Posted on 24th June 2021

Focus on Hair and Make Up: Packaging

In the second of seven articles by guest writer Khandiz Joni taking an in depth look at sustainability in the Hair and Make Up department, we turn our attention to...packaging

Unfortunately, packaging is a necessity – one which carries both practical and legal requirements and implications. Although there are big advancements being made in packaging, we are currently still beholden mainly to plastic (incl. variables) and glass. All coming with their own set of environmental impacts and pros and cons. 

Ultimately, we need to demand better-designed product packaging, and not only focus on what the actual packaging is made from. 

What does an example of better-designed packaging look like? Containers that are designed for disassembly, with limited components and are airtight, avoiding oxidization and contamination of the product, thereby limiting the need for harsh preservatives. Once the product is finished, it should be 100% reusable, refillable or recyclable.

Below, we discuss the pros and cons of the different types of packaging you might find your products in!

Plastic is not the problem, it’s our single-use mindset that needs to change

— Khandiz Joni

Virgin plastic: Made from crude oil/petroleum.


  • Cheap to produce – keeps costs down for consumer
  • Fewer  CO2 emissions to produce than glass (new or recycled)
  • Lighter to carry and transport than glass, less CO2 in transportation
  • Can be recycled
  • Safer in certain environments (ie: in showers or near hard surfaces where glass might break if it falls)


  • Extraction of crude oil is damaging to the environment and impacts on biodiversity loss
  • Contributes to plastic pollution
  • Leaching of toxic chemicals*certain plastics
  • Finite number of times plastic can be recycled
  • Not enough plastic is recycled

Biodegradable plastic: Regular plastic with added chemicals to make it breakdown faster.


  • Breaks down faster
  • Safer in certain environments (ie: in showers or near hard surfaces where glass might break if it falls)


  • Only degrades under specific conditions
  • Is still plastic, and degrades to a micro-plastic
  • Cannot be recycled
  • Potential leaching of toxic chemicals into the environment after degradation period


Bio-plastics: Made from renewable feedstocks* (ie: plants)


  • Made from renewable feedstock
  • Degrades in the environment *under specific environmental conditions
  • Lighter to carry and transport than glass, less CO2 in transportation
  • Safer in certain environments (ie: in showers or near hard surfaces where glass might break if it falls)
  • Developments in R&D of bio-feedstocks could mean this is a good option in the not too distant future.


  • Feedstock often grown on land that could be designated to grow food for human consumption
  • Genetically modified crops – negative impact on soil and biodiversity
  • Not all bio-plastics can be recycled
  • CO2 emissions from harvesting crops need to be taken into consideration


renewable feedstocks – organic compounds that can be replenished as quickly as they are used.

Glass – made from sand, limestone and soda ash


  • 100% recyclable without degradation over time
  • Transparent yet impermeable
  • Higher recycling rate than plastic
  • Inert – won’t react to contents
  • Due to high recycling rate, less pressure on natural resources
  • Easy to clean out


  • High CO2 and VOC (volatile organic compounds) emissions, water use in manufacture of glass
  • Heavy to carry and transport, increased CO2 emissions
  • Broken glass (incl. containers) are not recyclable in regular recycling
  • Risk of breaking
  • Not made from renewable feedstock (albeit abundant in nature)

Further notes on glass

While research and data show that glass manufacture and production can actually mitigate CO2 emissions, this consideration is for glass used to seal and insulate buildings but is not necessarily relevant to bottle manufacture.

While glass is theoretically recyclable endlessly, most recycled glass is not returned to the system to make more glass jars, instead, the majority of recycled glass becomes aggregate to make roads. There is only an average of 20% recycled material in glass packaging.

Also, not all glass is accepted for recycling. If it is coated, frosted or unusually coloured, it’s not recyclable.

Other Packaging types


Biodegradable and made from a renewable source. Make sure it’s not coated in non-biodegradable resin or lacquer. Can only hold dry products.


While assumed more environmentally friendly, because of its ability to degrade quickly, paper manufacture requires high energy and water outputs. Also, if paper is coated in plastic to strengthen it, it is no longer biodegradable or recyclable. Look for FSC certified packaging or grass paper.


Aluminium is 100% recyclable, and 75% of aluminium output produced since the 19th century is still in use today. However, this is only the case if the contents can be completely emptied, which means lots of cosmetic aluminium tubes risk not being recycled.

While more and more brands are producing sustainable packaging, how we use them and dispose of them is also crucial to the likelihood of the packaging being recycled at all. So, we have a responsibility to safely and efficiently dispose of product and follow local municipalities recycling policies for maximum impact

Are there companies making efforts to reduce the amount of packaging they use?

There are definitely lots of brands trying to improve in this area. Packaging sustainability is becoming a key focus for many beauty companies.

L’oreal is doing some great stuff with recycling and upcycling PET packaging in partnership with Loop Industries. This doesn’t, however, mitigate the fact they are still using questionable ingredients and producing far too much product. 

Lush has been leading the way for a number of years now when it comes to packaging-free products.

Certified natural and organic brands, although often packaged in plastic that is recyclable – especially makeup – in order to be certified their manufacture and packaging processes are also factored into the certification.

REN have started making their bottles from recycled ocean plastics – even winning them an award. The products themselves are also made from sound ingredients and offer a comprehensive range of skincare solutions.

Packing that you cannot clean out (like toothpaste) cannot be recycled. Packing that has multiple components (mirrors, metal hinges, sponge, pumps, applicators and magnets) cannot be recycled unless pulled apart completely.

What are the key ‘watch outs’ here?

Also, consider unnecessary packaging for delivery. Call brands out that use too much packaging for aesthetics only. Packaging should be practical and functional. 

Zero-Waste beauty and “waterless beauty” claims. Both are misnomers. Zero-waste is a rising trend but it is often only considered when talking about packaging. For a product to truly be zero-waste, the entire value chain needs to factor in zero waste. The same can be said for waterless beauty, another growing consumer trend. But consideration into the water used to grow ingredients, manufacture the product and end product use should also be taken into account.

Recycling and Disposal

How can products be disposed of correctly? (the product itself as opposed to the packaging)

While more and more brands are using more eco-friendly packaging, how we use them and dispose of them is also crucial to the likelihood of the packaging being recycled at all. So, we have a responsibility to safely and efficiently dispose of products and follow local municipalities recycling policies for maximum impact. 

The reality is that all cosmetic products go to landfill. Irrespective of if they are natural or synthetic, as they are a combination of chemicals it’s not safe or practical to throw them down drains as they can cause blockages and end up in the water systems, often being detrimental to aquatic life. So empty all old skin care and cosmetics into the regular trash before dismantling and recycling what you can of the packaging. Remember to clean as much product off as you can before putting it into the recycling bin.

Are there any recycling schemes within the beauty world that can be tapped into – over and above the normal recycling schemes?

TerraCycle has teamed up with Garnier to provide recycling for hard to recycle beauty product items from any brand (ie: items that cannot be recycled in regular recycling schemes) – and it’s a free service.

TerraCycle currently has programs in the USA and Europe.

Khandiz Joni

Multidisciplinary artist + Sustainability Professional

About the author

Khandiz is a qualified sustainability professional and has been a hair and makeup artist for two decades. Prior to studying makeup, she attended art school. Her work marries conceptual art and thought-provoking narratives using eco-beauty alternatives.

She is a founding member of the Conscious Beauty Union and runs VUJÀ DÉ Creative Solutions

Find out more about Khandiz at her website

Khandiz Joni

Multidisciplinary artist + Sustainability Professional