Cosmetic jars made of plastic are increasingly used by cosmetic brands in the low price segment, where they are appreciated for their low cost, but also in the high-end segment, as technology now allows producing heavy jars with thick walls and more luxury external features. In order to evaluate the respective environmental impacts of both materials, BV Glas, the Federal Association of the German Glass Industry, committed the Wuppertal Institute to analyse four standard cream jars available on the German market with a filling volume of 50 ml. “There was actually no public studies available on the environmental impact of cosmetic jars,” says Dr. Johann Overath, Director General of BV Glas.
The project team thus performed a life cycle analysis (including the following phases: extraction and processing of raw materials, production of jars, transport and secondary packaging, end-of-life, recycling) of both heavy and lightweight jars (and their lids). The content of the jar - face cream - and the filling of the jar were not addressed in the study.
The results show that the lightweight glass and plastic jars are similar in terms of the material footprint, while the glass jar has a slightly better carbon footprint. However, the carbon footprint of the heavy glass jar is almost a third lower than the carbon footprint of the heavy plastic jar. Both systems have a similar material footprint. Results are primarily influenced by the weight of the jar but the weight of the lid also plays a role.
The main conclusion of such results is that while lightweight plastic and glass cosmetic jars have similar environmental impacts, it is highly ineffective - in terms of sustainability - to produce heavyweight plastic jars that imitate the aesthetic characteristics of glass.
However, the Wuppertal Institute notes that several additional factors may impact the final results. For instance, decorated glass jars have higher material and carbon footprints than non-decorated glass jars, and the results for plastic jars are influenced by the type of plastic used, polypropylene (PP) has a much lower footprint than styrene acrylonitrile (SAN).
In addition, the energy mix of the country of production impacts the results. “The use of a German, European or company-specific energy mix in production makes a significant difference for both plastic and glass jars,” explains Holger Rohn, who was in charge of the survey at the Wuppertal Institute. The institute based its analysis on glass jars produced by German glass-plants and plastic jars formed in Germany from basic materials produced in Europe.