Conscious Salon

Eco-friendly business ideas, new products, and issues relevant to "green-minded" salons.


Ready to Recycle?

Everyone benefits when you start a salon recycling program – the salon, your clients, and the planet.

<p>illustration/Elisa Cohen</p>

The twentieth anniversary of the first Day on April 22, 1990, caused government officials, businesses, and consumers to re-examine their habits and question current environmental legislation. What they discovered strengthened their resolve to do better by the planet in the next decade. One year later, with economic pressures and the Middle East situation shifting our attention from the environment, have we lost interest in such activities as recycling,  eliminating hazardous waste, cleaning up the air, and preserving the habitats of endangered animals?

No! While legislators may currently be side-tracked because of other pressing issues, many businesses and consumers have established programs or are starting to investigate ways they can do their part for the earth.

There are a number of things salon professionals can do to help preserve the planet. A newcomer to the environmental movement might be overwhelmed by the diversity of issues. However, there are several things you can begin doing immediately that will help protect the planet and one of the simplest is a recycling program.


Recycling saves the energy that would otherwise be used to obtain raw materials, and it also slows the rate at which we fill landfills with non-biodegradable products.

From a business point of view, an environmentally conscious salon may have an edge in attracting discriminating clients. Consumers are keeping an eye on the business world to see who is engaged in activities that benefit the environment. They want to buy products and services from a business that cares about the planet. In short, recycling is one way to show your clients you care about their future.

Intrigue Salon in Atlanta not only makes a recycling program an essential part of its business, but also enlists the help of its clients. When customers return clean, empty bottles originally purchased at Intrigue Salon for recycling, they receive 25¢ toward the purchase of a new bottle of product.

“We started recycling plastic, glass, and aluminum in January 1990,” says Jeff South, owner of Intrigue. “We’re the first salon in the United States that I know of to get clients to bring bottles back. Now every client brings bottles back.” Intrigue donates the cash proceeds from recycling to non-profit environmental agencies.

Client response, says South, has been amazing. “We estimate that there were 1,500 bottles brought back in 1990,” he says, “and every time they bring a bottle back, they buy something else. Our retail sales have increased since we started the program. People tell us they like what we’re doing.”

In addition, South feels that recycling helps the salon define itself. “A salon needs an identity. Everyone knows we’re a salon that recycles. We’ve gotten a lot of press because of our program,” he says. Attention like that can only improve business.


If you or your salon colleagues already recycle at home, you can have a good start for recycling at work. That’s how a recycling program began at Van Michael Salon in Atlanta. “A lot of our employees were already into recycling,” says Paige Trunk-field manager. “We have a Coke machine and we put a bin next to it to recycle aluminum cans. We also recycle plastic and aluminum foil, and we buy recycle-coded materials.”

Call your local recycling center.  How did Van Michael Salon learn what it could recycle? “We just called the recycling center,” explains Trunkfield. That should be your first step in starting a recycling program in your own salon. You can find your local recycling center in the Yellow Pages. Call to find what materials they recycle and materials they will pay for. Most centers will take glass, newspaper, aluminum, and some kinds of plastic. Based on the information they give you, develop a recycling plan best suited to your salon.

Assess the amount of waste already produced in the salon. What recyclable materials do your employees throw away again and again? Are most of your products packaged in plastic or glass containers? Do you have newspapers and magazines available for your clients?

Set up the program.  Once you decide what to recycle, place bins in convenient places throughout the salon. Bins for aluminum cans could go near the refrigerator or soda machine, for example, and a box for newspapers can be stored behind the receptionist’s desk. Each station could have its own mini-bin for glass and plastic.

“One of the largest problems with recycling in the salon is finding a place to keep the goods,” South points out. While space may be limited, most salon owners can probably find a spot for a box or two. Beginning a recycling program means that you’re doing what you can for the environment – not that you’re inconveniencing yourself or your employees. In time, you may be able to do more.

Decide who will transport the materials to the recycling center and what will be done with the proceeds. The money you make from recycling can be used to reimburse the driver who takes the materials to the center, donated to an environmental program, or used to reward your employees. For example, you could set up a complimentary beverage and snack counter, put fresh flowers on each technician’s table, or buy a gift certificate for your “Employee of the Month.” Or, a favorite charity would appreciate the donation.

Use products in recyclable containers.  If you’re starting a recycling program, why not make sure most of the products used in your salon have recyclable containers? Fortunately, many manufacturers are doing their part by making sure their containers are recyclable. Some use recycled materials, such as cardboard packaging and glass bottles. Others code their plastics for recycling.

Let clients know about your program. “Get some displays and posters,” South advises, “and write a letter to your clients with a mission statement.” The sooner clients know your goals, the sooner they can begin to participate. At least they will know that your business is doing its part and will generally support your efforts. Both Trunk-field and South report that clients have been enthusiastic about their programs. “People who forget their bottles go back for them,” says South. “They do it because they want to – they don’t do it for 25¢”

To heighten awareness, offer environmental magazines and literature in the salon reception area. Clients will spend their time learning why recycling is important.


Most businesses start a recycling program that focuses on glass, aluminum, newspaper, and plastic. Once your employees have formed the habit, recycling isn’t difficult, but at the beginning there are some guidelines to be followed.

Glass. One hundred percent recyclable glass is used to make other glass products. To recycle glass, remove metal or plastic caps and collars. Paper labels can be left on the jar. Check with your recycling center to find out whether rinsing is required. Bottles that contained chemicals should be thoroughly cleaned before recycling, and you should check with your center to be sure they’ll accept clean polish bottles, acrylic liquid bottles, and glass bottles that contained other chemicals. In general, these are not as readily accepted as bottles that contained lotion or liquid soaps. Sort the bottles according to color. Finally, do not mix tempered, Pyrex, or microwavable glass with regular glass bottles.

Aluminum. Aluminum is one of the materials most readily accepted by recycling centers. Before recycling cans, rinse and bag them. Crushing the can is usually not necessary, but it will save you space. Aluminum foil, pie plates, and food containers can also be recycled, as well as scrap aluminum from such things as window screens. “The neat thing is that more than half of the aluminum from recycled soda cans is back on the shelves in a few weeks as new cans,” says South.

Newspaper. Newspaper is one of the most convenient materials to recycle – simply stack it and send it to the recycling center. Be sure no magazines or glossy advertising materials are mixed in, as these will contaminate the batch. Magazines can be recycled, but with difficulty. Check with your recycling center.

Plastic. “No one thinks plastic is being recycled, but it’s the most valuable material after aluminum,” says South. At least two kinds of plastic are recyclable; check with your local center to learn what they accept.

High-density polyethylene (HDPE) plastic is used for one- and two-liter soda containers as well as many salon products. Polyethylene (PET) plastic is a harder plastic used for milk and water jugs and colored liquid detergent bottles. Clean, empty bottles made of both types of plastic can be recycled. Separate each type of plastic before recycling. Many containers are coded for recycling, which makes your job easier. Codes are usually located on the bottom of plastic bottles. You’ll see either a number or the triangular recycling symbol with a number inside the triangle. Interestingly, recycled plastic containers are usually made into permanent (as opposed to disposable) plastic products, such as paint brushes, park benches, and manhole covers.

Whatever you choose to recycle, it’s important not to contaminate a load with other items. Keep trash out of your aluminum bin and don’t mix different types of plastic. Once your recycling program is in place, it takes only minutes per week to maintain.


After you get in the habit of recycling, you may find yourself asking what else can be recycled. People don’t usually think of phone books, junk mail, cardboard, and computer paper as recyclable, but some centers will accent these items.

Another way to augment your recycling program is simply to refrain from buying what you will immediately throw out. Buy products in recyclable packaging and recycle that packaging. Have employees and clients use coffee mugs or tea cups instead of polystyrene (Styrofoam) cups. Avoid products with excess packaging if possible.

Finally, keep an eye on manufacturers’ activities. You will be pleasantly surprised to learn what each company is doing for the environment. Most are packaging their products in recyclable materials, creating products that are environmentally safe, or are in some way supportive of the environmentally safe, or are in some way supportive of the environmental movement. Look for – and patronize – environmentally conscious manufacturers.


As you begin taking steps to preserve the planet, you may find your interest in the entire movement growing. “What got me started was I felt the need to recycle,” says South. “I had always been into the environment of the salon with fresh flowers and music, and that interest continued outside the salon. Also, overuse of landfills is a big issue locally.” South’s interest led him to place displays, a globe, and environmental literature in his salon. At Christmas, Intrigue employees created a “Rain Forest Christmas Tree” with potted ferns. Now, Intrigue Salon purchases only recycled paper products and is interested in working to preserve the world’s rain forests.

“You can move on to other areas,” South says. Other salons may find they’re interested in animal rights, planting trees, or cleaning up their lakes and bays. Everyone can do something. It not only benefits the planet, but also your salon because clients are looking to you to set an example.

“We recycle because as a small business we’re saying to the community that we must take steps to preserve the environment,” says South. “If we can do it, why can’t other businesses?”

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