Developing sustainable packaging solutions can be a significant challenge for organic beauty brands. In fact, the entire issue of cosmetics packaging is more complicated than it might seem at first glance.

On the one hand, cosmetic products must be hygienically packaged so they remain uncontaminated by dust or bacteria and can thus guarantee a stable shelf life without the aid of synthetic preservatives.

On the other hand, there is the problem of reducing packaging waste. Many companies try to cut down on excessive packaging by, for example, packaging their products in only one layer of material – decanting them into a jar or bottle – and dispensing with outer cardboard packaging entirely.

Not just on the outside

However, outer packaging fulfills some essential functions. A cardboard sleeve or box that is wrapped around a plastic container or glass jar can be highly useful: rectangular outer packaging makes it much easier to store and transport the products in the warehouse/stockroom or present them attractively at the POS.

The outer packaging also ensures an extra layer of protection from sun exposure, hot or cold temperatures. And, last but not least, outer packaging has a significant aesthetic function, attracting consumers with colors, surfaces, and textures.

And there is another important consideration. All cosmetic products sold within the EU must provide a full ingredient declaration, either on the packaging or as part of the product packaging, like on an enclosed leaflet or flyer.

Other critical information that needs to be included in a beauty product is, for example, production date, expiration dates and charge number, usually an EAN barcode and the manufacturer’s name and address.

A brand might also want to offer additional information on their products: the product name, description of contents, instructions on how to use the cream or lotion; product certifications or brand logos.

And while a 250ml shampoo bottle might offer enough space for all of this information, a 15ml eye serum or 30ml cream jar almost certainly will not. The font size of the packaging copy would be so small that it would be illegible.

A weighty issue

Then there is the question of what kind of packaging material should be used. While glass or wood are undeniably sustainable options, these two materials also increase the weight of the finished product.

And this, in turn, means that during the motorized transport from factory to stockroom or store shelf, more CO2 is generated because the load that is transported by the car or lorry is heavier.

Lighter plastic bottles or tubes, on the other hand, might reduce CO2 consumption during transport. At the same time, however, this kind of synthetic material can take a long time to decompose after it has been recycled.

Or the recycling process is so costly – if, for example, the packaging material is a compound of individual substances which need to be separated before the components are used in other products – that it doesn’t make economic sense to reuse the packaging material.

Sustainable packaging is a fascinating topic although – or perhaps because - there is not one solution; at least not at present. However, packaging technology and materials science is continuously advancing, as is the creativity of a growing number of organic brands who are coming up with innovative solutions to the sustainable packaging conundrum.

Vivaness 2018 trade fair was an excellent showcase for creative and, at the same time, attractive beauty packaging concepts. Each of the packaging designs described in this article is, of course, tailored to the respective brand requirements regarding product type and product texture.

Beauty Garden

Second-time exhibitor Beauty Garden from France, for example, is going the classic sustainable packaging route.

The face and body care brand from Auriac in the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region of France was launched in 2015 and offers high-quality face moisturizer and masks that are based on fruit and vegetable ingredients. The textures of Beauty Garden’s products are thick and viscous; with a classic face cream consistency.

Beauty Garden’s products are packaging in glass jars or tubes that are topped by wooden lids. All of the wooden elements are manufactured from wood that is harvested from PEFC-certified forests in France (PEFC= Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification Schemes).

The fibers used in the paper labels also come from sustainable sources; printed with chemical-free vegetable dyes. Glass jars and wooden lids are all produced in France.

Plaine

Another exciting packaging concept was presented by German brand Plaine. The company comes from the Allgäu region of Southern Germany and was founded in 2014. Plaine’s first product was a shaving powder. In April 2017, the brand launched a product innovation; the Pulverwunder (Powder Wonder).

Powder Wonder is a dry cleansing powder for hair and body (it can also be used for shaving) based on sodium bicarbonate, mild plant-based tensides and moisturizing wheat proteins plus essential oils. Upon contact with water, the powder turns into a creamy foam.

The powder is packaged in individual sachets, and a single sachet generates enough foam to cleanse the entire body and wash the hair. The scent is subtle - citrus and woodsy notes – which makes the powder cleanser suitable for both men and women.

The sachets as well as the cardboard box they are packaged in are made from renewable raw ingredients and can be composted afterward. Printed with mineral-oil free colors, the cardboard packaging is manufactured in the Black Forest region, and the paper fibers come from renewable forests that grow within a 150 km radius of the production facility.

One of the challenges when developing the cleansing powder was to ensure that the powder inside the sachet remains dry even if the sachet itself is placed on a wet surface, so the outside of the sachet needed to be water resistant.

At the same time, the essential oils used in the powder had to be protected from contamination with air, which can lead to oxidation of the essential oil fragrance molecules.

Plaine solved this problem by developing an innovative material compound. The outside is made from paper fibers; the inside is coated with a biopolymer that is based on cornstarch. The interior polymer layer protects the powder from outside contamination and prevents moisture from seeping through the sachet paper.

Hands on Veggies

And Vivaness first-timer Hands on Veggies is using so-called “green PE” for its product packaging. This brand was launched in January 2018 and currently offers 12 SKU of shampoos, shower gels, and body moisturizers, liquid body care products, designed to be used in the bathroom and under the shower.

Company founder Lisa Dobler explains: “We use glass as the key packaging material in our face care brand Pure Skin Food, but for Hands on Veggies’ bath and shower products, glass just wasn’t practical. The conventional plastic material was, of course, not an option either.

Our ideal packaging material would have been something that is based on natural ingredients and can be composted, but that kind of stuff doesn’t exist yet. And even if it did, it probably would start to dissolve once it came into contact with the heat and humidity of a bathroom.

Anyway, we did a lot of research into different packaging options, and in the end, we came across green PE [green polyethylene], a material which is manufactured from renewable raw ingredients – in this case, sugar cane - and can be recycled.”

Green polyethylene (also called green plastic or bioplastic) is a comparatively new type of material. The manufacturing process of green PE is lower in CO2 emissions than the production of conventional polyethylene, and the source material comes from renewable biomass rather than synthetic materials or petrochemicals such as mineral oil. The sugar cane that is used in Hands on Veggies’ green PE, incidentally, is a waste product from the sugar industry.

As a bonus, green PE has all the material characteristics of conventional PE which means that this bioplastic offers the same amount of flexibility regarding tube and bottle design as “normal” plastic – green PE can be formed into any bottle, tube or jar.