The Tide Is Turning Against Plastic Packaging

5 Min Read |

Unlike fashion and other products that are self-descriptive, beauty products have always needed packaging to sell – how else do you differentiate a beauty cream or shower gel that looks much the same as any other?

Beauty products, cosmetics and packaging have always gone hand-in-hand and it’s no secret that a large percentage of the cost for luxury items goes on packaging and merchandising. Reduce, re-use and recycle has never been high on the agenda and most beauty products come with at least some element of plastic as part of the packaging – if not all. But the plastic element of packaging can take upto 1000 years to decompose.

Zero Waste reports that over 120 billion units of packaging are produced every year by the global cosmetics industry, most of which is not recyclable. And, according to DoSomething.org 50 percent of people in the U.S. don’t recycle personal care items. According to Johnson and Johnson, the failure to recycle bathroom products could result in 552 million plastic bottles ending up in U.S. landfills every year. The low recycling rate is largely attributed to a reluctance by consumers to clean plastic containers before disposal.

At the same time the increasing consumer demand for natural products and sustainability, and the general trend towards health and wellness is resulting in an increase in new brands as well as established players aiming to take advantage of the trend by claiming to be more healthy,pure or clean. But this stance puts many of those same companies in a dilemma. How can a brand applaud itself and boast about their product’s natural ingredients and numerous health benefits- and then sell that product in a plastic container that ends up in landfill or disintegrates into microbeads and gets washed into the ocean? As consumers demand that brands become more environmentally friendly, it’s not just quantity of packaging that will be under scrutiny but the type of materials used and the sources and processes. Reverberations are being felt right across sectors. The hospitality industry is waking up to the trend as hotel chains Marriott and InterContinental are removing the free toiletries due to the waste the small plastic bottles create.

But the Beauty sector has historically been slow to react. Understandably, brands are more concerned about aesthetics and making an impact on the shelves or on the screen than on a recycling report. Packaging has become an integral part of the product. But public perceptions of the invasive nature of plastic in the environment is increasing and could find many brands who don’t address the issue caught in a crossfire.

A recent report by Zion Market Research puts the global personal care packaging market at USD 25.95 billion in 2016 and expected to reach USD 38.05 billion by 2024, growing at a CAGR of around 4.9% between 2018 and 2024. Although the paper segment is expected to experience significant growth, due to rising consumer awareness, the rigid plastics segment still occupies 35% of the total consumption volume. Given the expected increase in consumption from the emerging BRIC markets ( Brazil, Russia, India and China) due to increasing urbanization and rising incomes, the use of plastic is expected to continue to rise.

A quick browse of natural beauty and pure cosmetics will bring up a raft of brands all making claims of health and wellness, but the greater percentage still rely on plastic containers. Given the worldwide concern over the increase of plastic particles in the environment one has to ask, is the beauty sector and the packaging industry taking the matter seriously enough? Efforts by anti-plastic campaigners are starting to pay off.

In January of this year Britain banned the use of microbeads in cosmetics and personal care products. But this could be just the start. The spotlight could now turn to glitter – a current must-have among beauty brands. “I think all glitter should be banned, because it’s microplastic,” said Dr Trisia Farrelly, an environmental anthropologist at Massey University.

Emerging materials, offering different textures and finishes at level of quality suitable even for luxury products, now present opportunities for brands to stand out.

One answer to the glitter problem might be eco-friendly glitter in a form that breaks down quickly and doesn’t end up in the food chain. In a move praised by Dr. Sue Kinsey, senior pollution policy officer at the Marine Conservation Society, Lush, a handmade cosmetics company, as of 1st January this year committed to using synthetic mica. “It’s a positive move by the company, who have listened to advice and clearly understand the threat,” she said.

Some brands are using recycled plastic and finding innovative ways to reduce, if not remove entirely, plastic from their packaging. Others are looking at alternative materials. Pujolasos of Barcelona, Spain began working in wood in 1967 and branched into providing caps for brandies and whiskeys in 1998 and then later in 2001 foresaw possibilities in the luxury cosmetics sector. They now count Oriflame, Clarins and Ritual among their clients.

“Wood as a packaging material has a very competitive advantage over other materials such as personalization, almost zero mold cost, reduced time to market, and the enhancement of sustainability and luxury at the same time,” – Ángel Pujolasos, engineer and CEO, Pujalosos Wood and Pack, of Barcelona

Anise Cosmetics uses a brushed silver nail polish closure with a side embossing that was developed for them by Cameo Metal Products., Brooklyn, New York.

RMS Beauty states on its website “Our concern for health and beauty extends far beyond us, to the very planet that supplied us with these healing ingredients. Packaging for RMS Beauty products is minimal, and all of it is biodegradable, recyclable or reusable.”

Glass is easily recycled, but it could be dangerous in the shower, so Soaper Duper focuses on reducing the amount of new plastics created in the world. The brand uses a combination of recycled and recyclable plastic to create its statement bottles.

As the tide turns against the use of plastic, brands and manufacturers in the beauty and personal care sector will have think holistically when designing for today’s discerning consumer. Creative thinking will be needed to meet a challenge that is bigger than just packaging.

Subscribe & Join 50,000 Fellow Beauty Industry Professionals

Get our complimentary briefing, featuring agenda setting news & analysis on the global beauty industry.

By signing up I agree to the service terms and privacy policy