Not only does the choice of material play a key role in preserving the integrity of your products, it also has an impact on the environment. Consumers are becoming increasingly conscious of their carbon footprint, meaning that brands need to understand the difference between the different packaging materials and their recyclability, so that they can make informed choices that appeal to the eco-conscious consumer.
In this complete guide to packaging materials, we’ll take a closer look at the different types of materials on offer, and consider their functionality and recyclability.
• PCR (Post-Consumer Recycled) plastic: PCR plastic, which stands for post-consumer recycled, is gaining traction as a sustainable choice. It is made from recycled plastic, then turned into reprocessed into a resin which can then be used to make new packaging.
As the name suggests, PCR plastics are fully recyclable. This makes it far less wasteful than other types of plastic, and its use helps to conserve energy and resources. It can’t, however, be recycled indefinitely. It can be safely be recycled 7-9 times.
• PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate): PET is a plastic material that’s known for its transparency and durability, making it a common choice for products such as shampoo, conditioner, and lotions. Like glass, it’s resistant to acidic content, so it’s a great choice for skincare products with a high acid content, such as those containing fruit extracts.
PET is highly recyclable and widely accepted in recycling programs. Unlike other types of plastic, PET can be (almost) infinitely recycled. Notably, it also generates up to 75% less CO2 emissions than glass or aluminum.
• PP (Polypropylene): Polypropylene is a thermoplastic that is both lightweight and durable. PP often used for cosmetic and skincare packaging as it can be injection molded to make components such as lids and pumps. Due to its ability to withstand bending and flexing, it’s often used to make hinges in caps, like those seen on shampoo bottles.
While PP is recyclable, it needs to be separated from other plastic components before it’s recycled. As a result, its recyclability rates can vary depending on the region and the availability of recycling facilities for this material, and its estimated that only 1% of PP discarded each year is disposed of in an environmentally friendly way.
• HDPE (High-Density Polyethylene): Today, polyethylene is one of the most widely-used plastics worldwide, thanks to its enormous versatility. It’s also incredibly cheap to produce, so it’s an affordable packaging material. HDPE is well-suited for products that require a thicker, more robust container.
HDPE is highly recyclable, and can be used again and again. Additionally, it is accepted by most recycling programs, and it can be recycled into various items, including new HDPE containers.
• Aluminum: In recent years, the popularity of aluminum as a packaging material for premium skincare and cosmetic packaging has grown, due to its sleek appearance and ability to protect products from light and air. It is often used for containers such as lipstick tubes and compact cases, as well as hand creams.
Aluminum is infinitely recyclable, and recycling it consumes only a fraction of the energy required to produce new aluminum. In fact, nearly 75% of all aluminum that’s ever been produced is still in use today! The recycling rates for aluminum packaging are generally high.
• Sugarcane-based packaging: As sustainability takes center stage, the use of sugarcane-based packaging has increased. An eco-friendly alternative to traditional packaging materials, bioplastics derived from sugarcane are used for a whole host of cosmetic and skincare products, such as bottles and tubes.
As a crop, sugarcane is highly CO2 absorbent. Research found that the sugarcane crop, both in the field and throughout its processing, contributes to the release of 20.65 million tons of CO2. However, over its entire life cycle, this crop absorbs a substantial 228.89 million tons of CO2 from the Indian atmosphere. While bioplastics made from sugarcane are not biodegradable or compostable, they can be recycled, just not in the traditional sense.
• Glass: A premium choice for luxury brands, glass packaging has a sleek and elegant appeal. Often used for high-end skincare and fragrance products, it is highly impermeable, and thus preserves the integrity of products.
Glass is 100% recyclable and can be recycled endlessly without loss of quality. However, only 33% of waste glass gets recycled in the US, which demonstrates there’s a need for an enhanced national effort to improve glass recycling rates.
• Paper: When used in packaging, paper has many advantages. Not only is it cheap to produce, it is also lightweight and recyclable. It can be used for a variety of products, such as deodorant sticks or lip balms.
While paper is widely recyclable, its recyclability can be affected by factors such as coatings and inks.