Plastics, aluminum or glass: which cosmetic packaging is more eco-friendly?

The Slow Cosmetic Association reviews the strengths and weaknesses of each.

The bottles, jars and tubes of our bathrooms must be both practical to use, effectively protect the precious product inside, and even seduce us to buy then daily with a shape, colors and colors. attractive details! In short, a cosmetic package is a world on its own,

We try to reduce its ecological impact while keeping a pleasure dimension to its beauty routine, so how to reconcile the two? Should we favor certain materials and ban others? Let’s see the choices available to us in detail.


  • Glass

In the light of good news, glass is generally considered the most “natural” of the lot both by its manufacture (low polluting) and its composition. Indeed, the manufacture of a ton of glass requires about 700 kilos of sand, 200 kilos of limestone and 300 kilos of various raw materials. All these materials are present in abundant quantities in nature.

In addition, it gives an elegant touch, even luxurious to the product.

Bottles and glass bottles are the norm for essential oils and vegetable oils. In both cases, tinted glass (amber or bluish) is preferred so that the contents are protected from light and do not suffer any deterioration. Being easy to clean, even at high temperatures, glass containers are easily reusable.

Glass is also easily recyclable and not to spoil anything, the glass recycles to infinity!

On the downside, glass is obviously a heavy and fragile material so its ecobilan (transport and logistics) is more important than with plastic or metal. It is also rather energy-consuming since the melting necessary for its manufacture involves reaching about 1500 ° C, more than 1160 kWh / tonne of glass produced.


  • Plastic

Plastic is today the main material for cosmetic packaging, especially because of its low cost. It is also lightweight, flexible, unbreakable and hygienic. From an aesthetic point of view, plastics are also extremely flexible and can therefore adopt very different shapes and colors.

But he does not have only advantages. In addition to the environmental problem of the oil from which this material is derived, a disadvantage of plastic is its physical stability: it is vulnerable to absorption, stress cracking and cracking. Its low resistance to ink and other chemicals may limit its use for certain types of packaging.

Some plastics used in the food industry have recently been suspected of releasing toxic substances, such as bisphenols or phthalates, under certain conditions of use (microwaving for example). These phenomena of interactions between the container and the content, potentially having an impact on the quality, efficacy and safety of a cosmetic product, are not yet sufficiently studied in the cosmetics sector.


Moreover, the plastic does not recycle to infinity and ends up necessarily being either rejected in nature in one form or another, or burned at the end of its life cycle in sorting centers (with a problematic energy and potential toxic releases to the environment).

It’s important to understand that not all plastics are equal:

  • PET (polyethylene terephthalate– number 1)
  • PP (polypropylene – number 5), the latter being preferred because of a higher

Note also the recent appearance of bio-plastic PET, based on sugar cane, whose use is still rare, but which should interest many industrialists in the future …



Taking into account only the basic material intensity figures (ratio between domestic consumption of raw materials and the gross domestic product), a PET (thermoplastic polymer) pot uses twice as much abiotic material (minerals and fossil fuels ) and 17 times more water (needed in its manufacturing process) than a similar glass jar. To get 1 kilo of PET plastic, 2 kilos of oil are needed. Thus, the amount of greenhouse gas emissions is five times greater in the case of the plastic pot. In this game, the glass wins the victory hands down.

But beware: this result is only valid in a local system, where the pollution caused by the routing of the product is negligible. Over long distances, the material intensity figures are multiplied according to the kilometers traveled to deliver the glass. In this case, the glass is losing because it requires 5 times more means of transport because of its weight. A PET jar shipped at 1,000 km saves 19g of CO2 (carbon dioxide equivalent) compared to a glass jar.

Some numbers :

– Recycling rate in 2016: glass = 86% // plastics = 59%

(2016 consolidated figures Group Eco-Emballages (Eco-Emballages / Adelphe).

– Annual production: glass: = 3.7 million tonnes // plastic = 2 million tonnes

– Packaging market share: glass = 11% // plastic = 35%

(The Express-Expansion, 2011)



Metal cosmetic containers are usually made of aluminum, as evidenced by our lacquers, deodorants, shaving creams or toothpastes. As a barrier material, aluminum offers excellent protection against germs, UV, humidity and temperature variations. By dissipating the heat, aluminum vials are thus particularly suitable for fragile contents such as hydrolats, whose fragrances and virtues can then be preserved.

Another advantage is that metal packaging is unbreakable and recyclable to infinity, so for companies wishing to convey an environmentally friendly image, aluminum is an excellent choice. It allows an economy in natural resources, even if aluminum is the most abundant metal on Earth.

Much lighter and more malleable than glass, aluminum can be shaped in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. It offers manufacturers many exclusive design possibilities. But not everything is idyllic. The production of aluminum generates atmospheric pollution and toxic waste during the extraction and transformation phases of this metal (red mud for example). And then from a practical point of view, if a glass container has the disadvantage of breaking if it escapes from the hands, the aluminum, he, shell at the slightest shock. Finally, aluminum has recently been decried when it was introduced into the cosmetic formulas themselves (suspected of being neurotoxic and present in some deodorants and toothpastes) but aluminum cosmetic containers are not concerned because an interior varnish food always separates the container from the contents, thus avoiding any risk of migration.

REVIEW of our comparison: what packaging is really Slow?

As always, there is not ONE right answer or one obvious choice. The proof, the craftsmen of the Slow Cosmetic network use the 3 materials that we have reviewed so they are all accepted in the movement. In fact, ironically, plastic is sometimes the only option that allows a local and ecological supply depending on where the craftsman is located. For others, the glass is more consistent with their production circuit or it is aluminum, but all are confronted with this dilemma: to bring (often from Asia) a glass not too expensive for miles and pollution, or use more polluting plastic or aluminum in manufacturing? The cost often ends up making the decision because consumers are not willing to pay more for one product than another, knowing that in Slow Cosmetics, prices are already considered higher than conventional (even if movement enthusiast knows that he is actually realizing a long-term economy).


Still, the best waste is the one that is not produced so the only way to get around the dilemma of choice is to favor alternatives “zero waste”. The Cosmetic Slow obviously encourages this state of mind, with for example solid cosmetics (soaps, shampoos, deodorants, body balms …) and washable accessories, but even they must reach us in a “new” and clean state, so The theme of packaging remains. It’s up to you to make the choice that corresponds to your own values ​​and possibilities.