| Natalie Tobias | Décembre 2020 |




Packaging makes up 40% of the 400 million tons of plastic produced each year. Most of these products are often used once and then thrown away, leaving almost 70% of that plastic to end up in landfills where it does not decompose.


The beauty industry alone generates about 120 billion units of packaging per year. As of 2019 the global market was estimated to be valued at $532 billion and projected to reach or even exceed $800 billion by 2024. The skincare sector makes up the largest part of the industry and continues to grow. Even with most people at home for the earlier part of this year, skincare has more than managed to stay afloat with women in particular taking the time to test out and perfect their skincare regimen.


However, as the skincare market grows, so does the production of its packaging and the accumulation of plastic waste in landfills. That said, beauty packaging, and particularly skincare packaging, serve as an expression of a brand’s image. While the “unboxing” experience for a consumer is still something that should feel special and unique, opening a cardboard package that contains an excess of bubble wrap, paper boxes and plastic containers no longer has the same appeal. This simply looks like waste, especially to the Millennial and Gen Z consumers, who often buy products based on a brand’s social, environmental and economic values.


Take a moment to think about the typical skincare consumer’s bathroom shelf or cabinet. There is most likely a plethora of different products stacked next to and on top of one another, from serums to cleansers to moisturizers. Many of these products are made of plastic and are almost always single-use, meaning that when the formula runs out, the product packaging is thrown away. This type of consumption no longer caters to the modern skincare lover. Thus, skincare brands need to begin making adjustments to their packaging, especially since Millennial and Gen Z skincare users are a large group of consumers with spending power on the rise. They want to feel and be empowered to protect the planet through their consumption habits and do not want to feel guilty about treating themselves to quality products that take care of their skin.


So how can the growing skincare industry adapt their packaging in a way that both minimizes environmental pressure and encourages consumers to rethink the way they consume? While the concept of sustainability and sustainable consumption can take on many forms and interpretations, the general focus is to meet the current needs of people, whether environmental, social, or economic, without jeopardising the wellbeing of future generations. Simply put, the sustainable development we participate in now should provide the next generation with the ability to meet their own needs as well.


One way that skincare brands are designing and adopting sustainable packaging solutions is through the idea of refillable packaging. While refillable packaging is not an entirely new concept, skincare brands are trialling ways to fuse sustainable practices with convenience and durability. Despite the majority of skincare consumers’ general interest in greener options, creating an experience that can easily integrate and adapt to their lifestyles is crucial for long term payoff. Similarly, the packaging solutions must be able to physically withstand daily use and therefore need to be made of durable, long lasting materials.


As an example, the company Loop, which launched in the UK this year, is paving the way for innovative refillable packaging. Their service offers consumers zero-waste versions of products from their favourite brands by challenging the modern idea of owning a product and reviving the “milkman” method. Instead of consumers owning the packaging and dealing with the aftermath of disposability, Loop switches ownership back to the manufacturer. The consumer puts down a 100% refundable deposit to borrow the packaging and once the product inside is empty, Loop’s free zero-waste delivery service picks up the packaging, professionally cleans it, and reuses it as part of their circular model.

Additionally, all of Loop’s products designed and created by their partnership brands are built to last and look luxurious on a consumer’s shelf. Each product is made of durable materials such as aluminium and glass that can withstand at least ten cycles of the reuse process. Currently, as part of their skincare and personal care portfolio, Loop offers products from REN Clean Skincare, Nivea, Molton Brown, and a few others with products from The Body Shop, Dove and Pantene on the way. While the present skincare options are somewhat limited, Loop is definitely a service to look out for as their product range expands.


It is important to keep in mind that skincare is unique to the individual. While one product might work for one person’s skin, it could have a completely different effect on another’s. Many skincare consumers go through years of trialling different products before they find something that truly works for them. Therefore, once a skincare consumer finds their go-to product or brand, it becomes difficult to break their loyalty. Brands should take advantage of the fact that they have faithful consumers and creatively rethink the product life cycle of their best-selling products.

One brand to take this by storm is Tata Harper, a non-toxic, natural, luxury skincare line. Because their all-natural formulas typically consist of over 70 ingredients, the brand must guarantee that their packaging protects the product so as not to create unintentional waste. By taking one of their most popular products and making sustainable tweaks to its packaging, Tata Harper created a long-lasting refillable jar for their “Water-Lock Moisturizer” along with airtight refillable pods. According to the brand, participating in this scheme can prevent up to eleven jars per customer per year from ending up in a landfill.


While making small changes like these to one’s skincare routine may seem trivial, adopting sustainable practices, regardless of their size, can have significant impacts and benefits in the long run. Reducing single-use plastics in product packaging and introducing refillable schemes in skincare is a small, yet effective way to build circularity and prioritise the environmental and social values of the modern consumer.


Throughout this pandemic, consumers have taken the time to reflect on their own purchasing and consumption habits and reconsider how they want to leave this world for the next generation. Consumers play an important role in holding their beloved brands accountable in terms of sustainability commitments. Though there have been many improvements to the sustainable packaging solutions, consumers need to continue making noise about the issues that matter to them. By envisioning a world with less plastic waste and more affordable, convenient, and sustainable solutions, we also create its reality.


Natalie TobiasNatalie A. Tobias

Natalie Tobias is a recent graduate of Virginia Tech where she received a BS in Industrial Design. Currently, she is living in London pursuing a MA in Design and Branding Strategy.