Tubes?
Answer: Yes, at least parts of them. But it’s not always easy.
How Are Deodorant Tubes Recycled?
Why are deodorant tubes difficult to recycle in the first place? In almost all cases, the tubes are entirely composed of plastic. However, it’s not always easy for consumers to determine what kind of plastic their tubes are made from, making it tough to tell if their local recycler accepts the material.
The Composition of the Tubes Varies
Most deodorant tubes are made from high-density polyethylene (HDPE or #2 plastic), low-density polyethylene (LDPE or #4 plastic), or polypropylene (PP or plastic #5), but materials may vary by brand. To make things even more complicated, many brands have a dial on the bottom of the tube that is made from a different plastic polymer than the rest of the container. The cap and protective insert may also be made of different polymers.
Avoid Recycling Contamination
Why does it matter if tube components are made from different plastics? Tossing items that aren’t accepted by your local recycling program into the curbside bin creates recycling contamination, which costs cities big bucks and can ruin an entire load of recycling.
To avoid contaminating your local recycling stream, remove parts of the tube that aren’t identified by a recycling code, unless your local recycler tells you otherwise. That includes the dial on the bottom of the tube, the plastic insert that moves the deodorant stick up and down, the cap, and the protective insert that you removed before you started using the product.
Product residue inside the tubes can also be problematic for recyclers. Leftover product inside recovered packaging can diminish the value of the material for recycling. Rinse out your tubes with warm water and soap to remove any residual product before you drop them off for recycling.
The Recycling Process
The recycling gurus at TerraCycle, who accept all brands of deodorant tubes for recycling through the mail-in Tom’s of Maine Natural Care Recycling Program, have an interesting way of dealing with the challenges of deodorant tube recycling.
“They’re shredded,” Ernie Simpson, lead scientist for TerraCycle, said of the company’s deodorant tube recycling process.
“So, the whole step is to take the material, shred it, wash it, melt it and then form new pellets from the original material,” he explained. “It’s the pellets that go into the fabrication of … new items and new applications.”
Before TerraCycle accepts any type of product packaging — such as deodorant tubes — for recycling, the company’s team of scientists thoroughly researches packaging components and tailors recycling processes accordingly.