How the Cosmetics Industry Can Help Boost Sustainability Efforts


More than 8 million metric tons of plastic waste ends up in the oceans each year, and that quantity is rising annually. Scientists estimate that if the current rate of increase continues, the amount of plastics in the world’s oceans will outweigh all of the fish they contain by 2050.

The beauty industry has been one of the contributors to this environmental crisis, producing about 77 billion units of plastic packaging each year. But there’s a movement afoot among pioneering beauty brands to change the status quo. Many brands are reassessing the materials they use to package their products. For some, incorporating sustainable packaging solutions is an extension of their brand identity of using only natural, sustainable ingredients in their products. For others, switching to sustainable packaging and eco-friendly manufacturing process makes sense from both a business and marketing standpoint. And given the scope of the challenge, beauty businesses can be the ones driving change.

Consumer Demand for Sustainable Beauty Products

People have used cosmetics and other beauty products for many centuries. As wider networks of trade and commerce grew, these products began being packaged in wood, glass, and other materials for transport and sale. With the rise of economical plastics in the mid-20th century, plastic packaging became the choice for many beauty-product manufacturers.

In recent decades, however, consumers have grown more concerned that the cosmetics and beauty products they use are made with natural ingredients. Many consumers, particularly millennials, are highly focused on environmental issues. They prefer to buy products that contain only nontoxic ingredients and that are made using sustainable manufacturing methods.

Many beauty brands have responded to this demand, and sales of organic and natural beauty products are forecast to reach $22 billion by 2024. Some companies are actively working on making their products more sustainable, which means reassessing every aspect of their product — from the source of the ingredients to the packaging that they use.

For example, cosmetics brands are adopting a wide array of eco-friendly packaging, from using packaging made with FSC certified paper from well-managed forests to packaging shampoo, deodorant, and other beauty products in refillable containers. Brands are also prioritizing zero (or close to zero) waste by prioritizing minimalistic, recyclable, and compostable packaging.

In 2018, L’Oréal and Quantis teamed up to found SPICE (Sustainable Packaging Initiative for Cosmetics) to help speed up the adoption of sustainable cosmetics packaging. The organization, which now includes 25 global cosmetics brands and enterprises in the packaging industry, seeks to guide the development of sustainable packaging policies and advocate for packaging innovations.

Many beauty brands have already adopted plastic-free packaging, and in 2019 the founder of one sustainable hair-care brand started Plastic Free Beauty Day (June 17). This annual event educates consumers about the effects that plastic packaging and other beauty industry waste has on the environment and publicizes the benefits of biodegradable packaging.

A Great Option for Sustainable Packaging

Beauty brands already know that packaging can convey a powerful message about their products, as well as their brand identity and message. At first blush, sustainable packaging may not seem like a good fit for cosmetics and other beauty products, but “sustainable” doesn’t mean “cheap” or “bland.” Sustainable packaging materials can provide the appropriate appeal that a beauty product conveys — luxury, chic, earthy, etc. — while also providing consumers the eco-friendly products that they seek out.

Many beauty brands are unsure how to choose the right sustainable packaging — both to contain the product and for shipping and shelving. Finding the balance between eco-friendliness and functionality can be a challenge. One packaging material that beauty brands should consider is molded fiber.

Molded fiber is made from recycled corrugated pulp, paper, or fast growing natural fibers such as bamboo, bagasse, and reeds. In addition to being sustainable from beginning to end and producing a lower carbon footprint, molded fiber packaging solutions offer many benefits, including providing a smooth, premium-quality feel and excellent draft angles; flexibility, durability, and moisture resistance; and cost effectiveness. Molded fiber offers cosmetics brands the possibility of customization (shape, colours, textures) to boost the aesthetic appearance of the packaging and to coordinate with brand identity.

Some molded fiber manufacturers also use materials sourced solely from responsible, green suppliers and make biodegradable packaging that is compliant with RoHS (Restriction of Hazardous Substances) and other regulatory standards.

Taking Advantage of Sustainable Packaging

Even better for beauty brands, sustainable packaging solutions like molded fiber are compatible with the latest advances in packaging technologies, including smart packaging. Smart packaging incorporated new technologies, such as radio-frequency identification (RFID), near field communication (NFC), quick response (QR) codes. As an example, a QR code could be embedded in the molded fiber packaging for lipstick, lotion, or other beauty product. When consumers scan the code with their smartphones, a message would be displayed that details the sustainability efforts that the brand is pursuing, provides instruction on how to recycle the package, or offers suggestions on how to reuse it.

As more and more beauty brands begin to recognize the benefits of having consumers regard their products as environmentally responsible, the push for sustainable packaging in the industry will increase. That means adopting alternatives to plastics and other eco-unfriendly packaging will become a higher priority. Have you started planning your company’s strategies to increase sustainability and market your products’ eco-friendly values?


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