Five ways for beauty products to pack a greener punch

Can the beauty products we use every day use more sustainable packaging? When we start thinking outside the box—they can.

Published 26 Apr 2022, 16:25 BST
Can beauty packaging go greener?
Excessive packaging can cause problems for the planet: Marine biologist and National Geographic explorer Imogen Napper explains how it can be made more environmentally friendly.

An albatross picks its way across a beach strewn with plastic waste, pecking at a faded bottle cap it has mistaken for food. Packaging, from bags to bottles, makes up a huge proportion of the twelve million tons of plastic that flow into our oceans every year. But brands, including beauty brands, are taking action to address the packaging problem―exploring, innovating, and investing in ways to make their packaging more sustainable. Here are five ways the beauty industry is working towards more sustainable packaging.

Less Is More

Packaging serves many functions, including containing and preserving a product. The problem is single-use plastic packaging waste ending up in landfill and polluting the environment. One way to reduce this waste is to reduce unnecessary packaging. Beauty brands are actively looking at the way they use packaging: in an effort to reduce its use of plastic, Garnier has been removing unnecessary packaging, and has reimagined shampoo as a solid dry bar that can use small cardboard packaging instead of plastic bottles.

Zero Virgin Plastics

From food and drink to medicines and cosmetics, packaging is responsible for around half the world’s plastic waste. But not all plastics are created equal, and this significantly affects the environmental impact of the bags, bottles, jars, and tubes we use. Virgin plastic is new plastic created directly from fossil fuels: with more than eight billion tons of plastic already in existence―and with plastic taking around 400 years to decomposenot making new plastic is a priority. This is where recycling comes in. While not all plastics are recyclable, and not all recyclable plastics are recycled, brands like Garnier are aiming to eliminate the use of virgin plastic and use recycled plastic that can be recycled again, creating a more sustainable, circular model for their packaging.

Eight billion tonnes of virgin plastic are created every year, and only a small proportion is currently recycled. Only using recycled plastic gives existing plastic waste a purpose—keeping it out of the environment and inside a closed loop.

Photograph by Shutterstock

Switching to Cardboard

If plastic waste is the problem, then cardboard could be part of the solution. Strong, versatile, and made from wood pulp, it is a popular packaging material with strong credentials: it can be sustainably sourced, can be easily and effectively recycled—making it an interesting alternative to plastic. Even so, excessive cardboard packaging can still be a problem by putting pressure on forest resources, so it’s crucial that the materials are sustainably sourced using responsible forestry techniques. Garnier has recently taken the initiative to substitute cardboard for plastic by developing a way to replace almost half the plastic in plastic tubes for sustainably sourced cardboard.

Strong, sustainable, recyclable, cardboard is part of the solution to the plastic packaging challenge.

Photograph by Shutterstock

More for Less

When we talk bulk buying and economies of scale, bigger is definitely better when it comes to packaging. Some beauty products are used almost every day—shampoo, bodywash, skin creams—meaning that consumers go through large amounts of product: we could each use 800 bottles of shampoo in our lifetime. With so much used so often, it is more efficient to supply the product in family or economy sizes as this brings substantial savings per dose in packaging. Mathematical formulas for the ratio of surface area to volume show that when you double the amount of product, you don’t need to double the amount of packaging—some of Garnier’s Ultimate Blends* 500ml eco-packs use 80 percent less packaging than two 250ml single-use bottles, thanks to its larger volume, as well as the option to eco-refill it. This makes larger-sized packs much more environmentally friendly. 

Larger bottles are much more economic with the amount of plastic used—double the amount of product doesn’t need double the amount of packaging. Garnier’s Ultimate Blends eco-packs use 80 percent less packaging than two standard single-use bottles.

Photograph by GARNIER

Refill and Reuse

One of the big issues with packaging is plastic bottles that are used over a short time and then thrown away—even if that is into the recycling bin. The solution could be to find ways to refill and reuse a bottle multiple times, which can help spread its environmental cost. This has led some beauty brands to encourage their customers to buy a “bottle for life” that they can refill with product either in a store or by returning it to the brand. It’s a different way of buying beauty products that could take time to take off—consumers initially resisted reusable coffee cups.

Beauty products need packaging in all its forms. This puts the beauty industry in a unique and powerful position to drive positive change in packaging—innovating, investing, and leading by example. With responsible beauty brands committing to more sustainable packaging (as well as more sustainable products), we are increasingly able to make green choices in our daily routines—helping preserve our planet’s health and natural resources. 

To find out more about the world of beauty’s transformative journey, click here.

Read More

You might also like

Environment and Conservation
Can beauty packaging go greener?
Environment and Conservation
Forests are reeling from climate change—but the future isn’t lost
Environment and Conservation
Why all life on Earth depends on trees
Environment and Conservation
4 solutions for trees and forests threatened by a hotter world
Environment and Conservation
Can beauty packaging go greener?

Explore Nat Geo

  • Animals
  • Environment
  • History & Culture
  • Science
  • Travel
  • Photography
  • Space
  • Adventure
  • Video

About us


  • Magazines
  • Newsletter
  • Disney+

Follow us

Copyright © 1996-2015 National Geographic Society. Copyright © 2015-2021 National Geographic Partners, LLC. All rights reserved