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Guide to Sustainable Packaging for The Beauty Industry

Sustainability, according to the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, is "a global economic development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs." Sustainability packaging is rapidly becoming a key consideration for brands, but it can be difficult for companies to know where to start. 

The beauty industry is known as a notoriously wasteful one, producing and throwing out vast quantities of plastic packaging. So, a good place to start is in its packaging. We believe that beauty is for the greater good. So is sustainability. But when the two come together, truly transformative things happen. 

sustainable packaging for cosmeticsPhoto Credit: Arka


This guide contains everything you need to know to navigate this side of the beauty supply chain and make sustainable packaging choices that have a positive impact on our planet — while keeping your bottom line healthy even while your business grows. Here, we take a deep dive into the different considerations, definitions, and best practices to help you find the most effective way forward on your beauty packaging journey. 


    Why Does Sustainability Packaging Matter to the Beauty Industry?


    In the past few years, the beauty industry has seen more and more consumer demand for sustainable products. In fact, according to a study by Statista, more than half of all consumers say they would be willing to pay more for environmentally friendly products. And this trend is only growing. Also, in an article from Packaging Digest, 36% of consumers say they’re more likely to buy from a company that has sustainable packaging, and 22% would pay more for a product if it had sustainable packaging.

    hawaii beauty custom boxes
    Photo Credit: Arka


    What do sustainability and packaging have to do with each other? When it comes to how your brand packages its products, there are two main reasons why you should care about sustainability:

    1. The Environmental Benefits of Sustainable Packaging

    Every year, the beauty industry launches thousands of new products in a myriad of packaging formats. And, while this may be exciting for beauty fans and marketing teams, this constant cycle of production, use and disposal are taking a toll on our environment.

    Developing eco-friendly product packaging is an important responsibility for the beauty industry, that can set the stage for other industries to follow suit.

    2. The Business Benefits of Sustainable Packaging

    Sustainability isn't just about waste reduction, or even greenhouse gas emissions (although they are a major consideration). It also has social implications that can affect how your brand is perceived in an increasingly values-driven marketplace.

    Consumers have become more conscious about what they buy, including the impact their purchases have on the environment. As such, sustainability packaging can impact your bottom line and reputation. 


    3 Common Types of Sustainable Packaging for the Beauty Industry

    When it comes to packaging, beauty brands are constantly challenged with finding ways to reduce their impact on the environment. For example, while traditional materials like plastic and glass may be recyclable, they can also be harmful to our planet. 

    There are many ways that you can create sustainable packaging for your beauty products without sacrificing aesthetics or function. Here are three common types of sustainable packaging for the beauty industry:

    1. Recyclable materials

    Go green by using recyclable containers that can be easily disposed of without harming our ecosystem.

    2. Reusable materials

    Reuse by employing refillable containers and developing systems that enable consumers to replenish products instead of purchasing new ones.

    3. Biodegradable materials

    Reduce waste by employing minimal packaging and adopting lightweight and/or compostable materials. A growing trend in the beauty industry is using plant-based materials for packaging. We're seeing this trend take off in the form of paperboard made from wood pulp and cardboard made from recycled paper. These plant-based materials are biodegradable, compostable, and recyclable.

    Below are examples of sustainable packaging materials that are recyclable, reusable, and biodegradable.

    Bamboo: A perfect material for cosmetic brushes, bamboo is one of the fastest-growing plants on Earth. In addition to being eco-friendly, it's durable and easy to work with. Bamboo can also be used in boxes and other packaging supplies.

    Hemp: Hemp fibers are incredibly strong and resistant to mold and pests. Plus, they're biodegradable and 100% recyclable.

    Recycled Paperboard: Using recycled paperboard is a great way to reduce waste from old paper products and help the environment in the process. It can be used for folding cartons, tubes, and cosmetic labels.

    Card Stock: Card stock is less expensive than paperboard but still an eco-friendly choice for your beauty products. You can use it for your custom cosmetic boxes or just as labels on top of other containers you purchase wholesale.

    Common Challenges Beauty Industry Faces When Trying to Implement Sustainable Packaging Solutions

    The beauty industry is one of the most resource- and energy-intensive industries in the world. According to the World Bank, it takes more than 10 liters of water and 7kg of carbon dioxide equivalent to produce a single plastic shampoo bottle. However, this industry has quite a few challenges in terms of implementing sustainable packaging. From the amount of packaging used to the materials and sustainability of each component, these challenges can be daunting. 

    Brands are often dependent on packaging suppliers who have not yet made the switch to more sustainable materials

    The challenge starts with the interaction between brands and their packaging suppliers. Many brands do not want to be seen as having more waste than their competitors, so they are hesitant to add more material to their packaging, even if it is recycled or recyclable.

    Lack of recyclable options for complex composite packaging

    Another challenge lies in the way that most beauty packaging is made up of multiple materials and components, making them hard to recycle in many countries. For example, a lipstick case contains plastic and metal, two materials that cannot be mixed during the recycling process.

    Also, if a product is only partially recyclable due to its multiple components, then it will usually end up in a landfill rather than being recycled at all. Beauty products often use a lot of plastic because it is easily molded into sleek cases for lipsticks, eyeshadow palettes, and nail polish bottles. But this plastic then goes on to pollute our oceans and harm marine life.

    Overcoming consumer's perceptions about single-use plastic packaging

    Many people believe that all single-use plastic is bad for the environment and should be avoided completely.  This causes problems for many businesses as consumers will often shun products packaged in plastics even if they have been created from recycled materials or can be easily recycled themselves.

    Some companies such as Aveda are trying to address this issue by getting involved with programs such as TerraCycle's Zero Waste Boxes which allow consumers to recycle their plastic packaging even if it isn't currently accepted by local municipal recycling services.

    Tips To Implementing Sustainable Packaging Into Beauty Business

    If you are yet unsure of how to Implement sustainable packaging into your beauty brand, here are some starter tips to follow:

      • Use the least quantity of packaging to transport and sell your products 

    For this, you can use smaller packages, and reduce the unused space within the package.

      • Indicate the type of material and its recycling practices on the packaging. 

    This will give your customers ideas for how to recycle or reuse the package.

      • Shift from the materials you currently use

    You already know some biodegradable, recyclable, and reusable materials. You can explore several options within them and choose what works best for you.

      • Refrain from complex composite packaging

    Avoid using different types of packaging materials for one package. This is because composite materials, such as paper and plastic, cannot be sorted and separated. And that will hinder its recycling.

      • Use manufacturing and packaging suppliers with sustainable practices.

    Several manufacturers already employ sustainable and eco-friendly practices. If your brand does not produce its packages, you can partner with such companies like Arka.

      • Avoid using virgin fossil-based plastic as packaging material

    Although a valuable material, plastic results in land and water pollution. So, use plastics that are at least 25% recyclable, biodegradable, and reusable.


    Case studies of Beauty Brands That Have Successfully Implemented Sustainable Packaging

    Beauty brands are creating sustainable packaging solutions to decrease the environmental impact of their products. This might be because nearly one-third of beauty and personal care products aren’t recyclable, and the majority of consumers want that to change. Below are examples of some beauty brands that have successfully implemented or are in the process of Implementing sustainable packaging:

      • Lush Cosmetics

    Lush Cosmetics has recently started selling products in reusable containers. According to Lush, 65% of their products are sold naked with no packaging, and those in bottles are sold in 100% post-consumer plastics. This type of packaging is convenient for both customers and business owners because it can be refilled multiple times.

      • M.A.C Cosmetics

    Just like Lush Cosmetics, MAC cosmetics is on the move to sustainable packaging. In 2021, the makeup brand started asking their customers to return empty M.A.C packages so that they will be recycled and transformed.

      • DECIEM

    DECIEM, an outlier in the beauty industry, has an innovative approach to engaging consumers. 

    In 2019, DECIEM changed its bag to align with its ethos of 'clean beauty.' The company had suppliers repurpose paper into something new and sustainable, and it is easily recyclable when it is eventually no longer usable.

      • Origins

    Origins are committed to planting a million trees to offset carbon emissions and have already planted one million trees. The company's unique containers are due to strides in its packaging and by 2023, it will ensure that 80% of its packaging is recyclable, refillable, reusable, recycled, or recoverable. All freestanding stores in North America are powered with 100% renewable electricity.

      • Aveda

    The Aveda brand by Estée Lauder is a great example of a brand that puts sustainability at the forefront of its production. Aveda finds inspiration in nature. It believes that nature is not just something to be cherished and protected, but is to be emulated as a model of sustainability. Due to this belief, Aveda was the first beauty brand to commence using 100% post-consumer recycled PET for its packaging. And since then, many companies and brands have followed.



    Sustainability is now a priority in the UK, EU, and the USA.  For example, the UK government has outlined a waste and resource reduction strategy, prioritizing ‘reuse/recycling / energy recovery’.

    The beauty industry has been looking to reduce its environmental footprint to remain competitive and relevant with today’s environmentally conscious consumers. This is especially true for the millennial market, which is the fastest-growing consumer group.

    The good news is that there are now numerous options for sustainable packaging, which will help meet this growing demand for environmentally friendly packaging. Most other industries have grasped that they need to do something. And the beauty companies are following suit.

    In the end, sustainable packaging does not have to be difficult or cost more. It simply requires a different approach and new strategies for reducing, reusing, and recycling materials. Fortunately for companies in the beauty industry, it’s easy to transition to sustainable packaging. 

    The key is approaching this need from the point of view of design. It’s no longer enough to consider only what packaging can do to promote the product inside. Innovative designers must consider how their designs can help serve the greater good too by instilling a sense of responsibility and respect towards nature in future generations.

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