Can Beauty Brands Put the Squeeze on Plastic Tubes?

Elizabeth Heath

Nov 18, 2021 · 4 min read

The consensus is definitely in: For a greener, cleaner, and more sustainable future, plastics need to be increasingly eliminated from the global supply chain. Every type of manufacturer, from giant multinational companies to indie brands and start-ups, need to find ways to package their products using as little plastic as possible – or better yet, go entirely plastic-free.

But for a number of reasons, going plastic-free isn’t a simple solution when it comes to formula-based products. And it can be an especially tricky proposition for small Beauty Brands.

Plastic tubes are one of the most common, convenient solutions for cosmetics packaging. Yet they’re also a huge contributor to global plastic waste, and only a small percentage of them are recycled or reusable. But some cosmetics products just work best in tubes. So how can a conscientious cosmetics creator develop a product that performs as promised while still upholding the values of sustainability?

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Let’s take a look at some of the potential issues around creating a new cosmetic product that might be best-suited for a tube, some problems around plastic-free alternatives, and some potential solutions.

Issue #1 – High MOQs

Problem: High MOQs obligate a cosmetic creator to stick with plastic tubes.

If you know anything about MOQs, you know they can present a host of problems for small Beauty Brands. MOQ stands for minimum order quantity. And when it comes to plastic tubes, the MOQ might be 10,000 – that’s a lot of tubes for a start-up Beauty Brand to fill! So, if your initial plan is to produce a thousand units of a hand lotion and package it in inexpensive plastic tubes until you can afford more sustainable packaging, you’ve got a big problem – those 9,000 extra tubes you paid for.

Solution: Look for packaging resellers

Even if 10,000 plastic tubes are 9,000 more than you need, you’ll probably find few suppliers who are willing to lower their MOQs – even well-known Beauty Brands run into this issue. If your supplier isn’t willing to work with lower MOQs, an alternative is to find a reseller – a company that buys in bulk and resells lower quantities at a profit. Amazon and Alibaba are good places to search for smaller container batches.

You can offset the initial higher costs by simplifying your package design – like maybe using an adhesive label instead of more costly silkscreening. Once your product is launched and, ideally making a profit, you can transition away from plastic tubes and to more sustainable solutions.

Issue #2 - Formula Integrity and Performance

Problem: Some products perform better in tubes.

Sometimes tubes are the only option for a cosmetic product. Take a clay face mask for example. If you try to package it in a glass jar with a large opening, the mask could dry out – even if the consumer seals that jar tight after every use, that small amount of air captured in the jar will suck moisture from the product. If you put it in a pump bottle, which is often still a plastic solution, the dense formula can dry inside the pump causing it to break. And either way, you’ve got a dissatisfied customer who’s not likely to buy your product again.

Solution: Low- or non-plastic tubes

Fortunately, plastic alternatives exist, even for tubes. Today, tubes can be manufactured in aluminum and even sugarcane. More and more package suppliers are offering tubes made of recycled plastics (PCR or post-consumer recycled), and/or of plastics that are more easily recyclable.

Check out this article from Beauty Packaging, which looks at the emerging market of sustainable tube materials.

Issue #3 – Sustainability vs. Scalability

Problem: Sustainable packaging cannot always be produced on a large scale.

We love the elegant, art-like packaging of Oquist Cosmetics products, a small indie brand committed to the circular economy. But if your dream is to grow your brand so that it scales up to producing hundreds of thousands of units per year, up-cyclable terracotta containers like those used by Oquist might not be a viable option. And that’s an issue with many types of bespoke packaging – the same packaging aesthetic that makes your product stand out from the competition may also make it harder to scale up.

Solution: Put it in the Product Brief – and prepare to get creative.

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If sustainability is essential to your brand identity, then it needs to be more than an afterthought – it needs to be part of your core mission. Your Product Brief is the gameplan, playbook, and starting point of your brand, so make sure that sustainability is integrated into every aspect of your product description, market analysis, and launch plan. That may seem fundamental – but making this early commitment to sustainability will help ensure that you keep it in the forefront every step of the way during product development.

Also consider the many creative options for sustainability and scalability, which don’t involve you ordering 100,000 plastic tubes. We look to Loop by Ulta as a stellar example – instead of tossing their empty cosmetics containers, subscribers return them in exchange for new products, delivered to their door in a reusable tote. For the Beauty Brands that participate in the program, this 360-degree process means they can keep reusing existing packaging – whether those are bespoke containers or generic plastic tubes – instead of having to worry about ordering large quantities.

Written by

Elizabeth Heath

Liz is a writer and editor based in central Italy.

Connect with Elizabeth Heath on LinkedIn.

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