Consumers worried about landfill and ocean litter are demanding sustainable product packaging. Environmentally conscious packaging can be just as inexpensive as conventional methods, but it may require a rethink.
Packaging is sustainable if it meets eight criteria, according to (PDF) the Sustainable Packaging Coalition:
- Useful, safe and healthy for individuals and communities throughout the life cycle.
- Meets the market criteria for performance and cost.
- Obtained, manufactured, transported and recycled with renewable energy.
- Optimizes the use of renewable or recycled raw materials.
- Made with clean production technologies and best practices.
- Made from materials that are healthy throughout their life cycle.
- Physically designed to optimize materials and energy.
- Effectively recovered and used in biological or industrial cycles.
Why sustainable packaging?
Sustainable packaging can help your company cut costs. The need to store materials is reduced when packaging is designed and manufactured to match your products. The same applies to shipping: smaller parcels mean less space, which leads to lower logistics costs. And sustainable packaging can lead to loyal customers.
Take a look at your current packaging. Can you use a smaller container, bag, or box and less filler material? Over-packaging is a major consumer complaint. Optimize your packaging and pallet designs with software from Cape Systems, Tops Pro or similar from Esko. All of this can help create optimal packaging sizes and shapes for your products.
Reuse and recycle packaging materials. Choose packaging that uses recycled materials. Recycled cardboard and new cardboard (made from wood pulp) are lightweight. Both are easy to cut and shape for making cardboard boxes. Corrugated cardboard bubble wrap can replace the plastic version. Consider cardboard boxes made from bamboo and sugar cane, and containers made from recycled plastic.
Ritual, the multivitamin company, uses 100% recycled materials for all bottles. In 2020, Ritual recycled an amount of plastic equivalent to about 3 million water bottles. “We are able to practically” delete “the transport footprint from our warehouse to your front door through CO2 compensation,” says the company’s website.
Consider compostable mailers and plant-based packaging. Sustainable packaging from biological sources uses corn starch, mushrooms – whatever. T-Shirt Mill, an Iowa-based screen printer, ships orders in 100% compostable mailing bags made from wheat, straw, and other biomaterials. Jute and cotton are ideal as reusable bags, for example to transport clothes and home accessories.
SupplyCompass, a UK-based supplier of sustainable supply chain goods and software, explains, “Our bio-based poly bags have a shelf life of 12 months and are 100 percent home compostable.” Some packaging is even plantable – packaging materials come with seeds for planting Embedded in home.
Move away from plastics. Single-use new goods can take up to 1,000 years to biodegrade. That is not sustainable. A much better option is biodegradable plastic, which breaks down when exposed to heat or light. However, petroleum is still used, which makes it non-compostable. Air cushions made from recycled materials can protect sensitive objects and are available in different sizes. Sealed Air, a provider, encourages consumers to recycle their packing bags at 18,000 drop-off points in retail stores across the United States
There are many suppliers of recycled and biodegradable packaging. Look for suppliers who use raw materials from equally dedicated sources and who are otherwise trying to minimize their impact on the environment.
Ask for evidence to support a potential supplier’s claims. Confirmation of these claims is important because what you communicate to your customers must be true. Work with your chosen supplier to develop unique solutions for your products.
TempGuard, a Sealed Air brand, offers 100% recyclable packaging for shipping temperature sensitive goods. The product is made of durable Kraft paper with interior padding for excellent insulating properties. Sunbasket, a San Francisco-based meal kit company, uses TempGuard for its halibut and shrimp packaging. The introduction of TempGuard has lowered Sunbasket’s shipping temperatures while reducing box dimensions by almost 25%. The reduction enables 30% more boxes per shipment and reduces Sunbasket’s carbon footprint in sales.
Up-and-coming suppliers do more than just provide packaging. Many manage the entire logistics process, including returns. LimeLoop, for example, offers durable mailing bags made from recycled billboard foils that can be reused up to 2,000 times. Co-founder Ashley Etling says that for an e-commerce economy, “it is essential that we rethink the packaging experience.” Merchants ship orders in LimeLoop’s reusable packaging; the customer then returns the empty packaging via USPS for reuse.
Many consumers will pay more for sustainable packaging. Though Fiona Salter of Tiny Box Company, a UK sustainable packaging company, says the cost is affordable. “Recycled packaging doesn’t have to be expensive, on the contrary,” she says. Their company’s little craft kits start at just £ 0.28.
Taking the first steps towards sustainable packaging can seem daunting. Start slowly. Order samples within your budget to test for damage. For some customers, use it for the convenience and ease of disposal. Evaluate the results, tweak as needed, and move on.