COSSMA: Sustainability Claims in Personal Care Packaging

Sustainability claims in personal care packaging

The entire value chain dynamics of buying and selling are changing in the personal care industry. Over the years zero waste and sustainability claims have resurfaced quite extensively becoming a top priority amongst both brands and consumers. This trend is even leaving its footprints in the packaging part of the product development cycle.

The personal care and cosmetics market has seen a swell in the post-pandemic and post-beauty-influencers era. The revenue of the industry is expected to reach over US$571.1 billion in 2023, expected to grow at a CAGR of ~3.8% by 2027, worldwide1. E-commerce has boosted the sales of the personal care segment and this year over 27% of revenue will be generated by online sales alone. And yet changes are brought to the industry by sustainability standards, with newer demands, claims, and product lines. Companies have started to reconsider their net carbon emissions and consumers have started aiming for a probable zero-waste lifestyle.

What are sustainability claims?

Ever heard of a unified sustainability claim that caters to the needs of the entire personal care and cosmetics industry? No? Right. Sustainability has been taken and accounted for being a subjective aspect or ideology for every brand either major or minor. This is so because there is no definition or explicitly stated fact about what exactly is a sustainable product.

What sells in the market, is the right sustainability trend or claim to follow. A few common sustainability claims can be termed as cruelty-free, paraben/sulfate-free, recyclability, plastic free, etc. These claims start right from picking the ingredients for the products and continue till packaging and shipping them to the end-consumers.

International Consumer Protection and Enforcement Network found dozens of cases that were just marketing gimmicks in the face of sustainability claims. There are no regulatory bodies in countries like the US and India where the market is mature or growing respectively. And because of that, cases of greenwashing have increased in the market.

There is no unison between two brands or two consumers in what they see and promote to be sustainable. This has become a personal viewpoint in the last few years. However, companies have started investing their efforts in getting relevant certifications such as ‘B Corp’ and ‘USDA Organic’ to prove their dominance in the sustainability spectrum.

Packaging Sustainability: A new world of no waste?

The recent trends in personal care and cosmetics have been hinting quite sporadically toward packaging sustainability. This is in direct correlation to brands improving their image by announcing their reduced carbon footprint intentions.

According to EPA2, in 2018 over 82 million tonnes of solid waste was generated from containers and packaging. There has been a constant upward steer in recycling initiatives for these containers but brands have been trying to develop more solutions that are unique and attract consumers for all the right reasons.

The interest has been shifting towards packaging that is lightweight, refillable, recyclable, and made from unique products that are not harmful to the environment like bamboo and sugarcane. However, the fight remains to offer aesthetically appealing packaging as well, which can provoke the right and ample luxurious feelings of the end-consumer.

When it comes to refillable bottles, the trend is on a higher note as many companies are launching their unique product designs. This is a highly popular concept amongst the younger population specially in the western Europe region. Reusable up to 5 times, companies have launched an environment-friendly campaign by offering refills, while also offering recyclable bottles made from 50% PCR plastic with reusable pumps3. Companies are installing airless packaging in the forms of inner and outer cups in the bottles or jars so that consumers can replace the inner jar with the refill, for continued usage. This trend is the future of sustainable packaging as it not only solves the wastage issue but offers extended sales to the brands as well.

Now making the product lightweight can have its own advantages and disadvantages. A lighter pack can come across as a cheap alternative thus many luxury brands might not be going after it. However, when we see it from a sustainable packaging perspective, then it can help in reducing a considerable amount of weight from the jar. A brand redid its packaging with a 60% lighter jar made out of material which was 25% PCR plastic and 90% recycled glass4.

Innovations and partnerships have been going on at a higher note as some of the top players are collaborating in using bio-based material for their packaging solutions. A Saudi Arabian supplier partnered with a brand that is now using bio-based polypropylene resin, backtracking over 75 grams of CO2 emissions5.

Many key players have started collaborating with packaging companies to release the best solutions for their target consumers. These brands are emphasising aesthetics and sustainability quotients when it comes to packaging and leading providers are developing unique solutions to attract the consumer. These packaging firms are using renewable resources to make their offerings more green and viable for sustainability needs. One such innovation is the use of sugarcane-delivered packaging, in which sugarcane is converted to high-density polyethylene (HDPE) plastic and is 100% recyclable6. This key player is sourcing this plastic from a Portuguese packaging firm7.

Another packaging firm has come out with a unique solution of a transparent bag made out of sugarcane that is in direct competition with HDPE and has a tensile strength of over 10 kg8.

A famous Illinois-based personal care brand has collaborated with an NGO to collect the easy-to-recycle goods9. This recycled plastic is then used for their hair care line, leading to a whole cycle of sustainable recycled packaging. The brand dedicated itself to achieving zero waste commitment in 2022 through unique offerings and partnerships. They started by collaborating and making an industry-first bottle made from 80% recycled material and 20% reclaimed ocean plastic. They then moved to use post-consumer recycled material and later swapped sample sachets for 100% recyclable aluminum sample tubes, achieving their desired goal.

A veteran brand has also used the same packaging innovations and sustainability aspects to change the trajectory of its deodorant range by offering refillable bottles, allowing consumers to hold the bottles for life10. By 2025, a brand is committing to creating high-performing formulas powered by green sciences such as biotechnology, which in itself is one of the leading segments in the personal care segment11.

Marketing Gimmicks or true innovations?

There is no clear distinction in how the products are formulated because everyone’s definition of “green” varies depending on the consumer they are targeting. However, when it comes to packaging, these are undeniably true innovations offered by brands from all over the world that recognise the critical need to become greener and more sustainable. Whether it’s PCR packaging or the use of glass/aluminum/bio-resin, brands are pushing the sustainability envelope further. Although the personal care industry’s primary focus is on formulation and ingredient specification, packaging will be a sure-shot focal point for at least the next few years.


6. Procter and Gamble


This article was originally published in COSSMA‘s May 2023 issue and can be accessed here.

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