Zero Waste Nail Polish Tips! (Remover, too!)

Re-posted with updates from Plastic Free July 2020: Day 26 – Nail Polish / Remover

For many, nail polish has managed to slip under the zero-waste radar. Maybe it’s because these brightly colored little bottles are usually made of glass, and therefore it doesn’t trigger our immediate anti-plastic packaging defenses. That’s understandable, but here’s the truth:

Commercial nail polish is made from a combination of alcohols, solvents and plastic and they should not be released into the environment. When our nail polishes chips, that’s microplastic entering the environment.


How often has our toe nail polish chipped off at the beach? That’s direct microplastic-to-ocean littering, even if it wasn’t intentional. I’m guilty of this, too!


Of course press-on, acrylics, gels, and all those other styles are also made from plastics, with the same harmful chemicals.

The Toxic Trio:


According to, “A vast number of ingredients can go into making a single bottle of nail polish but eco campaigners generally focus on what is known as the ‘toxic trio’ that users need to be aware of: dibutyl phthalate, toluene compounds and formaldehyde” (Source).

What worries me is how much I used to chew on my nail polish growing up.

Did we mention nail polish often contains glitter?

Don’t get me started.


Read: Scientists Call for a Global Glitter Ban


Are Nail Polish Bottles Recyclable?

For the most part, no.

Nail polish is flammable, which can create serious problems for waste haulers. That is why fingernail polish is considered hazardous waste and must be disposed of safely (Source).

In fact, not even Terracycle can accept these items!


Can any companies recycle nail polish bottles?

Chemwise offers a vague return policy. According to their website:


-Only nail polish that is in liquid form is accepted into our recycling program. (Why?)
-We do not accept broken bottles. (Why?)

For more information about our Nail Polish Recycling please contact Chemwise at            (source: Chemwise)

No prices are listed on that page, but according to other resources, the box required to ship the nail polish products in is about $80.


Safer Nail Polish Alternatives:



There are safer alternatives available! Pacifica’s 7 FREE nail polish is made without parabens, phthalates (dibutyl phthalate), toluene, xylene, camphor, formaldehyde, resin, or animal testing.

LVX is another nail polish manufactured “without formaldehyde, Formaldehyde Resin, DBP, Toluene, Camphor, Xylene & Parabens. L V X is TPHP free and Gluten Free” (Source).

But we still have the problem of the bottle itself.


The Safest Alternative: Natural Manicure



Giving yourself (or receiving) a natural manicure is the safest solution for you and the planet. It might not be as glamorous as the sparkly, bright pink Barbie-esque nails, but it’s classy and sustainable.

Using one or a combination of the following tools:

  • tea tree oil (diluted with water)
  • your favorite skin oil (I like jojoba, argon, sesame, or coconut)
  • a nail buffer (I have the same one from when I was 16)
  • a nail file (I prefer metal)
  • nail clippers


  1. I soak my nails in a shallow dish filled with warm water and a drop of tea tree oil
  2. If I have any hang nails, I carefully use clean nail clippers and remove them.
  3. I trim and file my nails as needed
  4. Using the buffer, I polish my nails until the shine (like a shoe!)
  5. Last, I massage the oil into my nails, cuticles and hands

Repeat for your feet!

Tea tree oil has natural anti-fungal and antiseptic properties and can improve the health of your nails if used regularly.

I haven’t had to cut or push my cuticles back using this method, but everyone is different!


Are any companies closing the loop?

Even if they were, how would we send the nail polish bottles back safely to be processed, given that they are flammable hazardous waste?

It’s a real issue.

It would be great to see shops offer refillable nail polish services, but there would be many inherent obstacles. It’s not like nail polish pours quickly. And how do you really empty a bottle of nail polish in order to refill it? Eventually, the nail polish residue would get so thick in the bottle, there would be no room to refill. It would just be a glass bottle full of dried polish.  Would it be sanitary?


What about nail polish remover?

Unless it specifically says otherwise, nail polish remover contains acetone which is made from Propylene and benzene. Propylene and benzene are made from petroleum.

READ: PUBLIC HEALTH STATEMENT: The Toxic Effects of Benzene Exposure

So whether your nail polish chips off or you’re wiping it off with acetone, you’re exposing yourself and the environment to some pretty nasty things

Safer Nail Polish Remover Alternatives:

41oR3Aq9T1L._SL250_Acetone-free nail polish remover (packaged in glass)

There are many safer, acetone-free varieties available as well. Some I could find at my local Whole Foods, but they were packaged in plastic bottles. Karma Naturals –  uses completely plastic-free packaging and soy-based ink.



Disclosure statement: As an Amazon Associate I earn a small percentage from qualifying purchases if accessed from this site. As always, use Amazon as a last resort to buy the items necessary to prevent future waste. For more information, check out 5 Zero Waste Shopping Tips

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