Every single year, the global cosmetics industry produces around 120 billion units of packaging—from plastic bottles and pumps to cellophane—and much of it isn’t recycled. That’s a lot of plastic! And 11 million metric tons of it (from beauty products and other sources) end up in our oceans every year. The level of waste is astonishing and it’s the reason many consumers are looking for packaging alternatives that aren’t as harmful to the environment. But there isn’t just one type of more sustainable packaging—and no brand is 100% perfect. Read on for some of the steps that green companies are taking to reduce their impact on the planet.
What sustainable packaging looks like
In general, sustainable packaging is better for the environment. But what does “better” look like? Here are some examples:
- No individual packaging at all: Certain items, like a bars of soap, may come completely free of packaging—especially if they’re picked up in a store. That’s not always realistic for many beauty products, like creams and shampoos.
- No secondary packaging: An example would be a jar of cream that has no separate label, instruction pamphlet or cardboard box.
- Refillable packaging: Some brands sell a container with the first purchase, then refills come in packs that use fewer materials.
- Biodegradable materials: The material will break down naturally—or much faster than other materials like regular plastic.
- Recycled materials: These materials have been reused to create new bottles, tubes and jars.
- Smart shapes: Some traditional packaging types make it difficult to get all of the product out, which means product is wasted. They may also be rounded in shape, which means there’s wasted space in the carton when they’re transported. Optimizing packaging shapes reduces waste.
- No harmful chemicals: Sustainable packaging will often avoid potentially harmful chemicals like BPAs and phthalates.
- Sustainable production: Aside from the actual materials used, the process of making the materials can also be more sustainable—like if the facility uses clean energy or the packaging is produced locally instead of overseas.
The positive impacts of sustainable packaging
While the benefits of a brand using sustainable packaging will vary depending on the type of packaging (what it’s made of and how it’s made), here are some common pros:
- Reduction of water use, electricity use and emissions (during manufacturing and transportation) resulting in a smaller carbon footprint
- Fewer materials (especially new materials) used
- Less waste
- Preservation of limited resources
- Reduction of harmful chemical use
More and more, consumers are looking for packaging alternatives that are better for the environment. If the state of the planet weighs heavy on your mind, buying from brands that follow more sustainable packaging practices is one step you can take to make a difference.