Design versus sustainability? Top trends shaping personal care packaging solutions
01 Sep 2022 --- A report by Yale University’s Anja Nikolova shows a growing trend in post-consumer recycled (PCR) materials, lightweight packaging and bio-based materials as environmentally sustainable alternatives to conventional packaging in the personal care industry. Additionally, refillability, compostability, paper-based and package-free options also make their mark.
The report details that brands frequently struggle to strike a balance between design and environmental sustainability. It examines a few best practices from companies that manufacture cosmetics and personal care products that are optimized for both package appeal and sustainability in the consumer market.
One of the largest contributors to the world economy is the FMCG industry, which in the US accounts for 10% of GDP spending and provides employment for one in ten people, according to Nikolova’s research.
Paper and paperboard, plastic, metal, glass and mixtures of these materials are the most commonly used components in this packaging sector. The recovery and recyclability of each material differ according to geography.
The report highlights that consumer awareness and choice shifts have pushed packaging industry innovation in terms of new materials and circularity programs.
To achieve 100% “sustainable” packaging by 2025, ten of the largest FMCG firms (including Coca-Cola, Danone, PepsiCo, L'Oréal and Unilever) announced various targets in 2020. However, each of these businesses defined sustainability and recycled content differently.
A material world
Some of the most popular materials leveraged in sustainable packaging are spotlighted in the report. These include the use of recycled content or PCR, improving package engineering design through light-weighting, introducing chemically innovative materials to replace current options (like bio-derived materials and bioplastics) and removing excess materials.
PCR is manufactured from the products that consumers recycle through waste and trash disposals, such as aluminum, cardboard, paper and plastic bottles. A substance containing a percentage of PCR thus previously came from another packaged and used material.
The PCR resin contains impurities, which frequently cause discoloration and a darker look in comparison to virgin materials.
Because pre-consumer recycled materials are utilized during or after the manufacturing process (most frequently as waste such as paper scraps and plastic shavings) they contain resins that have not yet been used by consumers.
Light-weighting employs fewer materials or a lighter substitute for the principal material, which means the package weight can be reduced. It is helpful for lowering the product’s carbon impact.
Additionally, bio-based products – like paperboard and bioplastics – are created from natural raw materials that can be farmed or, more frequently, synthesized. They are relatively novel and don’t have a downstream processing system in waste centers, which makes them difficult to recycle. They’re also generally more expensive.
Re-formatting personal care packaging
Refillability, compostability, paper-based and package-free packaging are examples of format-driven packaging solutions. Refillable packaging options have grown recently, with businesses like Fasten launching lines of refillable makeup containers, with an emphasis on the cosmetics and personal market.
Furthermore, brands such as MOB offer their products solely in compostable packaging. Compostable packaged products have the ability to disintegrate into non-toxic, natural elements when the right conditions are present, at the rate of similar organic materials.
P&G leverages paper-based packaging with the release of a line of shampoo and conditioner bars. The cosmetics are packaged in paper-based boxes made of FSC-certified paper, and, according to the company, the line is an effective solution for buyers who want to continue using the brand and simultaneously “contribute to the well-being of the planet.”
Using no packaging is the only alternative that is preferable to using less packing, according to the report. For structural and legal reasons, package-free choices are less common in the food and beverage and personal care industries, but they are slowly picking up speed as consumer demands for these options surge.
The report discusses the development of a 100% soluble product-in-package layer created from wood pulp by the newly formed zero-waste personal care company Plus. This layer dissolves in water to release the formula and leaves no residue behind. The packaging is said to consume 38% less water during manufacture and generate 80% less CO2 during shipping.
By Mieke Meintjes
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