Laundry is an essential part of our routine, irrespective of where we live in the world. A study conducted by Nielsen, a data, audience insight, and analytics firm, revealed that 67% of people do laundry at least two times a week1. The study further revealed that 31% of people do their laundry daily. Considering the frequency of this activity, many of us inevitably get through a bunch of laundry detergent bottles.
Although people use different variants of laundry detergent, from liquid to powdered form, many come in plastic bottles. For an eco-conscious user, the question arises: can you recycle laundry detergent bottles? Furthermore, what are the options to shun them entirely for a plastic-free bathroom?
Since companies typically make laundry detergent bottles with plastic #2 (high-density polyethylene), they are 100% recyclable. Most recycling centers will easily recycle and collect this category of plastics. However, if the nearest recycling center to you doesn’t, you can always find the next closest one.
You can check the recycling symbol on your laundry detergent container to ensure you’re putting it in the correct recycling bin. Plastic #2 is a versatile and durable recyclable material. As a result, recycling centers can readily turn recycled plastic into new products. Manufacturers can use such materials when producing items like synthetic wood and stools.
And if you're looking for a better option than single-use plastic detergent bottles, grab a reusable bottle to refill with zero-waste laundry detergent or zero-waste fabric softener. You can buy in bulk from your local zero-waste store.
You should note that the caps of some detergent bottles are plastic #5. Some recycling centers will collect old laundry detergent bottles with the caps securely affixed to their respective bottles.
In some instances, local guidance may require you to remove caps if mixed plastics pose a problem. For the successful recycling of laundry detergent bottles, a quick check of the local state, council, or municipality website should provide the information you need to know.
When old laundry detergent bottles are recycled, manufacturers can create a limit to the type of new materials. This is because these laundry detergent bottles often have colored plastics. On the other hand, we can turn plastics like water bottles into many more products due to their colorless nature.
Recycling has become a key part of sustainable living globally. It tackles waste problems in landfills and helps to conserve natural resources. Recycling also mitigates greenhouse gas emissions that manufacturing plants would otherwise release into the environment due to new production. For these reasons, you’ll be helping the environment by adopting recycling practices for products like laundry containers.
When considering recycling, it’s important to understand the type of plastic materials manufacturers make your product from. Household brands do not make all plastic materials the same way; therefore, some may also prove less recyclable than others.
Cutting down on plastic consumption is a good alternative when buying products. However, items like laundry detergent containers mostly come in plastic material. Instead of throwing away old laundry bottles, you can add them to your recycling bin or send them to a recycling center.
These old plastic bottles will most likely end up in landfills without recycling.
When in landfills, they contribute to the global plastic pollution crisis. Furthermore, plastic bottles in landfills contribute to the release of methane gas in conjunction with food waste, paper, and more.
Ensure that each bottle or jar is clean before throwing your old laundry detergent bottles into the recycling bin. This boosts the chances of your bottle or bottle ending up in an appropriate recycling center, not the landfill.
Any recyclable that is contaminated will jeopardize the recycling process. So, before you recycle your laundry detergent bottles, pay attention to these details. Don’t forget to rinse the remaining product residues and dry each bottle.
Although many plastic variants can be recycled, you can’t recycle every single plastic available on the market. Producers don’t create all plastics in the same way. You can recycle your laundry detergent bottle, but you can’t recycle every plastic bottle. Since the idea behind recycling is to reuse old products, some bottles are inappropriate for reuse.
Some plastics you can’t recycle are containers that hold motor or engine oil, pesticides, chemicals, and hazardous contents. You can’t recycle these containers and jars because they hold toxic liquids and chemicals.
There are various reasons for this exception. Firstly, many recycled containers become food storage containers and plastic bottles. Due to the toxic chemicals in these containers, they may be harmful. Secondly, if you choose to recycle these containers, they could contaminate the pile of recyclables. As a result, you should not dispose of these items at recycling centers.
Apart from these exceptions, you can recycle many of your plastic containers through various methods. You can send your laundry detergent containers for drop-off or recycle them through curbside recycling bins or programs.
However, ask the recycling programs whether they will recycle your laundry detergent bottle. You can also ask for additional details regarding the lids on your laundry detergent bottles.
Apart from the ability to recycle laundry detergent bottles, another dilemma that arises is laundry detergent boxes. Although recycling every old laundry detergent container would be great, not all can be recycled.
Laundry detergent boxes fall under this category. It’s easy to believe you can recycle laundry detergent boxes since they are primarily cardboard material. However, you’ll find that many are more than just cardboard boxes.
A laundry detergent box contains plastic lining to prevent moisture, contaminating the rest of the recyclables - if recycled. Unlike a laundry detergent bottle that is primarily plastic, a detergent cardboard box typically constitutes more than one material. We recycle products of similar materials together. So, papers, plastics, and so on go together.
Since detergent boxes contain plastic linings and sometimes plastic handles, it becomes difficult to recycle them.
This is similar to the way coffee cups contain plastics. In the same way, these lining protects the contents from humidity. Unlike laundry detergent bottles that can go together, the mixed materials of the boxes make them complicated for waste management facilities to handle.
Related: Carry a reusable coffee cup
Before you decide if recycling laundry detergent containers or boxes is appropriate, examine the packages for shiny linings. Also, check if the box has any layers. If unsure, you can also contact the nearest recycling program before throwing away your containers.
Recycled containers play a role in curbing pollution and climate change. The benefits of recycling your laundry detergent bottle are similar to any other product. Some of these benefits include:
Recovery facilities will process these detergent bottles, and manufacturers can use the recycled materials for new goods. Your next batch of laundry detergent bottles, correctly recycled, can contribute to protecting the environment.
Although we’ve established that you can laundry detergent bottles are recyclable, there are steps to ensure you handle them properly.
Once you’ve used up the contents of your products, it’s time to recycle the laundry detergent bottles. First, check the recycling symbol and label to know the type of plastic material for each bottle. This knowledge will help you understand the correct bins or programs that will accept the bottle.
Next, remove the bottle’s lid and fill the bottle with warm water. Allow the water to fill up to the top as it mixes with the remaining product to wash it out. Set the bottle aside for about 30 minutes.
After 30 minutes, pour the water out. Then, rinse with warm water again. This helps ensure that the bottle is free of the remaining product residue.
If there’s still foam, you could use a scrub brush to get rid of the remaining contents on the bottle. After thoroughly rinsing, turn the bottle upside down to prepare it for drying.
Finally, you can send the bottle off for recycling either through programs or curbside bins.
This step-by-step process ensures you recycle those empty laundry detergent bottles properly to prevent contaminating other materials.
Recycling should be the last resort in any case. You can reuse, repurpose, or recycle detergent bottles in your home in various ways. Below are some ideas to help you prevent waste:
You can repurpose or upcycle your old detergent bottles to store small items. You can do this by simply opening the top of the bottle to store small garden supplies.
Alternatively, create holes in the bottle’s cap to convert the bottle into a unique garden watering can. Another idea is to turn old detergent bottles into flower and plant containers.
Related: Can You Recycle Plant Pots?
If you're into DIY recipes, you can refill old detergent bottles with homemade detergent or zero-waste cleaning supplies. If you buy detergents in boxes, you can also pour the contents into old bottles.
Another alternative to help you reduce waste is buying your detergent in bulk. This practice reduces the number of times you have to run to the store. Plus, buying less means producing less trash.
The decision to recycle detergent bottles used in the laundry room and elsewhere around the home is important for preventing pollution. In a world that consumes items fast, it’s essential to slow down and reconsider the entire lifespan of goods.
Disposing of your old laundry detergent bottles in a way that minimizes environmental damage is crucial. Instead of throwing out old detergent bottles, they can often be recycled curbside. This way, you contribute to preserving the land and oceans.
The Dirt on Cleaning (pdf). Home Cleaning/Laundry Attitudes and Trends Around the World. April 2016, Neilson.
Jen’s a passionate environmentalist and sustainability expert. With a science degree from Babcock University Jen loves applying her research skills to craft editorial that connects with our global changemaker and readership audiences centered around topics including zero waste, sustainability, climate change, and biodiversity.
Elsewhere Jen’s interests include the role that future technology and data have in helping us solve some of the planet’s biggest challenges.