Many people view packaging as a major environmental problem; there is too much of it and nothing is being done to encourage minimisation. However, this is an extreme point of view. All of the evidence shows that packaging does a good job in protecting the products it contains, the quantity of packaging for most products is satisfactory for the job it does, and there are laws in place that require packaging to be minimised. While we would all agree that there are examples where the amount of packaging for a specific product can be reduced, in general a lot of work is being done to control packaging and its impacts.

The problem with packaging is that, of all the resources and energy used to make a product, packaging is the part that consumers see most and think they understand. But do they really understand? If we take a close look at what packaging actually does, we can see that the matter is not quite so simple.


Product life cycle


The main aim for packaging is to protect its contents from spoiling and to enable the consumer to use the product.

It must be strong enough to:

  • withstand transport and storage;
  • fit on shelves in supermarkets or other retailers;
  • look attractive to the people who might buy it; and
  • stay looking good throughout its life,
    - which for cosmetics may be several months or even years.

However, it must also be labelled with lots of legally required information. In the case of cosmetic products, that includes a list of ingredients and, where necessary, how to use the product safely.

By law, packaging must also be able to be recovered, which includes recycling, and manufacturers must pay for this. The law also requires manufacturers to minimise packaging.

For more information on this, see the section on Packaging.

Cosmetics manufacturers try to strike the right balance between a product that looks good and minimising packaging whilst taking into account all of the factors mentioned above. They encourage their packaging suppliers to look at new methods and technologies for making packaging, everything from more environmentally-friendly printing inks to improved design of bottles, or from new machinery to using more recycled materials. This is a normal part of everyday business.

With all of this in mind, you should remember that there is no such thing as ‘sustainable packaging’. There can only ever be a more sustainable way of manufacturing a certain product.