Special Newsletter: Sustainability

Sustainable personal care packaging materials and design reconsidered

By Deanna Utroske

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Packaging and labeling Packaging

Sustainable personal care packaging materials and design reconsidered
Manufacturing in a sustainable way is undeniably good business for any industry that hopes to outlast the current moment. But what ‘sustainability’ is and how to make it an accurate description of the beauty product packaging supply chain is another matter entirely.

Conventional packaging is made of plastic, paper, glass, and metal. These are formed into bottles, jars, tubes, boxes, etc. This familiar model has been quite sustainable. Beauty products like Pond’s Cold Cream were packaged in jars in the 1900s and are packaged in jars today. Then, Pond’s jars were glass. Now, they are plastic. But a jar is a jar. And plenty of other, even newer products are packaged in glass (though perhaps not the milk glass of the 1900s).

What has changed the most over the years is sustainability itself. It’s no longer just about a business that can be maintained or could remain profitable. It’s about business that is self-renewing and limits the detrimental environmental and social impacts of manufacturing.

Going forward, it’s likely that more and more manufacturing companies will also be held accountable for the downstream effects of packaging, like we’re seeing with microbead bans around the globe.


The plastic, paper, glass, and metal materials makers of today are updating these packaging components and sourcing inputs differently to remain profitable and keep pace with the larger marketplace.

Visit any package maker’s website, and there’s sure to be a link to green options, sustainable alternatives, environmental responsibility, or something similar. Currier Plastics, for instance has a page on the company’s site called Green Direction. “Green,”​ according to Currier “is about protecting your business and the environment in which a business operates.”

That company has outlined six objectives that will make its business and those further down the supply chain more sustainable, like developing bio-fiber resins, using reprocessed and post-consumer resins, and reducing scrap.

Similarly, paper and packaging company Neenah has a page outlining the company’s dedication to green practices and linking out to resources to help clients get a fuller view of sustainability at Neenah. “We’re committed to making meaningful reductions in our environmental footprint by focusing on all our customers’ top priorities,” ​explains the page, listing out those priorities: “expand our offering of papers made with recycled content, including post consumer recycled fiber;” ​“expand our offering of FSC Certified papers to support well-managed forests;”​ and “continue to reduce our carbon footprint through mill-based energy efficiency and renewable energy solutions.”


Sustainable cosmetic, personal care, and fragrance packaging can be as much about the container design as it is about the materials.

Innovative design or package production methods can mean that less material can be made into a packaging solution that’s as good or better than a bulky one. Where transportation isn’t prohibitive, recyclable and refillable container options are sustainable. With recycling and refilling programs, the fact that the consumer is engaged with the renewal process, like returning empty plastic containers to Kiehl's, makes the brand’s sustainable packaging tangible.

Packaging design can also contribute to, enhance, or showcase the sustainability of a product package. And, creating dissolvable, plantable, or reusable packaging can be a sustainability solution. For instance, Cosmetics Design reported (in October) on the artful, reusable fragrance packaging Esrawe and Cadena designed for Xinú fragrances​. Once empty, those containers function as small vases and sculptures.

The Xinú fragrance bottles are glass, but the caps are wooden. Wood is having a renaissance as a cosmetic packaging material, thanks in part to sustainability trends. Some woods (or sturdy grasses) like bamboo grow quickly and are therefore a more renewable material source.

Wood also resonates with consumers for whom the notions of natural and sustainable can get intertwined.

Related topics Packaging & Design

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