What’s Entailed in Finding Sustainable Makeup and Cosmetics Packaging?

Melanie Petschke, a family nurse practitioner, launched Crunchi Cosmetics to make and sell makeup and skin care products that perform well and contain no potentially harmful ingredients. Ensuring packaging that would not hurt the environment is another priority and has been an involved process. She’s aiming for plastic-free, which has been accomplished with the primary packaging, but trying to move away from polymers altogether is an ongoing job.

Arlene Karidis, Freelance writer

May 31, 2022

5 Min Read
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Understanding what packaging is made from, potential impact of those materials, and finding the right materials has entailed a lot of vetting.

It means deep dives into package designers’ claims and searching for sustainable options that are available at scale and affordable. 

Melanie Petschke, a former family nurse practicioner who launched Crunchi Cosmetics, watches for new offerings for smaller packaging components with limited or no sustainable alternatives to plastics.

“When we launched, we thought of toxicity exposure. Cosmetics and skincare products are a hot bed for ingredients linked to cancer, hormone disruption, and other health risks with little to no regulation to ensure their safety. We chose ingredients carefully to avoid these concerns. But we also wanted packaging that would not contaminate the environment through leaching of BPA, BPS, or other toxins,” says Petschke.

While BPA and BPS are banned in many countries, there are no guarantees that material sourced internationally contains none of these chemical substances, still found in some plastic.

An early focus was to incorporate glass containers for liquid foundation and makeup primers – even lip gloss and mascara is in glass now. One downside to glass packaging is increased package weight, so the Crunchi team keeps an eye out for plastic-free, lighter alternatives and uses aluminum and plant-based packaging components with some products.

Some skin and makeup products are sold in post-consumer recycled paper that’s completely recyclable. For paperboard packaging for compacts, it’s meant no longer including mirrors to ensure the material can go in curbside bins.

“We will not launch a product unless we have a way to place it in sustainable packaging. We have put products on hold because we could not justify doing this work [aiming to protect people and the environment] if we have to use plastic—even if it’s post-consumer or recyclable,” Petschke says.

Vetting what’s out there can be tricky. She exemplifies with an eyeliner she wanted to produce in a wooden pencil where she got to the final stage of product formulation, then got a surprise.

“We discovered sharpenable pencil packaging in the U.S. may look like wood and feel like wood but is actually a plastic material.  So, we pulled the plug. We ended up starting over with an alternative (aluminum) packaging, at greater than 10 times the cost.  A worthwhile investment.”

There’s been other trial and error and tweaking along the way. For instance, the company used to wrap individual products in paper imprinted with information about clean beauty. But in time more filler paper was needed in the shippers to prevent glass breakage during transit. So Crunchi is switching to unit cartons, replacing the educational wrap to allow less fill.

The issue of material availability, particularly with some recycled content, namely glass, can pose challenges.

“We talked to companies who can supply some recycled glass, though presently it’s not offered at large enough scale. But post-consumer glass is on our radar. For now, we look for plastic-free and hope people recycle glass when they are finished with the product so ultimately, we will be able to access more of it,” Petschke says.

Determining how to best package an SPF product has taken some work; glass containers are hardly ideal for poolside. But Crunchi is making headway on this task, having found an alternative for the sunscreen and other lines that involves aluminum.

Samples remain a quandary. Petschke has only found one company offering what it calls a paper-lined with water-repellant material that can go into curbside recycling systems. She’s fact checking the designer’s claims, cautious of greenwashing.  

Vetting is ongoing, including around compostability and degradability claims. Crunchi has a plant-based package for finishing powder that Petschke is happy with and she talks of similar promising innovations. But she has no data to confirm it breaks down in the required time to make the assertion.

“We know it’s biodegradable and compostable. We just can’t make the claims without proof of timeframe. We just stick to the term, plastic-free,” she says.

Crunchi also does due diligence around PFAS and is guarded around this topic too. The company invests in third-party laboratory PFAS testing of its packaging and goods to screen for contamination from the manufacturing process. But Petschke says while she is pleased with test findings, current PFAS testing capabilities have limits.

“Crunchi is committed to continued prevention strategies on our part … Unfortunately, this topic is ignored by many packaging and ingredient suppliers, and until there is legislation to hold manufacturers accountable for declaring everything in their products, including PFAS, this will be an ongoing issue for the cosmetic industry.”

Avoiding polymers in many of the smaller components, like mascara wands and caps, remains a work-in-progress, though she has found a way to make brush handles from 99.9% post-consumer aluminum.

With the wands, Petschke encourages customers to donate them to a wildlife nonprofit, Wands for Life, that repurposes them. Still there are no ways to divert and use some components.

“Even if you can take them apart and recycle them municipalities may not have capacity to do it. So, our immediate solution was to partner with CleanHub to sponsor removal of plastic from the environment at a greater capacity than we put it in [to offset our footprint]. Their projects stop plastic from going into the ocean, and they are creating jobs, which is pretty cool,” she says.

To date, CleanHub has diverted 1,190 tons of plastic waste, collecting most near shorelines, from rivers, or oceans.

The company’s biggest challenge is educating the masses that plastic pollution can be addressed successfully, says Joel Tasche, founder and CEO of CleanHub.

“Out of our partners, it is Crunchi with whom we have reached the widest audience. They have a unique distribution strategy and leverage it to raise awareness for our cause.

Their credo, ‘Earth Day is every day,’ sends a powerful message about what they stand for, and the value match with CleanHub makes our partnership a success,” he says.

Speaking of what drives that ‘credo’ Petschke comments, “We wanted to use sustainable, clean packaging for our health and the health of the planet.”

About the Author(s)

Arlene Karidis

Freelance writer, Waste360

Arlene Karidis has 30 years’ cumulative experience reporting on health and environmental topics for B2B and consumer publications of a global, national and/or regional reach, including Waste360, Washington Post, The Atlantic, Huffington Post, Baltimore Sun and lifestyle and parenting magazines. In between her assignments, Arlene does yoga, Pilates, takes long walks, and works her body in other ways that won’t bang up her somewhat challenged knees; drinks wine;  hangs with her family and other good friends and on really slow weekends, entertains herself watching her cat get happy on catnip and play with new toys.

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