Comparative Test of Sunscreen Packaging
6/19/2024 Sustainability New Paths Design Retail Brands Industry Look into Europe Article

Comparative Test of Sunscreen Packaging

Experts from the Central Agency for Green Commerce have analyzed packaging solutions for sunscreen products. According to the results, there is still room for improvement in terms of sustainability.

Tube of Cien children's sunscreen from Lidl. In the current issue of Ökotest (6/24), Lidl's own brand "Cien Sun Kids Sun Cream SPF 50" achieved the top rating of "Very good". The cream impresses with its very good ingredients. However, a SUSY comparison test revealed that many sunscreen packaging from various brands still have some catching up to do when it comes to sustainability.

Summer is here, vacations are approaching. Sunscreen is on many consumers’ shopping list these days. Some prefer the classic sun milk from the discount store, others a spray from the drugstore or a deodorant by a luxury brand. The packaging varies accordingly: retailers and industry fill the products in simple plastic bottles, plastic spray bottles with pressurized or trigger atomizers, plastic tubes with and without paper outer shells, and aerosol spray cans made of aluminum.

As the developer and provider of the Sustainable System (SUSY) testing and evaluation algorithm, the Central Agency for Green Commerce (CAGC) has had almost two dozen such packages – mostly for products with a sun protection factor of 50 and volumes of around 200 ml – analyzed by specialist laboratories for their sustainability.

Few Brands Come Out on Top

13 store brand products from the retailers Edeka, Rewe, Penny, Lidl, dm, Rossmann, and Müller were tested. Products from the brands L'Oréal, Beiersdorf, Jean & Len, Ladival and Galderma were presented in nine packages. The results of the SUSY test are modest, as the Lebensmittelzeitung reports. Only the simple plastic bottles with flip-top lids containing L'Oréal’s “Garnier Hydra 24h” and Lidl’s “Cien Sun” received the “outstanding” award. The duo is followed – already at a distance – by Rossmann’s “Sunozon” as the only packaging that the SUSY algorithm rates as “very good”.

Functionality, declaration, material and recyclability and their subcategories are tested. The SUSY provider CAGC also discloses life cycle assessment values for the “material” criterion, which are based on the “Product Environmental Footprint” (PEF) methodology required by the EU. It also evaluates whether and to what extent a certain type of packaging protects the contents, can be emptied, separated into components for further recycling, or refilled.

The test results put the “bottles” packaging solution in pole position. They consist of the easily separable mono-material components: body (HDPE), lid (PP), and removable polyolefin label. “This makes them much easier to recycle”, says Christian Leu, Co-Managing Director of CAGC.

The second-best solution, pump spray, scores highly in terms of functionality when applied to the skin, but the atomizers, which are “largely made of mono-plastics” but also contain metal springs, result in losses in terms of recycling.

Tubes have a similarly simple design to bottles. However, the SUSY algorithm gives them the red lantern in terms of sustainability due to their limited suitability as a recyclate due to direct printing on the body (instead of labeling) and weaknesses in functionality and recyclability in the case of two tubes with paper content due to incomplete emptying. Their overall average score is just over a third of the 77 points achieved by bottles.

Aerosol spray cans, whose aluminum body can be easily separated from the accompanying valves, caps, and inner coatings according to the testers, account for around half of this top score. Although this results in top scores in terms of recyclability, this advantage is more than compensated for in the material dimension by the massive extraction of the light metal from bauxite. What’s more, the propellant takes up over a quarter of the packaging volume.

Material Composites Score Minus Points

With reference to the fact that SUSY rates “only three out of 22” solutions as “outstanding” or “very good”, CAGC director Leu sees an “acute need for action” for trade and industry. Although the testers acknowledge that the plastic and aluminum bodies already consist of 30 to 100 percent recyclate, they see “room for improvement” and opportunities to also include labels, caps, and closures in their recyclability considerations. It would also be desirable to manufacture all packaging components from the same plastic. Two of the four tubes analyzed, for example, were made from a plastic-paper composite, which is “very likely” to be incinerated due to poor separability.

According to Leu, the optimization option “more mono-material” corresponds to atomizers and bodies made of the same plastic that are already available on the market. As at least one packaging shows, it is also possible to replace metal springs and balls contained in spray heads with plastic parts that facilitate single-variety recycling. Distributors could also promote this by providing consumers with even more easy-to-understand separation instructions.