Packaging: The Stepchild of Sustainability in Beauty Industry?

Although packaging has high environmental footprint of cosmetic products, it appears to be largely ignored when beauty companies look at sustainability.

Even organic cosmetic companies – many of which have sustainability built into their corporate ethos – are lagging in adopting sustainable packaging. Such companies have been pioneers in adopting natural & organic cosmetic standards, implementing fair trade & ethical sourcing programmes, and broader CSR initiatives but few are focusing on reducing their packaging footprints.

Organic Monitor finds that beauty firms are focusing on green formulations, resource efficiency and life-cycle assessments of their products when developing sustainability plans. Although companies are aware of the environmental impact of packaging, they have been slow to embrace sustainable packaging solutions.

With consumer interest in ecological products continuing to strengthen and sustainability high on the corporate agenda, the beauty industry appears to be behind in adopting sustainability packaging initiatives. For instance, the food industry is embracing ecological packaging whilst food retailers are reducing the use of plastic carrier bags. Organic Monitor finds that organic fruit & vegetables sold in most European supermarkets now have some type of bioplastic packaging. Consumers buying ‘chemical-free’ products are demanding ecological packaging. Whilst organic foods are meeting consumer expectations, natural & organic beauty products are not.

Although there is growing research in bioplastics packaging, there remain few cosmetic applications. High heat sensitivity and water permeability prevent such packaging to be used for products such as creams, lotions and shampoos. Biopolymers are mainly used in colour cosmetic cases. However, companies like Mirel aim to overcome existing limitations by improving performance of its biopolymer packaging. The company is developing bioplastic materials to replace petroleum polymers such as Polypropylene (PP), High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE), Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS) and Polycarbonate (PC).

Most beauty company are looking at recycled packaging materials. Some natural cosmetic companies, such as Neal’s Yard Remedies are using Post Consumer Regrind (PCR) Poly Ethylene Terephthalate bottles. Burt’s Bees is going further, making a commitment to use only 100 percent recycled / biodegradable materials by 2020. The US company has pioneered the use of Terra Skin Wraps, a mineral-based alternative to paper packaging for bar soaps.

Organic Monitor finds Aveda to be the frontrunner in adopting sustainable packaging solutions. The company is one of the few cosmetic companies to give priority to packaging on its sustainability agenda. It is the largest user of PCR plastic in the beauty industry, saving over 1 million pounds of virgin plastic each year. Aveda has also recycled 37 million polypropylene caps through its ‘Recycle Caps with Aveda’ campaign. The campaign involved setting up recycling bins in schools, retailers and beauty outlets. Aveda products now contain 80% or more recycled materials. The company has also reduced carbon emissions by using wind energy to power its Minnesota manufacturing plant.

Eco-packaging design is another method of reducing the packaging footprint. Some beauty brands such as Nude Skincare have developed sleek packaging that is both stylish and environmentally-friendly. Reducing packaging in design has enabled the Greek brand Korres to save 11 tons of plastic materials a year.

A few pioneers are taking a holistic approach to sustainable packaging. Apart from Aveda, Method Products has adopted the Cradle-to-Cradle (C2C) design approach. Instead of designing cradle-to-grave products, dumped in landfills at the end of their lives, this approach involves creating products for cradle-to-cradle cycles whereby the materials are perpetually circulated in closed loops. C2C design ensures packaging is environmentally responsible and packaging materials are recovered after the product is used.

Although beauty companies are undertaking a number of initiatives to lower the environmental impact of their products, relatively low progress has been made in packaging. Some companies are focusing on raw material sourcing and product life-cycle assessments, others are focusing on water, carbon and other resource usage. With packaging having such a high footprint, it seems to be the stepchild when beauty firms look at sustainability.

Sustainable Cosmetics Summit
The gamut of sustainable packaging options available to beauty companies were featured in the 3rd edition of the Sustainable Cosmetics Summit. The summit looked at recycling, reducing and reusing packaging materials, as well as bioplastics, eco-design and the C2C design approach. An interactive workshop gave a practical guide to companies looking to adopt sustainable packaging solutions.

Sustainable packaging is regularly featured in the Sustainable Cosmetics Summit. More details on upcoming editions is available from the website

Related Report: #7091-60 Strategic Insights: CSR & Sustainability in the Beauty Industry

Posted: August 19th 2010

For permission to publish our research insights, please contact our media department