• 28th September 2021

Our guide to moulded pulp packaging for luxury cosmetics

In the past decade, consumers have become more educated about the impact of their buying choices. Now, the average shopper puts far more thought into where and how they spend their money. Unsurprisingly, as concerns have mounted about the environment, sustainability has become a particularly hot-button issue.

According to this report from Deloitte, respondents questioned about their consumer habits over the past 12 months reported the following:

  • 61% had limited their use of single-use plastics
  • 39% had reduced the number of new products and goods they were buying
  • 34% were choosing to actively buy from brands with environmentally sustainable practices and values

Perhaps most notable is that 28% reported they had stopped buying from brands where there were concerns about ethics or commitment to sustainability.
This trend appears to be even stronger amongst younger demographics – in 2015, almost 75% of millennials stated that they’d be willing to spend more money on sustainable brands.
The takeaway? Brands across every sector need to start putting more time and resources into sustainability if they want to ensure that they’ll maintain a loyal customer base in the coming years.
Luckily, the technology surrounding eco-friendly materials has come a long way from its early days. Today, cosmetics brands – and particularly those in the luxury sector – have a vast array of options when it comes to sustainable materials, including moulded (or molded) pulp.
At GPA we view paper pulp as one of our core product offerings, alongside carton board and rigid box.  With production sites in the US and Asia – and a site in Europe to follow – we’re able to significantly improve your brand’s sustainability credentials by coordinating your global packaging requirements via our local supply bases. Read on to learn more.

What sustainability challenges does the cosmetics industry face?

Within the cosmetics industry, beauty products themselves can be an issue as many are made with polluting chemicals, or using ingredients or methods that are harmful to animals. However, a significant part of the problem is packaging. The cosmetics industry alone is responsible for 120 billion units of packaging each year – a large proportion of which ends up in landfill due to complexities over recycling.
Cosmetics brands that want to reduce the impact they’re having on the environment should concentrate on finding ways to reduce the amount of, and the style of, packaging they produce.

How can cosmetics brands improve their packaging?

Reduce packaging

The best way to reduce waste from packaging is to reduce packaging altogether. Many beauty brands have already begun leading the way on this – LUSH has even opened shops entirely free of packaging.
Of course, within cosmetics, it’s not always easy to cut back on packaging. Makeup containers tend to be small and self-contained, requiring airtight and watertight seals to ensure the product within isn’t compromised.
One option is to focus on reducing the secondary and tertiary packaging. Slimming and light-weighting a cardboard carton for a lipstick may seem insignificant but these kinds of small changes add up over time, reducing transportation and storage costs and, in the process, creating less of an environmental impact.

Create refillable packs

An increasingly popular option for beauty brands is to create refillable packaging. Within the makeup sector this might involve lipstick tubes and eyeshadow palettes that can be refilled with a new insert – usually for much less money than a replacement would cost.
Many luxury cosmetics brands are leading the way on this front, including Estée Lauder, Dior, Charlotte Tilbury, Kjaer Weiss, M.A.C. and Guerlain.

Make recycling easier

Recycling cosmetics packs has always been notoriously difficult. Bottles, tubes and tubs are often made from multiple plastics and can contain complex components like pumps, which are difficult or even impossible to recycle. Mascara wands, lipstick tubes and eyeshadow palettes can be even more tricky to dispose of in an environmentally friendly way.
The good news is, recycling schemes dedicated to cosmetics waste are starting to crop up around the UK and the rest of the world. Many big cosmetics brands have partnered with TerraCycle, a scheme that allows consumers to recycle their makeup waste – either by dropping it off at an in-store recycling station, or sending it away in a prepaid box.

Cut back on plastics

Most cosmetics products come packaged in some form of plastic, whether it’s a bottle, tube, lid, cap or film. While not all plastics are equally polluting (some can be very efficiently recycled), cosmetics brands should be looking for ways to step away from virgin plastic usage wherever possible.
Some brands are finding inventive ways to revitalise their approach to plastic. REN released a range of bottles made from 80% recycled plastic and 20% recovered ocean plastics. Others are turning to plastic alternatives such as moulded pulp.

What is moulded pulp?

Moulded (or molded) pulp is a highly sustainable packaging material that is made from renewable and biodegradable resources like recycled paper. Depending on the raw materials used, the moulded pulp will have a different colour, surface texture, strength and overall finish.
There are multiple applications for moulded pulp, as it can be shaped and finished in a variety of ways, making it a good option for brands in the luxury sector.
For environmentally-conscious consumers, moulded pulp has far greater appeal than plastics.

How is moulded pulp made?

Moulded pulp is made by blending water with recycled paper or natural fibres. Together, these substances form a slurry which can be easily formed with custom tools that bind the fibres together into the desired shape. The next stage is pressing and drying.
Dry press involves taking the product directly to a heater or air drying it to remove moisture, then pressing it into shape.
Semi-wet press involves putting the product through a drier then through a hot press transfer moulding process – this helps achieve a smoother surface.
Wet press enables the smoothest and most refined finish, comparable to plastic. The product is taken through a thermoforming process during which it is dried and smoothed in a mould.
Finally, any protruding edges are trimmed and recycled back into the pulp, along with any other waste materials.

Why is moulded pulp sustainable?

Moulded pulp is 100% recyclable and can be made from fully recycled materials, or – depending on requirements – a mixture of recycled and virgin materials. At GPA, we make sure the pulp we manufacture ticks the following boxes:

  • Fully compostable and biodegradable
  • Zero waste as scrap can be re-pulped in the slurry
  • Uses renewable “tree-free” resources which have a quick harvest turn-around and a short grow time

We use a few different sustainable materials to make our moulded pulp, including:

  • Bagasse, fibrous waste from sugarcane or sorghum plants after they have been juiced to create other products
  • Shredded bamboo, which has fibres similar in strength and length to softwood
  • Wheat straw, the stalk of the wheat plant left over after the grains have been removed
  • Newsprint (ONP)
  • Corrugated cardboard (OCC)
  • Paper

Which packaging formats can be made with moulded pulp?

The beauty of moulded pulp is that it can be adapted to a variety of packaging formats. For cosmetics brands, it can be an excellent material for the following:

  • Interior cushioning
  • Liner trays
  • Exterior/secondary packaging

What colours and finishes are available with moulded pulp?*

For cosmetics brands, and particularly those in the luxury sector, there may be some concern about the appearance of moulded pulp. Traditionally, it has had a rough, brown, “natural” appearance which lends itself well to tertiary packaging or food products, but not to high-end and high-value items.
However, the technology surrounding moulded pulp has advanced hugely in recent years, meaning that clients now have a wide range of options when it comes to the colour, texture and finish of their moulded pulp product.

At GPA we offer a wide range of options, ensuring that our clients get the look and feel they want from their product every time.

Thermoforming for a “plastic smooth” finish

Our thermoforming wet press technology offers an incredibly refined finish resembling plastic. This style is well suited to secondary packs such as cartons and cases.

Different fibres for different finishes

We can achieve a variety of finishes with moulded pulp, simply by changing the mix of raw materials. Some of the smoothest finishes can be achieved with bagasse and bamboo, or a combination of the two. For a less refined, more “recycled” look, 100% OCC (corrugated cardboard) is a good option.

Colour options

Moulded pulp can be colour-matched to any Pantone shade, ensuring your packaging aligns perfectly with your branding and product.

Varied coatings

The final finish on your moulded pulp can range from natural – unbleached grey or brown – through to an oil-based coating that looks and feels like plastic.
We also offer:

  • Soft-touch coating for a matte finish
  • Spray-on coating for a semi-gloss finish
  • Film laminate for water resistance
  • Textured paper laminate
  • Wood grain laminate
  • Flocking for a velvety finish


We can add a variety of embellishments to your moulded pulp product, including:

  • Emboss/deboss
  • Silk screen printing
  • Hot foil stamping

*Although at GPA we are constantly searching for sustainable coating options, some of the above may affect the recyclability of the pack.

Partner with GPA Luxury to meet your sustainable luxury needs

If you’re a cosmetics brand looking for ways to improve on sustainability, a partnership with GPA Luxury could help. Having worked with some of the most high-profile cosmetics and spirits brands in the world for the past twenty years, our expertise within the luxury sector is unparalleled.
With the support and international reach of our parent company GPA Global, we’re able to offer a fantastically advanced level of technological capability, as well as a firm commitment to sustainable ideals.
We can provide cutting edge moulded pulp packaging, as well as a variety of other sustainable pack formats and materials – and we’re proud to say that there are further exciting innovations and developments on the way.
To find out more:

Browse some of our recent packs here 


Get in touch with our team directly