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Beauty Companies Slow to Embrace Sustainable Packaging

Although packaging has the highest environmental footprint of cosmetic products, Organic Monitor research finds that it is generally overlooked when beauty companies look at sustainability. Beauty brands are focusing on green formulations, resource efficiency and life cycle assessments of their products when developing sustainability plans. Although companies are aware of the environmental impact of packaging, they have been slow to embrace sustainable packaging solutions.

Even organic beauty—many of which have sustainability built into their corporate ethos—are lagging in adopting sustainable packaging, according to the research. Such companies have been pioneers in adopting natural and organic cosmetic standards, implementing fair trade and ethical sourcing programs, and broader CSR initiatives but few are focusing on reducing their packaging footprints.

With consumer interest in ecological products continuing to strengthen and sustainability high on the global agenda, the beauty industry appears to be behind in adopting sustainability packaging initiatives. For instance, the food industry is increasingly using ecological packaging. Organic Monitor finds that organic fruit and vegetables sold in most European supermarkets now have some type of bioplastic packaging. Consumers buying "chemical-free" products are demanding ecological packaging. While organic foods are meeting consumer expectations, natural and organic beauty products are not.

Although there is growing research in bioplastics packaging, there remain few applications in beauty. High heat sensitivity and water permeability prevent such packaging to be used for products such as creams, lotions and shampoos. Biopolymers are mainly used in color cosmetic cases. However, packaging suppliers aim to overcome existing limitations by improving performance of its biopolymer packaging. Mirel, for example, is developing bioplastic materials to replace petroleum polymers such as Polypropylene (PP), High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE), Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS) and Polycarbonate (PC).

Most beauty companies are looking at recycled packaging materials. Some natural beauty brands, 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. The U.S. company has also pioneered the use of Terra Skin Wraps, a paper alternative packaging for bar soaps.

Organic Monitor finds Aveda to be the front-runner in adopting sustainable packaging. It is one of the few beauty brands to give priority to packaging on its sustainability agenda. Aveda is the largest user of PCR plastic in the beauty industry, saving more than one million pounds of virgin plastic each year. It has also recycled 37 million polypropylene caps through its "Recycle Caps with Aveda" campaign. Its products now contain 80% or more recycled materials. Aveda has also reduced carbon emissions by using wind energy to power its Minnesota manufacturing plant.

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.

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.

Although beauty companies are undertaking numerous initiatives to lower the environmental impact of their products, relatively low progress has been made in packaging. The upcoming Sustainable Cosmetics Summit, taking place in Paris on October 18–20, will explore the gamut of sustainable packaging options available to beauty companies. The summit will look at recycling, reducing and reusing packaging materials, as well as bioplastics, eco-design and the C2C design approach. An interactive workshop will give a practical guide to companies looking to adopt sustainable packaging solutions. Case studies will be given of companies at the forefront of sustainable packaging initiatives, including Aveda and Burt’s Bees.