Designing sustainable cosmetics packaging

A Morrama guide to designing planet conscious packaging for skincare, makeup and cosmetics products.
June 4, 2024

Nowadays, sustainability is not just a trend but a necessity. At Morrama, we believe in creating packaging designs that combine both beautiful aesthetics and experience with environmental responsibility. Our mission is to help brands achieve success without compromising the needs of our planet. This blog explains our approach and showcases some of our standout projects, including Wild deodorant, Maya lip stick  and the KANKAN soap dispenser.

Why sustainable?

We are all aware of the critical status of climate change. Every product or piece of packaging we produce has an impact in resource extraction and manufacture through to disposal and there is now a mounting pressure on brands to address this. Whether it be to meet customer demand, stricter legislation or a desire to attract purpose driven talent into the business, companies have no choice but to prioritise sustainability when it comes to new product development.

Our approach to sustainable packaging design

We start every project with a sustainability report. When it comes to cosmetics packaging, the key areas we explore are:

  1. Material choice
  2. Manufacturing & distribution
  3. Use
  4. Disposal

In this blog post we will address each one, giving you insights and actions you can apply to your product or packaging.

1. Material choice 

Packaging is made up of simple assemblies and produced at high volume. Once produced, the pack typically has little-to-no impact on the planet until it is disposed of. At this point the material it is made from is critical as this determines the disposal and recovery options. When choosing materials, we focus on these five things in order of priority:

  • Functionality; material choice should be made on performance. First and foremost the material properties must be suitable for the target shelf-life, product compatibility and desired user experience.
  • Circular economy; we want to select materials that enable us to reduce the amount of packaging needed and reduce CO2 emissions in production as well as open up opportunities to recycle and recapture material value at the end of the product life cycle.
  • User behaviour; understanding typical user behaviour is key to ensuring planet conscious choices don’t have adverse consequences. Introducing a non-recyclable material into a product line that is synonymous with recycling may contaminate recycling streams and cause more harm than good.
  • Value; high cost doesn’t necessarily mean higher value. Compostable materials are typically 2-3 times more expensive than traditional plastics, however the materials have little or no value to recyclers. By comparison aluminium is currently around 1.5-2 times more expensive than PET and the recycling rates are also around 1.5-2 times higher.
  • Market pull; lastly we select materials that match the consumer demand. Whilst you may wish to prioritise this, what the market wants doesn’t necessarily align with what is truly best for the planet or what makes sense in the context of use.

Good to know…The aluminium industry is pushing for 100% recycling rates by 2050. Currently 76% of aluminium packaging is recycled in the EU. Recycling rates of PET are currently around 49% in the EU.

Case study KANKAN:

Striving for a circular packaging solution, KANKAN launched their soap in a widely recyclable tin can. The Morrama team developed a simple and playful pump cap for the can to enable easy dispensing with the least material possible.

2. Manufacturing & Distribution

Typically the highest impact aspect of manufacturing is the energy required to run the factory. Therefore selecting a factory that runs on partial or full green energy is the easiest way to mitigate the majority of CO2e during this life-cycle stage. A demonstration of this, is in Apple’s latest Apple Watch sustainability report. Once manufactured, there are the inevitable emissions associated with moving products around. Forward planning will help you minimise reliance on air freight in favour of less impactful sea-freight and in using green energy/electric delivery services and/or standard postal services (over bespoke couriers) to get product to customers/retailers will help keep these emissions low.

3. Use

At Morrama we develop a lot of refillable packaging. When it comes to refill, the intention is that the more times it is refilled, the better it is for the planet. Brands can nudge users to refill by:

  • Ensuring high efficacy of the product itself; the formula itself must work.
  • Making refills widely available online and in-store so consumers can get hold of them.
  • Holding back on releasing new versions (new colours/patterns) of the vessel that will entice customers to buy more than they need. Instead consider releasing more fragrances or formulas that encourage customers to buy new refills.
  • Considering carefully the volume of the refill. We suggest it should not last longer than three months or you will struggle to instil a refill routine with customers. 

In order to keep refilling the vessel, it needs to continue to work. You will want to make sure that the vessel is designed for longevity, durable enough to be used again and again, but it’s also important to consider what happens to it if it’s not refilled. Which will happen more than you hope it does…

70% is generally considered to be a high refill rate. This corresponds to just 3.3 uses on average, which may not be enough to outweigh the environmental impacts of producing a more durable, reusable container. 

Case study Maya Lipstick:

The Maya lipstick pack (pictured above) challenges existing refillable lipstick packaging in that the refill is both plastic free and as minimal on packaging as we could possibly make it and weights less than 1g.

4. Disposal

Considerations for end-of-life are critical, particularly if your packaging is not designed for refill or return. Unfortunately we are working with a flawed recycling system, and so this is why careful material choice is so crucial. Be sure to: 

  • Use materials that are widely curbside recyclable and more likely to subsequently get recycled such as aluminium or PET.
  • If using mix-materials, ensure they can be separated easily 
  • If using compostable materials, make it clear what the consumer should do with the packaging after use and it does not end up contaminating waste collection. E.g. people putting compostable packaging in their food bin.

And don’t forget to ask yourself; could you remove this component all together and set up a truly circular service where you refill the vessel directly?

In France 38% of municipal (household) waste was incinerated in 2020, 18% went to landfill and 42% was recycled. The target for recycling plastic packaging is 50% by 2025. This is unlikely to be achieved based on current figures, however there is a clear push by most EU nations to focus on firstly reducing packaging and secondly to improve recycling infrastructure. 


Product and packaging development takes time and investment, so you want to be sure you get it right. Here are three things to bare in mind:

  • Consumers demand sustainable. No matter what, the future consumer is going to be demanding more sustainable options. This will go up and down year to year, but there is a clear increase in consumer understanding about what is and isn’t good for the environment and, where they can, they are shopping with the planet in mind.
  • Stricter regulation. With the EU Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive set to be enforced by 2025, the EU made a clear statement encouraging a circular approach, promoting either recycling or direct reuse of materials. There are requirements for companies in certain sectors (primarily food, drink and transportation) to switch a percentage of their packaging to reusable solutions by 2030 and recycled content rates in packaging to reach 50%+ by 2040. There are currently no targets or sustainability criteria for bio-based plastic, but these are set to be introduced in 2025.
  • Material development. There is currently a huge number of bioplastic companies racing to produce solutions that will go some way to reducing the impact of plastic in both production and damage as a pollutant. This will inevitably help reduce the cost of starch, cellulose and PHA based bioplastics, which are also not dependent on volatile energy markets.

At Morrama, we are dedicated to helping brands achieve success through innovative, planet conscious design. Whether you are a new startup or an established brand, our team is here to guide you on your sustainability journey.

Ready to take the next step? Contact us today.


Jo Barnard