Focus on ingredients rather than packaging

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

The research and consulting firm says that even organic cosmetic brands are lagging in adopting sustainable packaging. “Such companies have been pioneers in adopting natural and organic cosmetic standards, implementing fair trade and ethical sourcing programmes, and broader CSR initiatives but few are focusing on reducing their packaging footprints.

Technical impediments

In certain cases, this reluctance to move to green packaging is linked to the specificity of cosmetic formulas. The use of bioplastic packaging, for instance, is mainly limited to colour cosmetic cases. In many cases, high heat sensitivity and water permeability prevent such packaging to be used for products such as creams, lotions and shampoos.

However, there is a growing research in biopolymers packaging and technical progress in this area may help beauty companies to overcome these difficulties within short delays. For instance, cosmetics giant, Procter & Gamble, recently announced a major shift to plant-derived packaging for some of its leading global cosmetic brands. P&G intends to use sugarcane-derived plastic supplied from the Brazilian company Braskem SA, who manufactures the material using ethanol made from sustainably-grown Brazilian sugarcane.

Variety of sustainable options

But bioplastics are not the only sustainable packaging option. Actually, many beauty companies are looking at recycled packaging materials. Some natural cosmetic firms, such as Neal’s Yard Remedies are using Post Consumer Regrind (PCR) poly ethylene terephthalate bottles. Others, like Burt’s Bees are going further and making commitments to use only recycled materials. Brazilian cosmetics maker Natura recently launched a fragrance packed in a folding box containing 30% of PCR paperboard.

Aveda, that Organic Monitor found to be one of the few cosmetic companies to give priority to packaging on its sustainability agenda, is the largest user of PCR plastic in the beauty industry, saving over 1 million pounds (1,20 million euros) of virgin plastic each year. Its products now contain 80% or more recycled materials. It has also recycled 37 million polypropylene caps through its ‘Recycle Caps with Aveda’ campaign.

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.

According to Organic Monitor, 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, which ensures packaging is environmentally responsible and packaging materials are recovered after the product is used.

Several presentations and workshops will explore these various options on the occasion of the upcoming Sustainable Cosmetics Summit, taking place in Paris on October 18-20th, 2010.