Cosmetics and Personal Care Packaging: sustainable materials

By Deanna Utroske

- Last updated on GMT

The Dissolve biodegradable toothbrush package, by Simon Laliberté of Atelier BangBang, breaks down in tap water.
The Dissolve biodegradable toothbrush package, by Simon Laliberté of Atelier BangBang, breaks down in tap water.
Sustainability has become integral to the beauty business since environmentally intelligent packaging design can benefit the plant, satisfy consumers, and bolster a brand’s bottom line.

In this, the final in a four-part series on contemporary personal care packaging, Cosmetics Design delves into sustainable materials with design expert Leslie Sherr, co-author of the latest book series from Material ConneXion.

Waste not

The push for sustainable business practices has led to material innovations that limit the environmental impact of packaging through “the reuse/recycling/reduction of natural materials,” ​Sherr tells Cosmetics Design.

Examples she points to range from “Pangea Organics’ origami-fold box made from WindPower 80 Recycled Board that decisively minimizes its environmental footprint to the zero-waste goal that prompted Aaron Mickelson’s ‘disappearing package’ made from PVOH plastic films that dissolve in water.”​ 

Boundless potential

The range of materials ready to be turned into functional, intriguing personal care containers is vast. Sherr highlights material made from mushrooms as an example: “Ecovative, a company whose expertise is in compostable bioplastics based on mycelium, or mushrooms, offers an alternative to polystyrene. Fungal organisms can be grown into the shape of a mold, and with custom-performance properties.”

And there are sustainably sourced luxury-grade materials too: “Technotraf wood packaging comes from sustainable forests and has been applied to designs such as luxury brands Guerlain, Armani, Lalique and Burberry, among others. Compelling precedents certainly exist,” ​says Sherr.

She adds, “interestingly, a lot of potential exists in how a material is treated or applied, rather than the actual material type. One need only look at what the architect Shigeru Ban has done with paper tubes to see how a new perspective on a familiar, commonplace material can open up a vast range of possibilities. Likewise, some of the most exciting packaging solutions are a result of working with a familiar material in a new way.”

Discovery mechanism

Indeed there is no shortage of sustainable packaging materials, and a good place to start looking, according to Sherr, is the Sustainable Packaging Coalition​.

She explains, “they have an impressive member list that includes many of the world’s leading consumer brands,” ​and notes that “among the valuable services they offer is the Essentials of Sustainable Packaging curriculum, a course that provides the fundamentals of a systems-driven approach to packaging, packaging materials and case studies of design innovations.”

Naturally talented

Packaging designers benefit a great deal from nature in other ways. Sherr observes, “After years of working with extraordinary designers, it’s clear that the best among them are genetically programmed to move through the world, spotting inspiration in places that most of us would inherently overlook. They simply have a different lens for viewing what’s around them. The translation of that into relevant, compelling and original design solutions is where the magic happens.”​ 

And she says, “of all the available options for inspiration, though, the one that seems inexhaustible is nature. Not simply flora and fauna but also natural processes reveal nature’s infinite creativity and role as an ‘innovation consultant.’”  

In the previous installments of this four-part Cosmetics and Personal Care Packaging series, Cosmetics Design explored material solutions​, top trends​, and inspiration​. These, along with sustainability, are the pillars of contemporary beauty packaging, and brands making good use of these will be setting the standard for some time.

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