Rethinking Plastic Packaging: Towards a Zero-Waste, Circular Economy

This is a series of 5 blog posts covering the following topics:


    With #shelfies and detailed skincare and beauty routines prominent on social media, forums and YouTube videos, pretty packaging is synonymous with luxury and self-care—and it’s not unusual for consumers to buy products based solely on packaging. (source)

    In spite of its many advantages, plastic packaging has developed a bad reputation when it comes to its environmental impact. Strong media attention and consumer demand has resulted in some positive, although scattered efforts from government, brands and manufacturers to address this problem.

    However, phasing out plastics entirely and developing effective and sustainable packaging solutions is a complex, multi-dimensional problem that requires a systematic, holistic approach to ensure that we don’t shift the burden to other areas, for example:

    • Banning single use plastic might be part of the solution, but will it help prevent the plastic waste problem in the countries that contribute the most, such as Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Bangladesh?
    • Switching to more renewable materials might be part of the solution, but do we have enough (land) resources to enable a complete switch and is it even technically feasible?
    • Investing in R&D is crucial but it also requires thinking about the product’s end-of-life to avoid shifting the environmental burden to other areas - killing fewer turtles, but increasing deforestation and killing more orangutans instead.
    • And can we dispense with consumer packaging without generating even more waste?
    • Can we create refillable packaging without significantly increasing water and energy consumption? (source)


    All these questions lead to one conclusion: isolated actions can’t solve our problems. The key is to think systemically and holistically, and make fact-based rather than emotion-based decisions. Ultimately, driving change towards a more sustainable future requires a united effort from consumers, brand owners, manufacturers and regulators.


    Sustainable packaging materials don’t necessarily address the fundamental problem of our throwaway culture. A more responsible approach is building a circular economy model, in which everything is reused or recycled and any leakage into the environment, whether biodegradable or not, is not acceptable.

    But recycling can go only so far. Part of the solution, is also using less disposable plastic in the first place. The “zero waste” movement addresses this problem as no portion of the packaging is sent to landfills, oceans or incinerated.


    Manufacturers and governments need to promote investment in R&D and use multidimensional indicators in their analysis before taking large-scale action.


    Thinkstep, a leading global sustainability software company, has proposed the following focus areas:

    • Minimizing the amount of packaging we use without compromising the benefits it provides—this may require marketing departments to think up new ways to promote products and provide “shelf-presence”;
    • Selecting packaging materials with the lowest production impacts. To do this right, you must compare materials based on the unit of product that you need to package safely for a given transport option and shelf-life;
    • Developing and implementing new concepts for collecting and recycling waste packaging to reduce demand on resources. We need to ensure waste packaging has a value, so there is less incentive to discard it as litter; and
    • Most of all, we need to integrate all these ideas, with interdisciplinarity and systems science to solve our packaging problems over the long run. (source)


    Brands communicating and educating customers on how to responsibly use and dispose of packaging are a key to the success in any and all of these areas. An imminent danger is moving toward over-simplified (and eventually incorrect) qualitative descriptions designed to enable all customers to decipher the message, but actually mislead the public. (source)


    Find out how you can help as a beauty consumer without giving up the clean, effective products that you already love and trust.


    Choose Ao Skincare

    Better for you skin. Better for the planet.

    Here at Ao, we take sustainability seriously. Protecting your skin health and the environment has been at the core of our values since day one. Read on to find out some of the key things we are doing to protect our planet. We’d love to hear what you’re doing! Tell us in the comments or reach out to us on Instagram or Facebook.

    • At Ao, we source the majority of our pristine ingredients locally, from the remote New Zealand wilderness, and partner with EWG and Credo Beauty to assure you that our ingredients meet the strictest standards for your health.
    • We follow gold standard practices through every step of our supply chain. Our formulas are manufactured using an innovative and environmentally-friendly method known as cold processing, which not only preserves the integrity and potency of our delicate active ingredients but also significantly reduces resource consumption during manufacturing - in particular energy and time. Most traditional methods rely on heating and cooling processes that account for over 90% of the total energy costs for the production of an emulsion.
    • Our outer packaging is made out of FSC Certified recycled cardboard. We use an innovative glueless design in which boxes are held shut employing either tension or a locking mechanism. Additionally, we use no gloss or laminas during printing, to ensure that the cardboard remains 100% recyclable.
    • Our shipping processes are plastic-free. We use recycled paper shipping envelopes or bags, and no bubble wrap, polystyrene or plastic wrapping around shipping pallets.
    • Our airless pump tubes and containers can sent back to us (free of charge) to be recycled through TerraCycle Beauty Products Zero Waste Boxes™.
    • We periodically revisit our product packaging to improve our environmental impact and reduce unnecessary waste and resource consumption. Currently, we are working on a Full Airless Recycling Program (currently no other brands we know offer this), and a Reusable Program (refills). Stay tuned for more, either by signing up to our newsletter, or following us on Instagram or Facebook.
    • Our ultimate goal is to develop a fully biodegradable airless container solution.


      Sources: Guidelines on Stability of Cosmetic Products, published by the Cosmetic, Toiletry, and Fragrance Association (CTFA) in 2004



      "Skincare science needs to be on the very edge of social change and evolution in order to succeed."

      Dr. Mark Gray