Provenance's guide to sustainable packaging for beauty brands

Published on
September 1, 2022
Tim Slater

The amount of packaging we produce is pushing our planet to breaking point, and the beauty and wellness industry has its part to play. Globally, the industry produces over 120 billion units of packaging every year, and reports suggest that just 14% actually makes it to a recycling centre.

Why is sustainable packaging important in beauty?

Given that 70% of the waste created by the beauty industry comes from packaging, it’s an obvious lever for brands who want to do better for our planet. What’s more, packaging is also an area where many brands have direct control, as opposed to, for example, farm practices at an ingredient sourcing level.

As shoppers become more environmentally aware, companies that fail to make their packaging more environmentally friendly are also risking their reputation and bottom line. New research from Deloitte suggests that 54% of shoppers would welcome better schemes to remove plastic and packaging. Meanwhile, a weDo/ Professional survey found that 31% of adults would pay more for a product with sustainable packaging.

Sustainable packaging solutions for beauty brands

To help brands reduce the impact their packaging has on the environment, we’re sharing 5 solutions for beauty and wellness brands, supported by popular examples of sustainable packaging on the market. Plus, we’re sharing the key watch-outs for brands when it comes to marketing your sustainable packaging solutions to shoppers.

1. Reusable packaging

What is reusable packaging?

Reusable or refillable packaging is packaging that’s designed to be reused for the same use case, and capable of being used repeatedly without impairing its protective function.

Reusable packaging can take many forms. Brands can sell refills, offer an in-store refill system or invite shoppers to reuse the non recyclable components of their packaging – for example, fitting a used pump to a new recyclable bottle. 

Refills cut down a product’s impact on the climate by reducing the need for materials and for energy to manufacture new packaging. But as some have argued, their positive impact is also more tangible for shoppers: it’s easy to understand the benefits of refilling a pot or bottle, whereas it’s “hard to know where the plastic container you toss in a bin actually goes, or what happens to it when it gets there”.

Sustainable packaging examples: Reusable packaging

Reusable packaging tips for brands

  1. To make an impact, reusable packaging must be as easy as possible to use. Make sure you actively promote your reusable packaging model, sharing links to refills and explaining the approach clearly to shoppers.
  2. Make sure your refill system reduces waste. In one of the most high-profile examples of greenwashing in the beauty industry, SKKN By Kim recently got into hot water for a reusable packaging system which didn’t appear to reduce the overall amount of packaging. 
  3. Your refills should be at least as recyclable as your original product. L’Occitaine recently came under fire for replacing its partly recyclable bottles with unrecyclable flexible packaging pouches.
Everyday Gentle Organic Shampoo & Conditioner Collection | Beauty Kitchen
Beauty Kitchen developed their reusable packaging programme with ReRe

2. FSC Certified Packaging

What is the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) Certification?

The FSC certification allows businesses and consumers to identify, purchase and use wood, paper, and other forest products made with materials from well-managed forests and/or recycled sources.

The FSC is an international, non-governmental organisation founded in 1993 for the purpose of promoting responsible management of the world’s forests. The FSC certification allows brands and shoppers to identify, purchase and use wood, paper, and other forest products made with materials sourced from well-managed or low risk forests.

Sustainable packaging examples: FSC Certified packaging

FSC tips for brands

  1. FSC only applies to paper components which, for beauty products, often means secondary (or outer) packaging. In some cases, this packaging can be surplus to requirements and brands may consider designing products with primary packaging only.
  2. Products can either be certified as FSC 100% or FSC MIX (where packaging is made of 70% or more FSC Certified materials). If your packaging is FSC MIX Certified, that’s a great start, but take care not to oversell the sustainability. 
Image of a bottle of REN Clean Skincare Anti-Fatigue Body Wash
REN’s Anti-fatigue Body Wash comes in a 100% recycled bottle containing 20% ocean plastic

3. Recycled packaging

What is recycled packaging?

Recycled packaging is packaging made from waste materials that have been recovered, reprocessed and converted into new materials. This can include pre- and post-consumer waste.

At Provenance, we define ‘Partly Recycled Packaging’ as packaging made up of at least 50% recycled materials, and ‘Fully Recycled Packaging’ for packaging made of 100% recycled materials.

By increasing the recycled content of their packaging, brands can cut carbon emissions, not least because it takes 75% less energy to make a plastic bottle from recycled plastic compared with using ‘virgin’ materials. Under the UK’s new Plastic Packaging Tax, products with less than 30% recycled content are also liable for tax.

Sustainable packaging examples: Recycled Packaging

Recycled packaging tips for brands

  1. Brands should specify the exact percentage of a product’s packaging that is recycled and what components it applies to. Be careful not to lead your marketing messaging with a recycled content percentage that only applies to one packaging component, as L’Oreal was recently criticised for doing.
  2. When it comes to plastics, be careful not to treat recycling as a ‘silver bullet’ to reduce your impact. Unlike aluminium or glass packaging, plastic can only be recycled a limited amount of times.

4. Compostable packaging

What is compostable packaging?

Compostable packaging is packaging which can decompose naturally in a home compost or in an industrial compost environment, in a way that is not harmful to the environment and produces compost. After 6 months, no more than 10% of the original dry weight should remain.

Sustainable packaging examples: Compostable Packaging

Compostable packaging tips for brands

  1. Compostable vs. biodegradable: Be careful not to confuse compostable packaging with biodegradable packaging. Compostable goes one step further than biodegradable – it requires the materials to break down into non-toxic components such as water or carbon dioxide within a limited amount of time (6 months, according to EU legislation).
  2. It should be easy for shoppers to identify which packaging components are compostable and to separate them from non-compostable parts. 
  3. Brands should also specify if packaging is home or industrially compostable.
A jar of Haeckels' Probiotic Body Serum alongside its outer packaging
Haeckels’ Vivomer packaging is home compostable.

5. Recyclable packaging

What is recyclable packaging?

One thing brands can do to improve their packaging is to make sure some or all of the packaging components are widely recyclable. Recyclable packaging is packaging that can be collected kerbside, broken down into raw materials and repurposed so it can be used again. 

Provenance categorises packaging as either ‘Widely Recyclable’ – where all components are recyclable – or ‘Partly Recyclable’ – where some components are recyclable (including the main component, e.g. bottle, jar) .

Sustainable packaging examples: Recyclable packaging

Recyclable packaging tips for brands

  1. Be as clear as possible about which packaging components are recyclable and how (e.g. through a recycling scheme)
  2. Regional inconsistencies in how waste is processed means it’s hard to make claims that apply to all your shoppers – encourage shoppers to check local guidelines. 
  3. We can’t recycle our way out of our packaging waste problem. Firstly, only 14% of packaging actually makes it to a recycling plant; secondly, a piece of plastic can only be recycled 2-3 times before the quality reduces to the point where it can no longer be used.

Choosing the right sustainable packaging solutions

Aim for progress, not perfection. Getting sustainable packaging solutions right in the beauty industry is a unique decision for each brand and product, and naturally, trade-offs are inevitable. But if you’ve put the work into reducing the impact of your packaging, don’t miss the opportunity to market these achievements to online shoppers. After all, most consumers are looking for brands to show honesty and progress, not perfection.

For more advice, check out our recent article on sustainability marketing tips for beauty brands. Alternatively, explore how Provenance’s sustainability marketing technology helps beauty brands and retailers make fact-checked claims on e-commerce channels.

Tim Slater

Tim Slater is the Marketing Lead at Provenance. He works closely with our Impact team to translate their expertise into actionable content that helps brands minimise their impact on people and planet and avoid greenwashing.

The Provenance Team

Provenance powers sustainability claims you can trust. The global leader in sustainability marketing technology, Provenance helps brands and retailers share credible, compelling and fact-checked social and environmental impact information at the point of sale. Provenance’s technology is already increasing conversion rates, brand value and market share for customers including Cult Beauty, Douglas, GANNI, Napolina, Arla and Unilever

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