The future of cosmetics: the biodegradable packaging of this lipstick is made from thermoplastic algae


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The student design team behind the concept of sustainable beauty brand Urth is well aware that the beauty industry has a pollution problem. As demand for the personal care market has grown, billions of single-use plastics have been created and dumped in landfills. In 2018, cosmetics accounted for the production of 7.9 billion units of rigid plastics in the United States alone. The same year, a National Geographic article revealed that 91% of plastics are not recyclable. “A little lipstick, with the conventional design we’re used to, will never be recycled in today’s industrial world,” said the Art Center students behind Urth, Hah Kyoung Kim, Osbaldo D. Alvarez and Andi Li. “[That] can therefore be more dangerous for the environment than large bulk items which tend to be treated at the end of their life.

With this in mind, Urth offers a revolutionary design for lasting beauty. Their sliding lipstick comes in stylish and alluring biodegradable packaging that’s also refillable. The dispenser consists of just five components made from a thermoplastic algae developed by a research team at the Center for Renewable Materials at UC San Diego. While many plastic substitutes on the market are not durable, these by-products can be processed to maintain the look and feel of traditional petroleum-based plastic. Rapid growth, inexpensive maintenance, and extremely minimal use of fossil fuels and greenhouse gases make this material almost completely waste-free.

Throughout their design process, the team focused on a simplified and minimal waste construction that reused ingredients that would otherwise be left unused. The strength and versatility of seaweed has made it not only an ideal container for their lipstick, but a central ingredient for the lipstick itself. Nutrients like carotenoids, enzymes, and chlorophyll have made strains of this rich, biodiverse plant a popular skin care ingredient for decades. Urth’s team experimented with carotenoids in microalgae to extract vivid pigments for this exceptionally eco-friendly lipstick.

Although this refillable product can be reused for years, it can also magically disappear. Many biodegradable materials like PLA can only be destroyed at industrial composting sites, but Urth’s lipstick dispensers and cartridges would disintegrate in a home composter after 12 weeks. Urth’s eco-friendly approach also applies to the shipping process, which features the use of electric trucks and seaweed paper envelopes for delivery.

Although 40% of the current lipstick formula is derived from petroleum, the team behind Urth’s research says it will be possible to create up to 98% renewable content by 2 to 3 years. When it comes to ergonomics, the sleek sliding container inspired by the sliding door of Urth lipstick lends itself to transparent one-handed application. Consumers can personalize any of their vibrant lipsticks with containers in a range of pastel shades.

Urth has used smart design and cutting edge scientific advancements to create a high quality, non-toxic, planet-friendly lipstick. Waste management is a particularly important challenge for designers in the cosmetics industry. A concept like Urth is one example of the progressive steps the beauty industry can take to dramatically reduce its negative impact on the environment.

Urth: Biodegradable Lipstick is a notable professional in the Interaction category of the 2021 Core77 Design Awards. You can view all of the 2021 winners right now on the Core77 Design Awards website.

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