December 5, 2022

Biodegradable Packaging For Tube Cosmetics: The Rise Of Sustainable Stick Packaging In The Beauty Industry

Who doesn’t love a perfectly designed tiny tube of lipstick, deodorant, mascara, or roll-on skin care? They’re versatile, easy to travel with, and perfectly compact. In 2018 alone, beauty and personal care products accounted for 7.9 billion units of rigid plastic. Beauty that comes packaged in convenient tubes and sticks are a massive segment of beauty packaging that is ripe for a sustainable makeover. Move over virgin plastic, biodegradable tube packaging is the present and future for beauty, skin, and body care. 

Over 1 billion units of lipstick and an additional billion units of mascara were produced globally in 2021. In addition, Dove sells over 40 million units of their deodorant product alone, annually. The sum of those sales is a ton of tube packaging, most of it virgin plastic based and 90% of which will likely end up in landfills. 

Bringing recyclable primary packaging into your sustainability strategy is a step in the right direction; however, it necessitates committed compliance from the end user. Furthermore, with less than 10% of the plastic waste created from cosmetics and other industries recycled globally, it is an inefficient system at best. 

While PET, a commonly used plastic material in the beauty industry, is 100% recyclable, plastic industry groups found that only 21% of the PET that went through the recycling stream was turned into new products. This is likely a case of contamination or mixed materials, but nonetheless, it underserves the product, the public, and the planet.

On the other hand, while biodegradable beauty packaging may still meet its challenges at the recycling bin, if it does enter the waste stream, it’s proven to have a markedly lighter carbon footprint. Depending on the type, biodegradable packaging can break down naturally in three to six months. In contrast, the previous industry standard, virgin plastic, can take over 450 years to break down, and into persistent toxic microplastics at that. 

Let's explore below the different options for implementing biodegradable packaging materials into the primary packaging of the tube and stick cosmetics. 

What Biodegradable Materials Are Suitable For Tube and Stick Cosmetics

Biodegradable tubes have come a long way from kraft cardboard in au natural color schemes we’ve come to visualize when we think of biodegradable stick options. Not that we don’t love a natural, ink-free primary packaging that signals “I am planet friendly” without screaming the sustainability message through packaging copy. Today’s biodegradable options come in vastly different materials that cater to both sustainably centered and established luxury brands alike.

What Makes Packaging Truly Biodegradable

True biodegradable materials can be broken down entirely with a mix of water, carbon dioxide, and/or industrial compost by microorganisms under the right conditions. While the term “biodegradable” seemingly implies that decomposition happens in weeks to months, this is not a blanket rate. There are also bioplastics that take longer as they are made of biomass that cannot break down as easily and are termed “durable biodegradables.” In the end, a lifecycle analysis of either should be done to review the total impact depending on material type, origin, and production practices.

There are three categories of biodegradable packaging for stick and tube beauty and self-care products; bamboo, paper, and bioplastics - not to be confused with their completely non-biodegradable plastic variant counterparts. Let’s investigate their sustainability below.

Bamboo Round Lipstick, Presto Packaging Solutions Photo Source: Impacked Packaging

Bamboo As An Eco-Friendly Packaging Option For Skin Care

Bamboo is one of the most renewable resources on the planet, thanks to its rapid growth rate and regeneration abilities. Unlike regular hardwood trees that make up our paper products, a bamboo crop can expeditiously reproduce for years without the need for replanting.

Bamboo packaging used in lipstick, balms, and skin care pots are biodegradable and can be 100% compostable within 2–6 months, depending on commercial or residential composting conditions. It also employs a much lighter carbon footprint in production, with bamboo offsetting emissions by adding 35% more oxygen into the atmosphere than the same volume of trees.

Bamboo is also here to help the beauty industry meet its environmental, social, and governance (ESG) targets for net zero commitments. ​​According to Future Market Insights, “Bamboo utilized as primary packaging can be composted easily, and sustainability is in every process connected with the production.” Because of this, many governmental organizations have stepped in to subsidize and support bamboo packing manufacturers propelling the market to new heights. 

Paper Lip Stick, APC Packaging Photo Source: Impacked Packaging

Paper Packaging For Stick Cosmetics

The durable and biodegradable paper lip gloss tube makes for a versatile, low-impact tube packaging choice. Given a little time, microorganisms and other decomposing agents can not only make fast work of biodegrading paper tubes, but they additionally return a source of carbon to the earth. Besides having a speedy degradation rate of around three months, cardboard tubing can be reusable and potentially recyclable. However, we add an asterisk to the latter point due to the potential for mixed materials, read, sneaky inner liners, and labels of non-biodegradable quality. In many cases, components that include paper are not 100% made from bio-based materials for this reason.

The beauty industry takes several things very seriously, one of which is product sterility. Inner linings, usually made of plastic components, help keep the product safe from contaminants. In addition, there are now many bioplastics and organic wax linings that can also function as organic barriers, with advances being made to improve overall recyclability without sacrificing protective properties.

While environmental factors undoubtedly affect the breakdown time of a cardboard tube that once held lipstick or deodorant, the good news is that it is unlikely to produce toxic pollutants and micromaterials as it goes about returning itself to the earth. 

Bioplastic Tubes For Beauty Products: PLA + PHA 

Bio-based materials and bioplastics are terms often used interchangeably and not always accurately. Bio-based materials use plant-based materials, and sometimes even bioplastics, but usually refer to the beginning part of the packaging’s life cycle. 

Bioplastics themselves are materials derived from renewable feedstocks, such as starch, cellulose, vegetable oils, or even vegetable fats. These may or may not be biodegradable, with some being only partially biobased, which means they contain both renewable and fossil-fuel-based carbon.

The two best examples of certifiably biodegradable bioplastics are polylactic acid (PLA) and polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHA). 

PLA is a 100% bio-sourced thermoplastic derived from renewable, organic sources such as corn starch or sugar cane. The lactic acid obtained from the fermentation of sugar or starch is transformed into the building block monomers that create a rigid structure that can biodegrade or be composted at its end of life. 

PHAs are an emerging class of bioplastics in the latter category. They are biobased and biodegradable, initially derived from microbes that feed off waste cooking oil. Like PLA, PHAs are produced by bacterial fermentation using bio-feedstocks instead of plants and thus are an alternative to fossil fuel-derived plastics. Currently, PHAs make up around 5% of biodegradable plastics worldwide

Both PLA and PHA make rigid, safe, and low-impact choices for tube and stick packaging. 


Thermoplastic Algae Sliding Lipstick Photo Source: Urth

Honorable Mention: Thermoplastic Algae

When ocean super plants meet technology, behold, the sustainable packaging future may just be in thermoplastic algae. Designed by a team of students at UC San Diego's Center for Renewable Materials, Urth’s new sliding lipstick is fabricated with a totally biodegradable material that uses minimal fossil fuels and produces limited greenhouse gasses in production. 

The dispenser answers a common end-life question; can the user easily aid the packaging to its primary recycling destiny? Urth’s new lipstick dispenser can be home-composted and fully degrades within just 12 weeks, making it a potentially valuable material to explore for the future. 

The Biodegradable Bottom Line On Tube Packaging

Paper, bamboo, and biodegradable bioplastics all present a practical approach to the future of stick and tube packaging in the beauty industry. Moreover, these materials aren’t just low impact at the end of life; they have notably more sustainable processes across the production chain. 

Making a primary packaging switch to a low-impact alternative is made easier by using the largest primary packaging place on the planet for the planet. Instantly search, filter, sample, and quote packaging from top suppliers - all in one place.