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What Is Eco-Friendly Packaging? A Guide for Businesses

Updated: Nov 16, 2023

A woman removing packaging from a box

The demand for businesses to pursue eco-friendly packaging grows year on year. With 88% of the sea’s surface polluted by plastic waste and more than 1 million plastic bags filling trash cans each minute, a drastic change is critical. The world produces over 381 million tonnes of plastic each year, and 50% is single-use plastic. That’s an astonishing statistic today’s businesses can no longer ignore.

With the rise of conscious consumerism, customers now make their purchase decisions with an environmental lens. That’s where eco-friendly packaging comes in, an essential component to not only drive sales and growth but pursue a positive impact for years to come.

What Is Eco-Friendly Packaging?

Eco-friendly packaging includes packaging that is easy to recycle and made from materials manufactured using minimal impact on energy consumption or natural resources. More often than not, eco-friendly packaging is made from recycled materials. It’s commonly referred to as sustainable or green packaging too.

At its core, eco-friendly packaging aims to reduce the amount of product packaging created. You have to consider the entire flow from the actual product packaging to the containers and cushioning you choose to use for delivery. Whether it’s eliminating the toxic materials used in the production of traditional packaging or incorporating biodegradable material wherever possible, eco-friendly packaging is safer for individuals and the environment.

What Is Conscious Consumerism?

The conscious consumerism trend transcends across every industry. Mindful consumption is top of mind, whether it’s buying food and clothing or electronics and vehicles. For decades, the focus has been on cost first, often followed by necessity, and then perhaps by make or brand. Today’s consumer has flipped this on its head.

In a recent report by Nielsen focusing on the rise of sustainability worldwide, 73% of global consumers confirmed that they would change their consumption behavior to reduce their impact on the environment. In the U.S, 37% of consumers prioritize sustainability when making buying decisions, and 30% are willing to pay a premium for products that deliver on sustainability claims.

As a business looking to grow in today’s economic climate, it’s essential to cater to these demands. It’s not only a step to reduce your impact on the environment; it’s a way to ensure customer loyalty for the long run. As more Millennials and Gen Z’s enter the market, conscious consumerism plays a fundamental role in company decisions, and it starts with eco-friendly packaging.

The Benefits of Eco-Friendly Packaging

Unlike plastic packaging, eco-friendly packaging has a more positive impact on the environment. It is manufactured more sustainably, creating a solution to reduce packaging waste. Let’s unpack the top benefits for your business and the environment.

1.Reduces Carbon Footprint

Given that most eco-friendly packaging solutions are made from recycled or natural materials, you’re automatically reducing your carbon footprint. In some cases, the growth of the natural alternative you’re using reduces carbon, too, like bamboo. By reducing carbon emissions during production and favoring energy-light resources, your eco-friendly packaging can make a real difference.

2. More Storage

As a business owner pursuing eco-friendly packaging, you’ll be forced to find more creative ways to drive efficiency. It starts with the product itself, trickling down to the space required for transport. If you have more space, you can ship more products, reducing your costs. By finding eco-friendly solutions that eliminate excess packaging, you can streamline your entire operation.

3. Multipurpose

In your effort to reduce packaging to necessities only, you’ll uncover more versatile solutions. Instead of retrofitting your product into the regular packaging sizes of traditional products in your industry, you’ll create or source eco-friendly options that prioritize efficiency.

4. Free From Toxins And Allergens

Most traditional packaging products are produced from synthetic materials, often laden with chemicals. They’re not only harmful to the environment but also the end consumer. Eco-friendly packaging alternatives are non-toxic, often using biodegradable materials that are allergy-free.

5. Easily Disposable

Eco-friendly packaging is easy to dispose of or reuse. It’s often biodegradable and/or recyclable, giving consumers plenty of options when it comes to throwing it away. Consumers can do it with ease, whether it’s adding it to the compost heap, recycling it at a local depot, or repurposing it for something else.

6. Boosts Your Brand

By prioritizing eco-friendly packaging, you can position your brand in the right way. Today’s consumer cares about your brand’s stance on environmental impact, actively looking for ways to make better decisions. You’ll attract more long-term customers by correctly branding yourself, driving sales and retention. It’s about favoring transparency and owning the life cycle of your products from start to finish.

How To Get Started

While the need for eco-friendly packaging is abundantly clear, it’s not always black and white. Thanks to trends like conscious consumerism, it’s fashionable for brands to be “sustainable.” Inevitably, this means “eco-friendly” labels are plastered across packaging, even though it might not be the best solution. Businesses get caught up in finding quick-fix solutions that’ll boost their brand image, and while it says “eco-friendly,” it might not be sustainable or vice versa.

Step 1: Research

The first step to eco-friendly packaging is research. Spend some time on sites like the Sustainable Packaging Coalition, which shares knowledge and best practices for various packaging alternatives.

You’ll need to look out for blended or multilayer packaging alternatives. Something as simple as your average chip packet contains several layers of material. Some layers may be recyclable, but others aren’t. Any municipal recycling system will reject this thanks to the non-recyclable contaminants. If you find yourself in this situation, it’s worth reaching out to other companies, even if they’re your competitors. Manufacturer Hain Celestial did precisely this when they partnered up with TerraCycle to create a free recycling program for their snack bags, turning old chip bags into 3D printing supplies.

Step 2: Chat to your supplier

If you have an existing packaging supplier, set up some time to ask a few questions.

Start with the following:

  • Can I order boxes without an imprint?

  • What is the shipping time for no print boxes?

  • Is it necessary to cushion products for shipping?

  • What type of printing do you use?

  • What paper do you use to manufacture products?

  • What paperboard do you use to manufacture shipping and mailer boxes?

  • What packaging alternatives do you offer?

Step 3: Define your needs

Once you have unpacked your current packaging process, highlighting the various materials you use, you can rework the logic. Start by eliminating unnecessary components. As online retail continues to grow, so does the need for shipping packaging. Find ways to reduce where possible, implementing eco-friendly alternatives to ensure your products continue to arrive undamaged.

You’ll likely need to adjust your packaging spec completely, finding a solution that’s eco-friendly, sustainable, and cost-effective.

Eco-Friendly Packaging Alternatives For Your Business To Explore

  1. Compostable Foam

Cruz Foam replaces plastic foam, one of the world’s most harmful plastics, with a compostable alternative. It’s made from the bio-polymer Chitin, a naturally occurring waste product created by the seafood industry. It’s the second most abundant biopolymer on the planet, usually headed straight back to landfills until Cruz Foam came along. You can also source Chitin from insects, fungi, and other crustaceans, making it a long-term solution to reduce StyroFoam.

If your business ships orders from A to B, you’ll need cushioning for your products. Instead of using the petroleum-based, single-use plastics currently circulating the market, you can implement a sustainable and scalable solution. Better yet, Cruz Foam allows you to create custom eco-friendly packaging utilizing your existing equipment.

It’s the epitome of an eco-friendly solution in that the production process creates a solution to industrial waste and the product itself is completely compostable. Your customers can add it back to the soil where it’ll break down, fertilizing the land in the process.

[Read More: Top 5 plastic foam Alternatives And Their Pros and Cons]

2. Corrugated Bubble Wrap

We’ve all played with plastic bubble wrap packaging, and while it’s fun for a few minutes, you can’t recycle it, making it a massive contributor to single-use waste. However, bubble wrap serves a purpose. It’s designed to protect fragile items when in transit.

Enter, up-cycled corrugated cardboard. Instead of disposing of or recycling cardboard waste, businesses like Ranpak make minor cuts into old cardboard to produce a concertina-type effect, protecting products against shock in the same way as bubble wrap.

3. Seaweed Packaging

Agar has been used in the food industry for years as an alternative to gelatin. Agar is a gelatinous substance made from various seaweeds and algae that are now being utilized for packaging.

Eco-friendly packaging companies like Notpla use seaweed to create plastic-free solutions to sauce pots, salad dressings, and condiments. If you are operating in the food industry, it’s a 100% biodegradable solution to single-use products often used for takeaways. There’ll undoubtedly be seaweed solutions for other packaging needs as these products continue to advance.

Eco-Friendly Packaging Examples In Action

1. GE Energy

To reduce unnecessary packaging inside a box, designer Esther Li created eco-friendly light bulb packaging for GE Energy’s Efficient Bulb. It used one single strip of recyclable cardboard, offering complete protection for the lightbulb while still displaying it to customers.

2. Origin X Performance

The UK-based clothing company Origin X Performance, introduced eco-friendly best practices into their entire product life-cycle. Each garment is shipped in a branded mailing bag made from natural, biodegradable ingredients. It’s just as durable as regular plastic, without single-use waste. The garments themselves are also made from recycled plastic collected from the ocean.

3. Puma

Puma has introduced a packaging system that reduces its environmental footprint while supporting local initiatives. They worked with Fuseproject to design new packaging that’s cost-effective and efficient. The “clever little bag” was born, drastically reducing the space required for shipping. This small change has reduced water, energy, and diesel consumption on the manufacturing level by 60%.

4. Pangea

Pangea Organics creates 100% plant-based beauty products with compostable packaging. They’ve since taken it a step further, turning a product with zero waste into a plantable solution to grow trees. They’ve incorporated organic seeds into the packaging, meaning customers can replant their containers to grow something tangible.

5. Cotopaxi

The outdoor gear brand Cotopaxi is Climate Neutral Certified (CNC). This means they have worked closely with the CNC to ensure they’re 100% carbon neutral. For a brand to be carbon neutral certified, they need an accurate estimate of carbon emissions. Cotopaxi’s total footprint is 13859 tCO2e, giving them the amount they need to offset to remain neutral. They purchase offsets from verified projects like Pachama and BEF, giving them enough carbon credits to break even. On top of this, they are implementing a comprehensive plan to shift their product line to solely responsible materials, eliminating all single-use plastics by the end of 2022.

6. Prana

Prana is a sustainable, stylish fashion brand determined to “do things right.” In 2010, Prana reinvented its packaging to reduce plastic and paper waste. They introduced sustainable methods like roll packaging, responsible paper, and recyclable raffia ties. By 2021, they managed to eliminate all plastic by thinking inside and outside the box. Everything from origami-style packaging and recycled labels to the garments themselves is now earth-friendly.

7. Alter Eco

Alter Eco produces clean and green alternatives to some of your favorite snacks. Think granola, chocolate truffles, and nut butter bombs. All Alter Eco products support sustainable growing practices with small-scale farmers and certified fair trade suppliers. Every product comes in recyclable or compostable packaging, and they intend to shift to 100% plastic-free and compostable packaging within the next 3-5 years.

Prioritize Eco-Friendly Packaging For Your Business

Eco-friendly packaging is a necessity for any business. As consumers continue to demand sustainable alternatives, it’s also your responsibility to reduce your impact wherever possible. You’re operating in a world with finite resources, making it imperative that your business focuses on reducing waste on all fronts.

There are eco-friendly alternatives at your fingertips from the production phase to the actual product, the packaging, and the shipping. You don’t have to fix it all in one go, but you have to start somewhere. Use this guide to kickstart an eco-friendly solution today!

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