Sustainable Packaging Options for your business

Sustainable packaging
Sustainable packaging options

In recent years, there's been a significant rise in consumer awareness regarding their environmental impact, driving demand for sustainable packaging options that minimise ecological footprints. 

This means that brands have become increasingly interested in developing packaging that is better for the environment, reduces their carbon footprint, and can be reused. As a direct result of this desire for more sustainable options, brands have integrated sustainable packaging into their business plans and marketing campaigns. There has been a rise of ethical marketing which consequently links to brands changing the way they package their items (and shout about it, although that is a completely different topic).

However, sustainable packaging can be confusing and complicated and often an after-thought for smaller businesses. Larger businesses can afford to invest in long-term solutions but smaller businesses might need their third party logistics company to give them a helping hand. ¾ of consumers say that packaging environmental costs impacts their purchasing decisions. This means that it will eventually cost brands and businesses money to not think about sustainability.

A report published by Raconteur for The Sunday Times denoted that ‘it is vital businesses start preparing now’ for future law changes with regards to packaging and its impact on the environment. Part of the problem is that people do not realise the impact that the whole supply chain has on the carbon footprint of a product.  

sustainable packaging infographic

Source: Raconteur

The whole supply chain

Who has the most responsibility for making sustainable packaging? Well, according to the general public, 49% of the responsibility goes to the producers of the product and packaging (compared to 12% the government) – so it is important to take responsibility for this in your brand and product and choose the right packaging solution. (Source: Raconteur)

A frequently overlooked aspect is packaging weight – heavier packaging not only increases transportation carbon footprints but also the overall environmental impact, pushing the shift towards lighter, sustainable packaging options. 

Something that people often don’t think about is the weight of the packaging – heavier packaging means a higher footprint when transporting etc. The whole supply chain impacts the sustainability of a product, (the pallets used, the distance travelled and other elements) not just the packaging it comes in. One way that your packaging can be more sustainable is by reducing the weight.

Many companies are doing this behind the scenes for example:

  • Companies such as L’Occitane are reducing the weight of their packaging by offering ‘refillable’ solutions. These are much lighter and less wasteful than buying a new container every time. This solves two problems in one go and is a great option for the eco conscious consumer.
  • Designed in collaboration with DS Smith, the Garcon Wines company created an innovative solution to reduce their carbon footprint (and delivery costs!) by creating flat wine bottles. This means that instead of 4 regular wine bottles, 10 flat wine bottles can fit into as compact case resulting in one loaded pallet carrying 1040 bottles of wine instead of just 456.
  • Furthermore, Ribena reduced the weight of their bottles which removed 325 tonnes of plastic from production every year!
  • Coca cola have also reduced the weight of their bottles by more than 16g since 1994 in order to reduce their carbon footprint. This was largely due to the use of plastic bottles instead of glass bottles, which brings us on to materials.

Plastic is often seen as the devil when it comes to packaging, and often it is. Did you know that every single piece of plastic ever made is still on the earth today? And, in 2016, humans produced 320 million tonnes of plastic. That is a lot of plastic still on the earth. So, whilst, Coca Cola is reducing their carbon footprint in one way, they are impacting the environment greatly in another way.

So, what’s the solution? When thinking about plastic, the main problem with the material is its longevity. Single use plastics are so bad for the environment because they are literally used once then often end up in landfill and are still lying there today, or in the oceans! So, Coca cola has an initiative to try and recycle as many plastic bottles that they sell a year by 2030, this is a big task but it is one they have taken on in order to do their bit.

7 Alternative Sustainable Packaging Materials

The shift towards sustainable packaging is not just an environmental imperative but also a response to consumer demand for eco-friendly alternatives. Here's an expanded list of cutting-edge materials revolutionising the way products are packaged:

1. Cardboard

A hero in the realm of sustainable packaging, cardboard is versatile, easily recyclable, and can be utilised in numerous creative ways. It's imperative to source it sustainably to safeguard forest resources.

2. Biodegradable Materials

These materials naturally decompose into carbon dioxide, water, and biomass, usually without the need for oxygen. Offering a significant improvement over traditional plastics, biodegradable packaging reduces long-term waste.

3. Compostable Solutions

Differing from biodegradable materials, compostable options break down into carbon dioxide, water, and inorganic compounds, leaving no harmful residues and decomposing quicker under the right conditions. They're an excellent choice for reducing environmental footprint.

4. Glass

Glass packaging is infinitely recyclable and offers endless customization options for brands. Despite its weight, which may impact transportation carbon footprint, its recyclability and premium appearance make it a popular sustainable choice.

5. Cornstarch Packaging

Derived from the natural corn or maize plant, cornstarch packaging is a biodegradable material that serves as an excellent alternative to plastics. It's particularly useful for items like food containers and loose-fill packaging, offering a lower environmental impact.

6. Mushroom Packaging

A revolutionary material, mushroom packaging is made from mycelium, the root structure of mushrooms, combined with agricultural waste. This compostable material grows into moulds to fit any shape, making it an ideal eco-friendly alternative for protective packaging.

7. Plant-Based Plastics

These plastics are made from renewable resources such as corn oil, orange peels, or potatoes, reducing dependency on fossil fuels and decreasing carbon footprint. Plant-based plastics can be designed to be biodegradable or compostable, offering a versatile and sustainable packaging solution.

Each of these sustainable packaging materials presents its own set of benefits and challenges, emphasising the importance of choosing options that align with your brand's environmental goals, operational needs, and customer expectations. By selecting the right eco-friendly packaging solutions, businesses can significantly reduce their environmental impact while meeting the growing consumer demand for sustainability.

Alternative sustainable materials

For smaller businesses, Coca Cola’s approach is not necessarily a cost effective or feasible solution, so plastic alternatives may be a much better option. Alternatively, innovative cardboard packaging is often a good solution and can be used in many more ways than people often think. There are so many ways that you can use carboard to make your packaging interesting and innovative, even corrugated packaging can impress. Plus, the best bit about carboard is that it is easily recycled! We’ve just got to make sure we protect those trees of course.

Nowadays, there are more and more biodegradable and compostable options. Biodegradable and compostable are often used interchangeably but they are actually slightly different. Biodegradable means that a product can be broken down into carbon dioxide, water and biomass without oxygen. Compostable products break down to carbon dioxide, water, inorganic compounds, and biomass but leave no toxic residue and often break down much quicker. Essentially, both biodegradable an compostable materials are better than plastic, which takes over 1000 years to break down – maybe even longer, we don’t know yet!

Other materials that can be used as an alternative to single use plastics include glass and carboard. Glass offers endless recyclable and personalisable options for brands. You can change the colour, texture, shape etc. quite easily. Obviously, there’s the weight issue and other elements but it all depends on what works best for you and your business and the whole supply chain.

Cost of sustainable packaging

People often assume that being sustainable and creating recyclable or biodegradable packaging will ultimately impact the cost of fulfilment. However, sustainable packaging is more about the long game than short returns on investment. Think about consumer satisfaction and other elements as bonuses to your sustainable options and also consider the whole supply chain – not just the cost of your actual packaging. For example, reducing the weight of your packaging can save you money. Or, minimising your packaging and replacing some of it with cardboard can also greatly reduce your costs and you need not worry about the design as there are many, many options.

Sustainable packaging

Sustainable packaging has become a bit of a buzzword, but for a good reason. It is important to think about your options and how you can make a difference. Our team at Complete Packaging are able to advise you on the best alternatives and help your brand become more sustainable.

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