To achieve net zero and limit the worst of climate change, we have to rethink our reliance on plastic.
This statement is more urgent than ever, but the problem with plastics is unfortunately much bigger than just climate change. In reality, plastics also directly threaten human health and endanger habitats when leaked into the natural environment. Paradoxically, one of the main culprits of this damage is also claimed by some as the next green solution — compostable plastics.
To unpack this new material, we conducted a study on the environmental impact of compostable plastic bags, to find out if they truly offer a more sustainable alternative to traditional materials like paper, fossil plastics and recycled plastic. In this article, we’ll focus on one part of the study: the damage that leaked compostable plastics have on our ecosystems.
The consensus on compostable packaging is unclear
The biodegradable plastics market is projected to expand 2-3x between 2021 and 2026 . And at Sourceful, we’ve seen firsthand the escalating demand for compostable packaging. But whilst many brands are running towards compostable plastics, the consensus is still murky, with other companies (like Tesco and Abel & Cole) publicly distancing themselves from them. We wanted to use our research to help fill the vital knowledge gap and build consensus.
Compostable plastics are often considered a green alternative because they degrade and so are often (incorrectly) assumed to effectively disappear in the natural environment. The theory is that this reduces the amount of plastic in the ocean and the risk of microplastics. But as with most things — it’s not that simple. Life cycle assessments (LCAs) have historically struggled to account for leaked waste and microplastics because of a lack of data, even though both play a major part in a material’s overall environmental impact.
To tackle this, we partnered with the Sustainable Materials Innovation Hub at the University of Manchester. This gave us access to the latest labs, data on new and innovative materials and their in-house expertise — all invaluable to our study. Together, we investigated how traditional fossil fuels and compostable plastics behave when leaked. Here’s what we found.
The impact of leaked waste is twofold
One of the major environmental impacts of plastics (fossil and compostable), besides their carbon footprint, is their effect on the natural environment when leaked.
Leaked plastic waste generates both physical (e.g. animals ingesting microplastics or being entangled in larger pieces) and chemical risks (e.g. the leaching of toxic additives like plasticisers and flame retardants) to wildlife from the breakdown of plastic into microplastics and nano-plastics. Not only does the breakdown of plastics directly leach toxic elements but they can also act as a magnet for other environmentally harmful pollutants.
To make matters worse, leaked plastic waste has also been found to be directly connected to climate change. Researchers at the Ocean University of China found that microplastics reduced the growth of microalgae and the efficiency of photosynthesis, in turn degrading plankton’s ability to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere . The knock-on effect is that the ocean itself cannot capture carbon as efficiently; an essential resource in our fight against climate change, given that it sequesters 30-50% of total CO2 emissions from human activity.
Compostable plastics and leaked waste
The longer a plastic takes to break down, the more likely it will be ingested or cause entanglement. Put another way, the risk of adverse effects increases the longer a plastic persists. To account for this, we assessed each material for its degradation time in freshwater, marine, and soil environments, and used that data to identify a leaked waste impact rating for each material.
Our study found that whilst compostable plastics do reduce the risk of some adverse effects (less risk of entanglement and a shorter period of microplastics), they are not a cure-all for plastic pollution. Compostable plastics can persist in the natural environment for over half a century, which puts into question the popular claim that these plastics are the next green solution. This matches up with the conclusions that Narancic et al. made in their study . Here’s an overview of degradation times for fossil plastics and common compostable plastics:
- Fossil plastics take around 4-5,500 years to degrade in soil (with some studies suggesting this is even higher, at around 10,000 years); the worst and longest degradation time amongst all plastics. This is made worse by the common use of harmful additives .
- Compostable plastics like PLA take on average 1-63 years in soil to degrade completely. In water, PLA does not degrade at all.
- Other compostable plastics like TPS and PHB take on average 4-6 months to degrade completely.
So compostable plastics do have a tighter degradation window than fossil plastics, and they also typically contain fewer toxic additives (such as flame retardants and stabilisers). But they still can have a significant degradation window, especially and unfortunately PLA, one of the most common materials used in compostable packaging (including coffee lids and bags).
Admittedly, it is still hard to know the exact time it takes for a plastic to decay; the field of estimating polymer lifetimes is still relatively new. But we do have enough comparative data to give us an indicative hierarchy of materials that we can use to assess performance and inform decisions.
Compostable plastics do slightly reduce the risk of microplastics because of their shorter degradation times. But our larger study showed that compostable bags emit 1.5-2x more greenhouse gas emissions over their full life cycle than virgin fossil plastics. In addition, given they are still relatively new, there are uncertainties about the unintended consequences that could come from their use. ****This begs the question: are the reduced risks from leaked waste enough to offset the increase in carbon footprint? For now, we don’t think so.
What does this mean for my packaging?
It’s clear that we need to move away from fossil plastics. And in their current state, compostable plastics are not the next green solution. So, what’s the answer?
First, brands should follow the waste hierarchy. Can this packaging component be removed? Can we use less materials without compromising function? How can I design this product so it’s easy to recycle?
Second, brands should prioritise responsibly sourced paper if possible, which typically has the lowest impact of any material. Its full life cycle emissions are low, and there’s no risk of microplastics if leaked. That’s not to say it’s perfect; forests are often mismanaged and producing and recycling paper still generates emissions, uses large amounts of water and potentially also harmful chemicals. This is why certifications like the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC) are so important.
Paper isn’t also appropriate for every use-case and product, like liquids. This is why we stress prioritising paper if possible. Packaging should always be carefully matched with the product, and blanket rules rarely result in success.
For more information about this study, email email@example.com
Thanks to Dr. Guilhem de Hoe and Dr. Chloe Loveless from the University of Manchester for leading the collaboration.
Our study focused on the typical compostable plastics currently seen on the market (PLA, PBAT, PHA and TPS). Our study did not include a nascent group of materials classed as unmodified natural polymers, which we’re interested in exploring in the future.
- MarketsandMarkets. (2021). Biodegradable Plastics Market - Global Forecast to 2026.
- Zhang, C., Chen, X., Wang, J., & Tan, L. (2017). Toxic effects of microplastic on marine microalgae Skeletonema costatum: Interactions between microplastic and algae. Environmental Pollution, 220(B), 1282-1288. [Link] https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envpol.2016.11.005
- Narancic, T., Verstichel, S., Chaganti, S. R., Morales-Gamez, L., Kenny, S. T., De Wilde, B., Padamati, R. B., & O’Connor, K. E. (2018). Biodegradable Plastic Blends Create New Possibilities for End-of-Life Management of Plastics but They Are Not a Panacea for Plastic Pollution. Environmental Science & Technology, 52(18), 10441-10452. [Link] https://doi.org/10.1021/acs.est.8b02963
- Chamas, A., Moon, H., Zheng, J., Qiu, Y., Tabassum, T., Jang, J. H., Abu-Omar, M., Scott, S. L., & Suh, S. (2020). Degradation Rates of Plastics in the Environment. ACS Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering, 8(9), 3494-3511. [Link] https://doi.org/10.1021/acssuschemeng.9b06635
Christmas is a time of fun, festivities, food, family and, of course, a few gifts. And for your brand, it presents a remarkable opportunity to weave that magic into your brand's narrative, all through the power of packaging. In this comprehensive guide, we'll explore the importance of Christmas packaging, the key elements that make it truly compelling, an array of festive packaging ideas, and essential tips to strategically plan for the festive season.
Why Christmas packaging is important for your brand
Christmas packaging isn't just decoration. It's a strategic tool for your business. It creates an emotional connection between your brand and your customers. And the effort you invest in creating thoughtful packaging sends a clear message that you're thinking about them this Christmas period. Not only can this create customer loyalty, but it can also lead to positive word-of-mouth. And that can mean new customers.
Sustainability and Christmas packaging
Sustainability has become a cornerstone of modern packaging. And consumers are increasingly choosing to buy from brands that demonstrate a clear sustainability agenda. The holiday season is no different, especially with the colossal amount of waste that's generated every Christmas.
For your brand, this is another opportunity to reflect your customer's needs and values in your festive packaging, and do some good for the planet. We'll cover how to make sure your Christmas packaging more sustainable below, but for now, that's the headline: sustainability is important and it should be a priority.
What makes compelling Christmas packaging?
Compelling Christmas packaging isn't achieved by one thing. Here are five elements to creating an irresistible package.
Deep reds, vibrant greens, glistening golds and shimmering silvers are all classic Christmas colours. And using them in your packaging can help to invoke the holiday season. So if you want to make it clear that Christmas is here for your brand (and your customers), it could be a good idea to include them in your festive design.
That said, you don't have to follow the crowd — just know your packaging may not have that quintessential feel.
Compelling Christmas packaging often uses script fonts for an elegant touch that also looks and feels like a traditional handwritten holiday card — and it works. But if you're worried about losing brand recognition, consider pairing two fonts together: your normal font and a festive font. Just make sure they don't clash before you go to production.
Alternatively, bold and playful fonts feel cheerful and exciting, both of which may tie into the experience of opening Christmas presents. Whatever you pick, choose fonts that both feel festive and reflect your brand. Or in other words, be intentional. Strong typography can make or break your packaging.
Need help with typography and design? Let us know
Images can transport your customers to a winter wonderland. Snowflakes, Christmas trees, snow-covered landscapes, flying reindeer and beyond can all create a tangible feeling of Christmas.
If your customer base isn't in the northern hemisphere though, pick imagery that reflects their Christmas. Whether your imagery is of snow or beaches, always invest in high-quality imagery and illustrations.
While looks are important, function is still paramount. In fact, it's a non-negotiable. If your product is damaged during transit, your customers won't be happy, especially if it's their daughter's Christmas present. This could lead to complaints and returns, both of which are costly. In short: compelling Christmas packaging works.
As we've mentioned, modern consumers seek brands that align with their values. To achieve this with your packaging, choose recyclable materials, opt for paper packaging, design for reuse (like storage or decoration) and communicate your commitment to sustainability on the packaging itself.
Not sure where to start with sustainability? Let us know
10 Christmas packaging ideas
Let's explore the Christmas packaging ideas that can transform your brand's holiday presence:
1. Christmas boxes
Mailer boxes are one of the most popular types of Christmas gift packaging. And they have two big benefits for the festive season. First, they're versatile, and you can use them to ship gifts of every kind, from clothing to cosmetics. So if you have a wide range of products, mailer boxes may cover most of your needs, reducing the number of SKUs you have to manage during one of the busiest times of the year.
Second, they're completely customisable. In fact, you can customise nearly everything about them, including typography, imagery and colour. And as we know, they're all key components to creating compelling Christmas packaging.
The icing on the yule log is that mailer boxes are 100% recyclable, making it easy for your customers to play their part in combatting climate change.
For bigger, heavier, bulkier Christmas gifts, shipping boxes are the perfect packaging. And whilst they're more durable than mailer boxes, they're still quick to assemble and 100% recyclable. A bigger surface area also means you can be even more creative (and festive).
2. Christmas box print finishes
Print finishes offer a unique way to elevate your Christmas gift boxes, helping you to stand out this festive season.
Embossing: Embossing creates a distinctive raised effect to highlight features or add a luxurious finish. For your Christmas packaging, this could mean an elevated snow-covered mountain or an enhanced festive message.
Foiling: Foiling adds a metallic finish that highlights features in a different way but still creates a premium feel. It's also often available in different colours including gold and silver — two classic Christmas colours.
UV Varnish: UV varnish adds a glossy finish to specific elements in your festive design. Think shiny snowflakes, dazzling gifts and gleaming Christmas trees.
3. Paper mailer bags
Custom paper mailer bags are the go-to Christmas gift bags, at least for non-fragile items like clothing. For these types of products that don't need a lot of protection, paper mailer bags are the real deal. They're lightweight, recyclable, flexible and the best are even expandable. And like all good Christmas packaging, they're customisable. Add a double peel & seal to make fulfilment fast ahead of the festive frenzy.
4. Custom inserts
Custom inserts are pieces of durable corrugated cardboard that are then die-cut to fit your product (or products). They then sit inside your packaging (often a mailer box), allowing you to protect, secure and showcase your gifts. This also gives you more control over the unboxing experience. And after use, they're kerbside recyclable.
To make your custom inserts even more in tune with the holiday season, you can die-cut festive shapes and designs into the insert.
5. Christmas stickers
A simple, effective and cost-effective option, stickers with custom designs transform plain packaging into a holiday delight. Use stickers to hold tissue paper in place, seal Christmas gift boxes, add a decorative element to a mailer box or give customers a brand freebie.
6. Christmas cards
Chrismas cards are great for adding a personal touch to your packaging, full of holiday wishes, handwritten notes and festive promotions. To extend this extra thought even further, you can include a QR code on the card that leads to other holiday-themed content.
7. Tissue paper
Like stickers and cards, tissue paper is a cost-effective packaging option. Not only does it offer extra protection for delicate Christmas gifts like jewellery, but with the wide range of colours available you can double-down on some of those classic festive colours.
8. Gummed tape
Gummed tape is a plastic-free and kerbside recyclable type of tape, making it a more sustainable choice than plastic sticky tape. Which, as we know, should be an important consideration for your Christmas packaging this year. It's also stronger — a win-win. What's more, you can customise gummed tape in all of the important ways, including colour, artwork, width and weight.
One of the very few downsides of gummed tape is that it only sticks to paper-based packaging. But if you're shipping your Christmas gifts in corrugated gift boxes (as you probably will) this won't be an issue.
9. QR codes
Modern Christmas packaging sometimes calls for modern technology. And QR codes are the perfect example, allowing you to turn your packaging into an engaging experience that can exceed customer expectations. From an interactive advent calendar and a holiday competition to a festival playlist, the possibilities are endless.
Whilst the content itself may take time and resources, adding a QR code is no different than printing any other type of artwork. If you're already doing that, the QR code is effectively free. Merry Christmas!
If you're shipping luxury Christmas gifts this year, ribbons may be the final touch that turns a new customer into a loyal fan. Consider satin or velvet ribbons in holiday colours like red, green, silver or gold, and tie them in intricate bows for an extra touch of sophistication.
Planning for the festive season
When to buy Christmas packaging
Always plan ahead to avoid last-minute chaos. It's essential. Early planning will not only save you a headache, but it will allow you to secure the best packaging at the right quantities.
We recommend starting your festive packaging preparations at least three months in advance, if not more. This will give you enough time for design, production, and shipping.
Collaborating with a packaging supplier
Finding the right packaging supplier is vital to a smooth festive season. Your packaging supplier should be able to cover the basics, like the right packaging with all the features you need.
But the best supplier will also go above and beyond and may offer services like artwork design, stock management, warehousing and more. Whilst not essential, these things will make your life much easier and will allow you to focus on the most important thing — your business.
Tip: If you're a small business, look out for suppliers who offer low minimum order quantities.
Planning for next year
After the festivities, reflect on what went well and what went not so well. If you can talk to customers using surveys, Instagram polls and the like — even better. Use these insights to refine your Christmas packaging strategy for the following year. And then discuss how to make that strategy a reality with your packaging supplier.
Packaging is never just wrapping; it's an extension of your product, your brand and your values. And at Christmas, it can become as much a part of the holiday season for your customers as crackers or a Christmas tree. So embrace a festive design, prioritise sustainability and stand out from the competition with innovative ideas like QR codes.
If you need more ideas to get started, or want someone to take the entire process off your hands, we can help. Contact Sales
P.S. We offer free delivery for all UK orders — Merry Christmas!
Why the full life cycle matters
Data is the foundation of sustainability. It shows us the extent that our climate is changing. It’s the vital information that combats greenwashing, which nearly half of all green claims in the EU are guilty of . It’s the backbone of the IPCC’s (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) reports (e.g. ). And it’s the foundation of every Life Cycle Assessment.
Life Cycle Assessments (LCA) are a powerful, science-based tool for estimating the potential environmental impact of products, processes, or services throughout their life cycle . For a full LCA, teams will typically look at data from five life cycle stages:
- Raw materials extraction
- Secondary packaging & transport
- Product use
- Final disposal
Missing one or more life cycle stages, however, directly affects the quality of the assessment. Leading organisations are on the same page. For example, The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) , the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA)  in the UK and the European Commission for the EU all underline the need for high-quality data across the full life cycle to avoid making misleading environmental claims.
To quantify the impact of not assessing the full life cycle, we ran our own tests using our proprietary LCA engine. Here’s what we found: focusing only on a product’s raw ingredients can conceal between 25-70% of the product’s emissions. Put another way, selective reporting on a product’s emissions will never lead to accurate claims. The full life cycle matters.
Third parties: an extra layer of security
We’ve seen how LCAs rely heavily on the quality and completeness of data. But to ensure the highest standards of accuracy and consistency, third parties offer an extra layer of security. These include standards like ISO 14040 and 14044 and methodologies like the Product Environmental Footprint created by the European Commission.
A proprietary methodology
To go one step further, we developed our own LCA methodology. This allowed us to go beyond the static nature of a normal LCA and instead build an engine that could assess billions of product variants from different suppliers, giving results in real time whilst not compromising on accuracy. After building our engine, we commissioned an external panel of LCA experts and academics to review it to verify that our model conformed to the leading ISO standards.
It’s this rigorous homegrown approach that’s allowed us to develop a catalogue of science-backed products that in turn empower brands to make measurable progress. And it’s allowed us to support those brands in communicating that progress confidently with their customers.
What does the data say?
Our approach to LCA allows us to pinpoint both a product’s carbon hotspots and the biggest opportunities to reduce its carbon footprint.
We’ve found that the production of packaging components, international transport and disposal represent the majority of a packaging product's footprint. Let's dive deeper:
1. Production of packaging components
This stage, which includes the extraction, transport, and refinement of materials, typically accounts for the majority of the life cycle impact (for example, c.70% of our Eco Mailer Box’s total carbon footprint). An example of how we’ve reduced these emissions is custom sizing. By making custom sizing available for our packaging boxes, we’ve empowered brands to remove the empty and wasteful space that has become standard in the packaging industry. We estimate that this can reduce the total carbon footprint of a mailer box by around 8%.
Freight is carbon intensive, especially international air shipping which can represent up to 90% of the life cycle of packaging. But opting for sea freight instead can lower that number by 60%, which is the case with our recycled mailer bag. Whilst this is the best situation, we know that time is a significant constraint for brands, making sea freight often unfeasible.
We launched split delivery as a solution; a freight option where brands can choose how much of their order to send via air and sea. This allows brands to meet short-term demand whilst benefiting from sea freight’s significantly lower emissions. If a brand ordered 20,000 units and sent 10% by air freight, they could reduce their carbon footprint by up to 50% compared to sending the entire shipment via air.
3. End of life
End of life (also known as disposal) is an often overlooked but significant life cycle stage. Even for a cardboard box that can be easily recycled (71%, 2021 UK data, ), disposal still accounts for c.15% of its total carbon footprint. Disposal also varies dramatically between materials, making it a crucial part of any comparison. For example, whilst cardboard’s recycling rate in the UK is 71%, flexible plastic’s is unfortunately only 6% . This pushes disposal to account for c.21% of our recycled LDPE mailer bag’s emissions.
Always consider the full life cycle
For an accurate account of a product’s emissions, the full life cycle is essential. This is why authorities like the CMA and ASA require businesses to be clear on which stages of the life cycle they’ve included when making claims about a product’s environmental impact. Gold standard claims will always look at the full life cycle and selectively reporting on emissions will result in unreliable and dubious claims. This will put you at risk in a world that is demanding action and clarity.
With the full life cycle in hand, however, you can measure and track real progress, identify the best opportunities and communicate confidently with customers.
- Abnett, K. (2023). EU proposes clampdown on companies using fake ‘green’ claims. Reuters. Available here [https://www.reuters.com/business/sustainable-business/eu-proposes-clampdown-companies-using-fake-green-claims-2023-03-22/#:~:text=EU proposes clampdown on companies using fake 'green' claims,-By Kate Abnett&text=To use such labels%2C a,under an environmental labelling scheme]. (Accessed: 21 Aug. 2023).
- IPCC (2023). Climate Change 2023: Synthesis Report. doi: 10.59327/IPCC/AR6-9789291691647.
- PRé Sustainability (2020). Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) explained. Available here [https://pre-sustainability.com/articles/life-cycle-assessment-lca-basics/] (Accessed: 21 Aug. 2023).
- Competition & Markets Authority (2021). CMA guidance on environmental claims on goods and services. Available here [https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/green-claims-code-making-environmental-claims] (Accessed: 21 Aug. 2023).
- Committee of Advertising Practice (2021). The CAP Code. Available here [https://www.asa.org.uk/static/47eb51e7-028d-4509-ab3c0f4822c9a3c4/The-Cap-code.pdf] (Accessed: 21 Aug. 2023).
- DEFRA (2023). UK statistics on waste. Available here [https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/uk-waste-data/uk-statistics-on-waste]
- WRAP (2021). Recycling your customers’ plastic bags and wrapping. Available here [https://wrap.org.uk/resources/guide/recycling-your-customers-plastic-bags-and-wrapping]
There’s a buzz around honeycomb packaging — and for good reason.
Inspired by beehives, honeycomb packaging offers brands durability and sustainability in one neat solution. For them, it’s the perfect match: packaging that delivers effective protection but doesn’t cost the earth.
And for the planet, it’s the perfect match too: lightweight paper packaging that’s easy on emissions and is completely recyclable.
In this article, we dive into the wonders of honeycomb packaging, how it can benefit your business and explore a few of its many forms, including honeycomb wrapping paper.
What is honeycomb packaging?
Honeycomb packaging is any paper packaging that uses a honeycomb structure, in the same way as a beehive. It’s this exact hexagonal honeycomb shape that gives honeycomb packaging its name. Only in honeycomb packaging, that structure is made of durable kraft paper — not honey. Good news for your product.
As honeycomb paper packaging is defined by this structure, it isn’t really a single type of packaging but a category. For example, there are honeycomb paper mailer bags and there is also honeycomb wrapping paper.
3 benefits of honeycomb packaging
1. Efficiency and strength
One of honeycomb packaging's biggest strengths is, well, its superior strength. More specifically, it’s that honeycomb packaging is both incredibly durable and lightweight.
And — as you may have guessed — it’s all down to its hexagonal cells. As your product goes through the trials and tribulations of shipping (think bumps, rough handling and heavy packages), each honeycomb unit acts as a tiny shock absorber. In turn, they cushion your product and reduce the risk of damage during transit. All of which avoids breakages, replacement costs, returns and customer complaints.
What’s even better is that you can achieve all of that without the need for plastic bubble lining or void fill. It’s plastic-free protection at its best.
2. Tailored protection
If you’re shipping fragile goods like ceramics, adding extra protection is often a good idea. And luckily, this is where honeycomb packaging excels. Most manufacturers can customise the hexagonal structure and density of honeycomb packaging to precisely fit your product. This ensures a secure and snug fit, minimising the risk of movement during transit even further and protecting goods from potential damage.
If you don’t need the deluxe protection of custom honeycomb packaging, you can opt for standard honeycomb packaging which you can brand as well. As we’ve said, this is still a more than durable option and a great replacement for plastic bubble wrap packaging.
3. Embrace sustainability
Honeycomb packaging is made from kraft paper, which means it’s made from a renewable resource. Choosing this type of packaging means less finite resources are produced and used. A tick for sustainability.
It also means honeycomb packaging is (nearly always) fully recyclable, allowing your customers to play their part in tackling climate change. Add honeycomb packaging’s low weight that helps to reduce shipping emissions and you get a final product that is built for brands who care about the environment.
A bonus for honeycomb packaging is that it can be certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). FSC is the gold standard for responsible forestry, and choosing FSC-certified packaging is a clear signpost to your customers that you’re taking active steps to reduce your impact.
It is worth saying, however, that not all paper honeycomb packaging is FSC-certified. We always recommend looking out for the FSC label to make sure your packaging is certified or asking your supplier.
And, sadly, not all honeycomb packaging is plastic-free either. Whilst the majority of honeycomb packaging is (like our honeycomb paper mailer bags), some suppliers may combine honeycomb paper packaging with plastic components. It’s rare, but do watch out as this may affect how you dispose of your packaging and what you can tell your customers.
Honeycomb wrapping paper
As the name suggests, honeycomb wrapping paper is wrapping paper with a honeycomb pattern, made by joining lots of individual bands of kraft paper together. It may seem like a small difference, but it allows the wrapping paper to expand as you wrap it. This creates the 3D honeycomb structure that protects your product, all whilst having the flexibility of normal wrapping paper.
Honeycomb wrapping paper is mostly used as a more sustainable option than plastic bubble wrap or void fill, for products from cosmetics to wine bottles. And as it only expands on use, it takes up much less space than bubble wrap, foam peanuts and the like.
How to use honeycomb wrapping paper
Honeycomb wrapping paper is just as easy to use as normal wrapping paper, with a few small differences. Here’s how to wrap the right way:
1. Measure: Measure the dimensions of the item you want to wrap to determine how much honeycomb wrapping paper you'll need.
2. Cut: Use scissors or a box cutter to cut your honeycomb paper wrapping to the desired size. Make sure it is slightly larger than your item for proper coverage.
3. Wrap (carefully): Gently wrap the material around your item, ensuring that it covers all sides. For extra protection, consider double-wrapping fragile items.
4. Secure: Use tape to secure the honeycomb wrapping paper in place, ensuring it stays snug around the item.
A more sustainable future
From honeycomb wrapping paper to honeycomb mailer bags, honeycomb packaging is a great example of yet another more sustainable alternative in the packaging industry. And being recyclable, made from paper, lightweight, durable and more, it meets a wide range of needs for brands looking to protect their products and our planet. In short: it’s smart packaging.
One of the earliest uses of the word “sourceful” was in 1796, in a book of poems by an English author named Jane Elizabeth Moore. It’s not completely clear what she meant by the sentence, “Of Friendship’s sourceful spring”, but there it was — sourceful. Today, if you look up “sourceful”, you’ll find two things. One, the Collins English Dictionary definition, “Offering useful things”. And two, you’ll find us, Sourceful, the all-in-one platform for more sustainable packaging.
In many ways, we’re not far from the dictionary definition. After all, we believe what we’re doing really is useful. But Sourceful’s name came from two other words: source and resourceful. A source is a place where something originates from or can be obtained. A spring, for example, is the source of a river. The sun is a source of energy. Or a person might be a source of inspiration. And being resourceful is about using creativity and ingenuity to find effective solutions to difficult problems. We chose these two words because they sit at the heart of what we do, build and strive for every day.
Today, our supply chains are broken; an outdated, complex and fragile system that doesn’t meet the needs of businesses or the planet. What’s needed is a better, smarter, more efficient source of supply. And that’s what we’ve built; a single platform for businesses to find, create, order, deliver and manage more sustainable packaging.
Sourceful isn’t a better source just because everything is in one place though. We’ve also formed close relationships with every supplier in our network, and vetted each one to build resiliency and accountability into our products. We’ve written a ground-breaking methodology for estimating carbon footprints that’s been verified to ISO standards by industry experts. We’ve spent months developing and testing products so they align with a net-zero trajectory. We’ve created a pricing engine that allows businesses to see the live price of their product as they customise it online. And we’ve built an intuitive design studio where businesses can bring their ideas to life.
We’ve done all of this so companies can source better products from a better source and make informed decisions about every choice. This, we believe, is what ultimately makes Sourceful a source of good.
Resourcefulness drives everything at Sourceful, from how we organise our teams to every one of our sustainable packaging products. Our platform is perhaps the best example of this, a place where businesses can, for the first time, see the carbon footprint of their product and design in real-time. And they can customise products such as mailer boxes online in ways they couldn’t before, like choosing the exact length, width and height they need. This empowers businesses to eliminate wasted space, drive costs down and reduce their carbon footprint.
We’ve also moved proofing, a traditionally slow and offline process, into our design studio, minimising costly revisions and removing the need for sampling. As a result, businesses can reduce their carbon footprint even further. It’s these things that help businesses solve real problems in a measurable way. Or in other words, it’s what makes our platform resourceful.
Whilst being resourceful can be talked about through real-life examples, it’s just as much a mindset and an approach. It’s a mindset that makes the most of the resources you have and uses them in new, innovative ways to achieve your goals. That’s what we’re doing with sustainable packaging: working with the best suppliers and leveraging science, data and teamwork to create better, more efficient products for every business.
As you can see, being resourceful and creating a better source are fundamental to Sourceful — which is why they’re the building blocks of our name.
Wing Chan, Co-founder
If you’re a business looking for a better way to create more sustainable packaging, we can help. Discover more at sourceful.com
It’s happened to all of us. You’re browsing the hair and skincare shelves and suddenly find your eyes drawn to that one product. What makes it different? Maybe it’s the bold, bright colours, or the sleek, cool curves. Whatever it is, it’s proof that cosmetic packaging does much more than just deliver your product.
Striking packaging helps to drive brand awareness and attract your ideal customer. And this is true for e-commerce cosmetics as well as on-shelf products, with many still bought in-store. But, with packaging waste at an all-time high, how can you choose packaging that impresses without the environmental impact?
For starters, the most important thing to do is conduct a full life cycle assessment of your current or potential packaging. It should look at each step in the supply chain (production, transport, disposal etc.) so you can get a full picture of your packaging's carbon footprint. From there, you can make an informed decisions about your next packaging move.
That being said, we’re seeing six packaging styles consistently coming out on top in different industries. Here, we break down each of them to help you choose the right one for your product.
More sustainable cosmetic packaging
- Metal packaging
- Glass packaging
- Paper-based packaging
- Bamboo packaging
- Refillable packaging
- Post-consumer recycled packaging
1. Metal: best for stylish cans, tins and tubes
Most people will already be familiar with metal packaging in cosmetics to some degree — hairspray and deodorant cans are a common sight. But as a stylish and more sustainable alternative to plastic packaging, metal is growing in popularity.
Metal, including aluminium, tin, and stainless steel, is used in tubes, bottles, pumps, and dispensers. It’s protective against air, moisture and light, which makes it great for protecting cosmetic formulations. It’s also a robust packaging material, offering greater protection during handling than softer paper-based or plastic products.
Metal cosmetic packaging can be customised with labels, embossing, or printing to suit your brand. And its smooth, shiny finish can evoke a sense of style and luxury, especially in comparison to plastic packaging. A great example of this comes from L’Occitane, which gives customers an overall high-end experience with its decadent products housed in stylish tubes and tins.
Metal is also infinitely recyclable without losing its quality. But don’t forget that the thicker it is, the more it weighs and the more emissions it creates. So if you do opt for metal packaging, make sure it’s thin and light.
- Easily customised
- Temperature resistant
- May use BPA lining
- Can be energy intensive to produce
- Not suitable for all products (e.g. acidic products)
2. Glass: best for jars and bottles
The growing wellness movement is putting glass packaging centre stage. It’s safe, gives products a luxury appearance and can be customised to appeal to minimalist tastes. And the top brands know this, like Clinique, which is well known for its sleek glass-packaged skincare and cosmetics products.
The great thing about glass is that it’s inert, meaning it doesn’t react to whatever it’s in contact with. Plastic packaging, on the other hand, is known for leaching hormone disruptors like BPA (bisphenol A) into its contents. And metal packaging can also be reactive, particularly if your product contains acidic formulas — think vitamin C serums or hyaluronic acid creams.
You don’t want your product to change colour, texture or odour because of its packaging, and you certainly don’t want it to become a health hazard. So glass is a great choice for cosmetics products. It can even extend your product’s shelf life by up to 15%.
Glass packaging is 100% recyclable without losing its quality, which reduces the need for raw materials. It’s even better if customers return their glass packaging to be reused as it is, so you need to create less of it. But one downside to glass packaging is its weight. It’s best used when the distance between you and your customer is small, so that you can keep your transport emissions down.
Driving the demand for glass are nail care products, face serums, oils and essences, which can be packaged in dropper and push pump bottles and ampoules.
- Easily customised
- Initially energy intensive to produce
- Heavier than plastic (increases transportation costs and emissions)
3. Paper-based packaging: best for dry goods
Paper-based packaging is gaining popularity as an alternative to single-use plastic packaging. For starters, it gives products a natural, organic feel, which can appeal to climate-conscious customers. It’s also lightweight, so it can help keep your transport emissions (and costs) down.
Paper isn’t waterproof, so it’s not traditionally ideal for liquid cosmetics. But some packaging providers are starting to scale up production of barrier-coated, grease-resistant paperboard tubes. This is great because it means paper can replace those waterproof but environmentally harmful materials, like plastic. And they’re catching the attention of some big industry names. Like L’Oréal, which has started using some paper bottles in a bid to become more sustainable.
Paper can also make an impression as your secondary cosmetics packaging. This doesn’t refer to the bottle or jar containing your product (that’s primary packaging). Secondary packaging refers to the box or envelope that packages your bottle, jar or tin of product. For example, customisable mailer boxes. These are a great way to not only deliver your product, but also display it in a striking way that gives your customer a memorable unboxing experience.
Another great thing about paper is that it’s widely recyclable, and can be made from post-consumer recycled materials, which reduces your dependence on virgin materials. But if your packaging does require virgin materials, make sure you source these from a responsibly managed forest overseen by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). This will help keep your environmental impact as low as possible.
- Low cost
- Easily customised
- Recycled materials available
- Not airtight
- Not waterproof
- Susceptible to damage
4. Bamboo packaging: best for an innovative look
Bamboo is a fast-growing and renewable resource. Like paper packaging, it provides a natural and organic appearance. This makes it an attractive material for brands that want to appeal to sustainability-oriented customers. In fact, the bamboo cosmetic packaging market is expected to grow at a rate of 12% from 2021 to 2028.
Bamboo is easy to customise, strong and durable. It can be used to package a range of products, including both dry and liquid-based products. And it can be offered as a refillable packaging option too. Like the stylish eyeshadow palette offered by Cosmetics company Elate, which customers can even fill with their unique, preferred shades.
One downside to keep in mind is that bamboo packaging might need additional materials, like plastic or silicone, to create airtight seals. These will add to your carbon footprint.
- Low cost
- Easily customisable
- Natural and organic look
- May need additional materials
5. Refillable packaging: best for reducing waste and energy use
Granted, this is more of an approach than a product itself. But we thought it's worth talking about. Refillable packaging is gaining traction among consumers interested in reducing their environmental impact without compromising on their favourite cosmetics. This corner of the market is moving so fast that UK sales of refillable luxury products increased by 47% in just seven months in 2022.
So what counts as refillable packaging? We’re talking glass jars and bottles, containers made from aluminium, stainless steel and silicone, and plant-based packaging like bamboo and wood.
Many stores are now offering incentives to encourage customers to return their packaging, which has the added bonus of driving brand loyalty and sales. Like cosmetics and skincare retailer Lush, which offers a free face mask when customers return five empty pots. Meanwhile, the Burt’s Bees handy refillable lip balm container shows it’s not just the obvious pot and jar style packaging that can be refilled.
Providing these refillable options can help reduce waste, dependence on virgin materials and the energy required to make new packaging. But there’s a caveat: to withstand multiple uses, the materials need to be thicker or stronger than the single-use alternatives. This means there’s a threshold number of reuses you need to hit to reap the sustainability rewards.
- Reduces waste
- Generates brand loyalty
- Reduced need for procurement and manufacturing
- Requires additional logistics
- Threshold number of uses must be hit
- Not suitable for all products
6. Post-consumer recycled packaging: best for reducing raw material use
Post-consumer recycled (PCR) packaging is made from materials that have already been used and recycled. Like refillable packaging, PCR packaging reduces the need for virgin materials and keeps waste out of landfills for longer. This in turn brings down carbon emissions and its overall environmental footprint.
Aptar Beauty & Home’s airless pump is a good example here. It uses plastic destined for incineration or landfill, keeping it in circularity for that little bit longer. What’s important is that any recycled plastic must be considered food grade for it to be safe as cosmetic packaging.
- Reduces waste
- Easily customised
- Conserves resources
- May have limited availability
- Quality of recycled materials may vary
How to choose the most sustainable cosmetic packaging for your business
So, you know that you want to switch to more sustainable packaging and you have an idea of what’s out there. But before making any decisions, consider these four key questions:
1. What are your product’s needs?
Cosmetic products are delicate and can leak, spill or crumble during handling. So, you need packaging that delivers your product to the customer as intended. For example, where you might use paper to package a bar of soap, you’d probably want a sealable bottle for a face serum.
Knowing the level of protection your product needs can rule out packaging that’s not suitable, leaving you to choose from a smaller, more appropriate range.
2. How sustainable is the product?
Knowing the materials and processes that go into making cosmetic packaging can help you make more sustainable packaging decisions. It’s no secret, for example, that plastic is derived from petroleum and has a devastating environmental impact. So, you’d probably want to think carefully about using cosmetics packaging made with it.
On the other hand, paper and card are some of the most sustainable and budget-friendly packaging materials around. They can be sourced from responsibly managed forests, are renewable and can be recycled into new products. Choosing more sustainable materials can have a positive impact on your carbon footprint compared to the alternatives.
3. What end-of-life options exist?
Governments worldwide are cracking down on brands and manufacturers, making them take more responsibility for what happens to their packaging after use. This means you’ll need to think about your target market and what recycling facilities they can access. Because it’s no use choosing innovative materials if there’s nowhere to process them. If you discover that your packaging is more likely to end up in general waste rather than being recycled, consider other materials.
Increasingly, customers claim that packaging informs their purchasing decisions. So, making it easier for them to dispose of your packaging is an opportunity to retain and even build your customer base.
4. What do you want your packaging to say about you?
Packaging is advertising. It shows your customer who you are, what you stand for and how you understand them. So, packaging that reflects your brand’s personality is a must.
If you want to appeal to a minimalist mindset, glass packaging with neutral labels is a great option. Or, for a luxury feel, you might opt for metal. Both materials can be customised to suit your brand whilst being more sustainable than plastic. Meanwhile, the raw, natural appearance of kraft paper can send a strong sustainability signal to your customers.
Ultimately, choose packaging that aligns with your brand personality and message.
Get started with more sustainable packaging with Sourceful
Cosmetics packaging is vital for delivering your product safely and intact. But with packaging waste continuing to build up and customers seeking more sustainable solutions, there’s never been a better time to switch to a more sustainable option.
From glass to metal and paper, there are materials that do a great job protecting products whilst being reusable and easily recycled.
For secondary packaging that beautifully boxes up your products, look no further than Sourceful. Our fully customisable, FSC-certified mailer boxes are the perfect package for cosmetic gift sets and subscription boxes. And, if you want something more bespoke, get in touch to discuss your packaging needs. We’d love to help you.
Frequently asked questions
Q: Why haven't you included cornstarch-based packaging?
A: Cornstarch-based bioplastic is an alternative to conventional petroleum-based plastic. But, there are still some concerns about its environmental impact.
We’ve seen that biodegradable or compostable plastic made from cornstarch performs worse than traditional plastic on carbon footprint (and the majority of other impact categories). To verify this we ran a detailed life cycle assessment of these plastics in different contexts.
The main reason for the higher impact is that there are no public collections for compostable packaging in the UK. And only a very small proportion of the UK (around 3-5%) have a home compost heap. So the majority of cornstarch packaging is sent to general waste and ends up in landfill. Here, it eventually degrades, releasing methane and carbon dioxide.
We also found that the novel nature of these materials means that their production emissions remain quite high. So, there are still a lot of improvements needed to bring down the impact of production and the end of life emissions.
Q: Silicone packaging is reusable. Why isn’t it featured here?
A: Yes, silicone packaging is reusable, and you see a lot of it in the cosmetics industry such as in reusable travel containers.
Whilst silicone comes partly from sand, creating silicon-based products requires a lot of energy and the addition of some non-renewable, fossil fuel materials. This makes it a synthetic material, which, like plastic, has significant implications like persisting in the environment for thousands of years. Silicone is often very difficult to recycle. So, both production and end-of-life processes also create significant emissions which contribute to climate change.
We’re thrilled to finally announce the launch of Spring; our first cutting-edge AI tool that empowers brands to break free from creative block and generate unique packaging inspiration in minutes. All with zero effort — and for free.
Ready to be inspired? Discover Spring
Stay ahead of the competition
Today, brands are under more pressure than ever to create and produce faster — and that includes their packaging. But more often than not, brands can’t simply scale their resources to meet this demand. In other words, there’s now more work to be done in less time with the same number of people.
We created Spring to fix this problem. Now, instead of relying on expensive external packaging designers to ease the load, you can generate packaging inspiration yourself in minutes and for free. In turn, you can move faster, launch quicker and stay competitive.
How Spring works
Spring uses generative AI to produce unique packaging ideas based on your inputs, all in a few minutes. Put another way, it's like having an entire team of packaging designers at your fingertips, ready to shower you with inspiration whenever you need it. And it couldn’t be easier to use:
- Go to spring.sourceful.com
- Fill in the short form about your brand, product and needs,
- Click Submit,
- That’s it — we promise. Spring will generate nine unique packaging design ideas and send you them by email.
Turn your ideas into reality
Spring is incredibly powerful, but it’s not meant to deliver final ideas, proofed artwork or structural designs. That’s what a packaging partner — like Sourceful — is for. Here’s how to turn your packaging inspiration from Spring into reality:
- Click Book your FREE consultation to connect with a Sourceful Account Manager. We’ll then help you turn your idea into a reality.
- Recreate your ideas in Sourceful Studio — our online packaging design studio.
- Take your new ideas as a ready-made mood board to an external packaging designer.
Whichever way, with Spring you’ve just leap-frogged the hardest part of the creative process: the blank page.
Ready to be inspired?
Today we’re incredibly excited to be launching our recycled mailer bag as a fully customisable product on the Sourceful platform. This means you can now customise our recycled mailers online, from choosing the perfect size to adding features that make returns more efficient. You can also get live pricing — instead of waiting for a quote — and see your mailer bag’s carbon footprint in real-time, all before proofing your design directly in your browser.
Launching our recycled mailer now also coincides with the new Plastic Packaging Tax which was introduced on April 1. The tax was created to drive demand for more recycled plastic and applies to all plastic packaging that has less than 30% recycled content. We’ve designed our recycled mailers to meet this threshold so they’re exempt from the tax. That way, businesses can be confident that by choosing our recycled mailers, they’re staying up to date and making measurable progress on sustainability.
Recycled mailer bags are better for your business and the planet
We’re introducing recycled mailers today because there’s a genuine need for them. Traditional poly mailers, which are made from virgin plastic, have become the go-to packaging for businesses shipping soft, non-fragile items. And for good reason. They’re waterproof, durable, flexible, easy to store and lightweight, meaning they’re cost-effective to ship. But virgin plastic is problematic because making it requires a considerable amount of resources, mostly in the form of crude oil. The oil then needs to be extracted, refined and processed, all of which create significant greenhouse gas emissions.
Recycled mailer bags, however, have all the benefits of traditional poly mailers, but are made primarily from recycled LDPE (low-density polyethylene). This is mostly plastic that consumers, businesses or facilities have used and disposed of before it’s recycled into new material. As recycled LDPE doesn’t rely on virgin plastic, it has a lower carbon footprint. Recycled LDPE still has a carbon footprint, but this is made up of the emissions from collecting, sorting and processing the plastic, which collectively uses less energy than creating virgin plastic.
This is why our recycled mailers are such a crucial and timely product. For businesses, they’re a chance to meet the soaring demand for more sustainable packaging, stay ahead of new legislation and reduce their carbon footprint. For the planet, they’re a chance to move away from virgin materials, conserve resources and reduce harmful emissions.
More transparency and more choice
Unfortunately, it’s still too common to see companies market their recycled mailer bags as “100% recycled” without providing any evidence. For us, this is frustrating at best and dubious at worst. But this lack of transparency was also the motivation for us to do things differently. We’re bringing more transparency than ever to the market and we’re giving companies more choices so they can meet their exact needs. To do this, we’re actually launching two recycled mailers. One is made from 95% recycled content, and the other is made from 30% recycled content. Here’s why both are important.
95% recycled content
Our 95% recycled mailer is made from 95% recycled LDPE and 5% masterbatch. The recycled LDPE is 100% recycled, and masterbatches are mixtures of additives or pigments, often made from virgin materials. Masterbatch is what gives plastic film its colour, and the vast majority of coloured recycled mailers on the market contain some masterbatch.
Most companies, however, don’t include masterbatch when calculating the recycled content of their mailer bags. It’s an easy mistake to make — after all, the film itself can be 100% recycled. What they miss is that the film isn’t the only ingredient. This is why the market is rife with claims such as “I’m a 100% recycled mailer bag” or “100% recycled”. These claims miss the bigger picture and unfortunately end up misleading consumers.
As with all of our products, transparency is paramount, even if it means we can’t claim our recycled mailer is 100% recycled. It’s important to us because we want to empower businesses to make truly informed decisions about what they’re buying. With transparent information, businesses can make these types of decisions. In turn, businesses can adopt a better, more conscious approach to sourcing and pass on transparent information to their customers.
We designed our 95% recycled mailer to be a high-quality, more sustainable alternative to mailers made only with virgin LDPE. It’s everything a poly mailer should be — just with a smaller carbon footprint. In fact, by switching from a virgin poly mailer to this recycled mailer, you can reduce your carbon footprint by up to 20%*. You can also print up to four Pantone colours, and add features like a double peel & seal that help to streamline your returns process.
Because of the varied content of recycled plastic, these recycled mailers do have a textured finish and some white flecks on their surface. Most customers we talked to didn’t mind this, especially with the reduction in their carbon footprint. But for those businesses that wanted better print performance, we developed a mailer bag with 30% recycled content.
*Calculated using Sourceful’s live carbon footprint data. Learn more
30% recycled content
Our 30% recycled mailer is made from 30% recycled LDPE, 65% virgin LDPE and 5% masterbatch. It has all the same features and printing options as our other recycled mailer, but with less recycled content, it has a smoother surface and fewer white flecks. This makes it better for printing on, especially if you have detailed artwork. And whilst these mailers do contain some virgin plastic, businesses can still reduce their carbon footprint by up to 6%* by choosing this recycled mailer over a mailer made only from virgin plastic. This was the motivation behind a 30% recycled mailer: finding a balance between performance and sustainability.
*Calculated using Sourceful’s live carbon footprint data. Learn more
GRS certification allows us to validate and reassure
Another important layer to this product launch is GRS certification, which our recycled LDPE supply chain is certified to. GRS stands for the Global Recycled Standard and is an international standard for recycled materials. In practice, GRS verifies the percentage of recycled content in a material and tracks it from the source to the final product. Certified companies like Sourceful (and their suppliers) also meet specific standards across social, environmental and chemical practices.
Gaining GRS certification for the recycled LDPE in our mailer bags is crucial because, without it, it’s hard for us to be completely transparent. Unfortunately, the recycled plastics supply chain is opaque, which makes verifying materials hard. And there’s no mainstream lab test to confirm the exact percentage of recycled plastic in a product. This means that, at the moment, the best way to validate what our recycled mailers are made from are certifications like GRS. Most companies don’t seek GRS certification because of the work and time involved, and because like all certifications, it’s not a perfect system. But for us it’s essential. It ensures our claims are as accurate as possible, and that allows us to validate our mailer bags and ultimately reassure our customers.
Hopefully, you can see why recycled mailers are such an important type of packaging, and why they’re an invaluable tool for climate-conscious businesses. We hope you use them to deliver better packaging, meet customer demand and reduce your impact on the planet, all at once. Ready to create your recycled mailer? Get started
Whether you’re running a business or running to the supermarket, you’ll know that we’re surrounded by packaging. And that the waste generated from packaging and other products is a serious, global problem.
The good news is that things are changing. There’s a huge customer demand for more sustainable products and businesses are striving to meet it. So, whether you’re on the buying or selling side of the equation, here’s a list of seven simple ways you can reduce your packaging waste.
3 ways to reduce packaging waste (for businesses)
- Optimise your packaging design
- Design for reuse and recycle
- Improve your supply chain
1. Optimise your packaging design
Reducing waste can start before your packaging has even been created — at the design stage. You want to make sure you use just enough materials to protect your product and nothing more.
For starters, this means thinking about your product’s shape and size. Can you reduce your packaging dimensions so that it fits more snugly? Packaging that’s the right size means using fewer materials and creating less waste. It also means less empty space, so you can ditch any excess cushioning, like polystyrene inserts or air pillows. And you can ship more of your product in one go, reducing transport emissions.
Whilst we’re talking about reducing excess, think about where else you can optimise your design. For example, could you avoid using ancillary (supporting) materials like sleeves, without affecting your packaging’s performance? Or could you reduce the amount of tape you’re using to seal your boxes by switching to a self-locking crash lock box?
Eliminating air and unnecessary materials can go a long way toward reducing your packaging waste. And if you’re unsure where to start, why not work with our team of experts? They can show you how redesigning your packaging can reduce your waste and even your costs.
2. Design for reuse and recycle
So you’ve optimised your packaging design to reduce waste. Now you can think about what happens to it after it’s been used. This is where recycling comes in. To design more sustainable packaging, use materials that are widely recyclable. Paper and card, for example, are easy to recycle, with a recovery rate of around 70% in the UK.
But recycling isn’t your only option. You can also design your packaging for reuse. This can be as simple as including a double peel and seal strip so that your customers can make returns without having to buy new packaging. You could also offer refills, where customers send back their empty packaging and get their products replenished. This has the added bonus of generating loyalty to your brand. Cosmetics retailer Lush is a great example of a successful refillable packaging scheme in action.
Overall, recyclable and reusable packaging means you can keep materials out of the waste stream for longer, whilst reducing your need for virgin materials: a win-win.
3. Improve your supply chain
Optimising your supply chain means taking a closer look at the stages your packaging goes through before it reaches the customer. And this extends beyond the design possibilities mentioned earlier. For example, an overlooked area in your supply chain might be transportation. You could reduce waste here (emissions and space) by consolidating shipments. This could also save you money on shipping costs.
Another way to reduce supply chain waste is by making sure you're shipping products in the right-sized packaging. We won’t call anyone out, but social media is rife with photos from frustrated customers who've received a hand-sized product in a box fit for a small child. In fact, the average box is 40% too big for its contents. This wastes materials and makes shipping less efficient — and means you pay more.
So, make sure you’ve always got a supply of the right-sized boxes to avoid shipping waste space.
4 ways to reduce packaging waste (for consumers)
- Use reusable items
- Choose loose and buy in bulk
- Look for climate-conscious packaging
- Communicate and collaborate with local stores
1. Use reusable items
We’re talking shopping bags, water bottles and your portable mug for that essential first cup of coffee. Every time you use your own reusable items, you’re saying no to single-use packaging. And there are plenty of businesses encouraging this, whilst generating brand loyalty at the same time. Like Costa Coffee, where using your reusable mug can get you a free drink in half the number of visits it would usually take. And who doesn’t love free coffee?
The great thing about reusable items is that they can last years with the right care. And with so many stylish, convenient and affordable options available, there’s no reason not to switch to reusable.
“‘It’s just one straw,” said 8 billion people.’ (source unknown)
2. Choose loose and buy in bulk
Pre-packaged goods can save you time during your supermarket dash. But, if you were to pile up all that when you got home, you might wonder if the convenience is worth all the waste. Instead, choose loose items you can carry yourself or in reusable bags. Not only does this help to reduce packaging waste, but it also means you only buy what you need, so you can avoid wasting food too.
And nowadays, the fruit and veg aisle isn’t the only place you can buy loose products. Supermarkets around the UK are installing refill stations for goods like nuts, pasta and even laundry detergent. So, you can also choose to buy non-perishable goods in bulk, saving you yet another trip to the supermarket and the emissions that come with it.
3. Look for more sustainable packaging
If you’ve got multiple brands selling the same item, go with the one with less packaging. And when packaging is unavoidable, choose the one that’s recyclable.
If there’s no recyclable option, you might even leave that particular product on the shelf. You’ll be amazed at what you can do without when you shop with a more sustainable mindset.
4. Collaborate with local stores
If you’re frustrated that your local businesses aren’t taking steps to reduce waste, tell them. Use customer satisfaction surveys or speak with community groups or your MP to express your opinion. You could even start your own petition and send it to members of your community to show that your ideas have public support.
When businesses know that the demand for more sustainable products and practices is there, they’re more likely to commit to changing.
Reduce packaging waste with Sourceful
Packaging waste is a major global problem that affects everyone. But there are simple steps you can take to reduce it. If you're a business owner, you can make a difference by optimising your packaging design, designing for reuse and recycling, and improving your supply chain. For consumers, bringing reusable items, choosing items with the least amount of packaging and demanding more sustainable options can be really impactful.
Here at Sourceful, we help brands switch to packaging that's more sustainable than traditional alternatives. Whether you’re looking for a responsibly-sourced mailer box or a recycled mailer bag, we’ve got a solution for you.
From Ikea to McDonald’s, businesses are increasingly seeking ways to switch to more sustainable packaging. But 43% of these have concerns about the costs involved in switching from traditional alternatives.
The good news is that the costs don’t have to be high, whilst the long-term gains, including reduced waste, increased customer loyalty and staying ahead of regulations far outweigh these concerns. And as more businesses switch to more sustainable packaging design, it will become increasingly affordable.
We’ve compared our most popular products to some traditional packaging so that you can see how the costs stack up.
What's the cost of more sustainable packaging?
When considering the switch to more sustainable packaging, it’s natural to think of the immediate cost implications. For example, what would it cost to order 1000 recycled mailer bags, compared to 1000 traditional poly mailer bags?
The truth is that it’s hard to say, because the answer depends on many variables. But, the key is to consider the longer-term costs and benefits as well as the off-the-shelf prices. Take Ikea, which reconfigured its packaging and now saves €1.2 million per year by eliminating empty space; proof that making your packaging more efficient (and more sustainable) can have significant financial benefits.
Sustainable packaging can mean many things, from making sure your packaging is the right size to using more environmentally friendly materials. In some cases, this may mean an initial increase in costs, but it’s the long-term benefits and cost savings that are the crucial considerations.
What packaging material is considered inexpensive and more environmentally friendly?
FSC-certified forest products (mostly paper) are the most environmentally friendly, cost-effective packaging. This is because paper is easy to produce, manufacture, transport, store and recycle and its raw materials can be regrown quickly.
These products are made from natural resources which are sourced from responsibly managed forests. When they’ve reached their end-of-life stage, they are widely kerbside recyclable.
Corrugated cardboard, for example, is so easily recycled that 91% of all collected corrugated cardboard was recycled in 2021. If products are easier to recycle, they remain in circulation, avoiding waste being sent to landfill and more virgin materials being used.
As an example, a popular product at Sourceful that’s both inexpensive and more environmentally friendly is our mailer box. It can cost as little as £0.59 per unit and can reduce your carbon footprint by up to 12% compared to traditional alternatives.
Is sustainable packaging more expensive than traditional packaging?
The best way to know if switching to more environmentally friendly packaging is the right choice for your business is to consider the long-term benefits. But understanding the initial cost is still important for your budget decisions.
Below, we’ve listed some of our most popular products, their cost per item and what they’re best used for. We’ve also shown how they can help you reduce your carbon footprint compared to less sustainable alternatives.
Is switching from traditional packaging to more sustainable packaging worth the investment?
The short answer is a resounding yes — for several reasons. Packaging waste is a serious, global problem. The average European citizen creates 5 tonnes of waste per year, and most of this ends up in landfill. Here, it takes tens to hundreds of years to break down and releases toxic chemicals and greenhouse gases in the process.
In fact, we continue to face some scary numbers when it comes to packaging waste:
- 50% of all plastic produced is single-use
- 85% of plastic packaging still ends up in landfills
- Plastic waste will triple by 2060 to 1,014 million tonnes. That’s over 3000 Empire State Buildings.
It’s clear that reducing every industry’s carbon footprint is paramount. But switching to more sustainable packaging isn’t only for eco-conscious brands that want to reduce their environmental impact. It can also be a smart business strategy.
1. Being climate conscious builds customer loyalty
Around the world, online searches for sustainable goods have increased by 71% in the last five years. Customers are considering the environmental impact of their decisions and want to purchase from value-aligned brands.
So, by prioritising and publicising your sustainability efforts, you’ve got a greater chance of retaining existing customers, as well as attracting new ones.
2. More sustainable packaging complies with regulations
It’s important to also think of the cost of not switching to more sustainable materials.
In response to the packaging waste problem, regulators are cracking down on packaging waste that doesn’t meet minimum environmental requirements. Regulations under the Extended Producer Responsibility policy, such as the UK’s Plastic Packaging Tax are going to become increasingly common, which could see businesses that don’t comply face hefty fines.
3. Investment will see costs decrease as demand rises
It’s true that some of the more innovative and sustainable packaging materials on the market today aren’t as convenient to produce as traditional ones such as plastic. But this shouldn’t necessarily deter you from investing in them.
Ambitious companies are using their investment to support innovation and are perceived as industry leaders as a result. As more businesses commit to more eco-friendly packaging, this will drive the costs down further.
“The more we learn and scale up, and the more demand there is from consumers and companies, the more prices will fall. Over time, we all benefit from economies of scale.” — Georg Kasperkovitz, CEO of Consumer Packaging, Mondi Group
Other ways to reduce your costs and environmental impact
Whether the initial costs of switching to more sustainable packaging are a concern for you or not, there are other ways you can save on costs, including reducing waste and increasing your packaging’s efficiency.
1. Consider changing your packaging’s design
40% of all packaging is too big for its contents, according to DHL. So, as well as evaluating your packaging materials, you could ensure you’re using the right-sized packaging. This means making sure your packaging has as little space inside as possible, without compromising its function.
Right-sized packaging reduces the amount of air you’re shipping, which then reduces the carbon footprint of your products during transit. A snug fit also means a reduced need for additional materials such as void fillers and their associated costs.
You can also consider what’s essential in your packaging design, versus the nice-to-haves. For example, you may use stickers or leaflets as part of your branding awareness strategy, but you could switch to scannable QR codes instead. Every small change can add up to significant savings for your budget and your carbon footprint.
2. Order in bulk
Ordering in bulk can drive down unit costs and, as a result, offset any increased costs generated from switching to more sustainable packaging. Take a look at the table below as an example, which shows how ordering mailer boxes in bulk can significantly reduce your long-term costs.
And you don’t need to be worried about where you’ll keep your packaging either. Warehouse services, such as the one we provide here at Sourceful, mean that ordering in bulk doesn't have to make storage complicated for you. This has the added bonus of creating a buffer stock, which can be drawn upon if there are unforeseen disruptions in your supply chain.
3. Offer reuse, before recycle
A major issue concerning the packaging life cycle is the lack of control you have over what happens to your packaging once it reaches the customer. You can help customers recycle packaging waste by using clear labelling which can reduce the amount of material sent to landfill or incinerated. Some businesses, such as Boots, are even offering loyalty points to customers in return for packaging that can’t be recycled at home.
Whilst recycling does a great job of keeping materials out of landfill, another alternative is to make the packaging reusable. For example, including an easy-open tear strip as seen on our book wrap mailers, which keeps the packaging intact for returns or other uses.
You could also consider more novel options such as plantable packaging. The longer a product can be kept in circulation, the greater its value, and the smaller the environmental cost.
Make the switch to more sustainable packaging with Sourceful
Switching to more sustainable packaging doesn’t have to be difficult or expensive. It’s better for the planet and can even have significant long-term benefits for your business.
At Sourceful we have everything you need to make the switch, from packaging for every product to on-demand experts and an easy-to-use platform. Ready to switch?
These days, the appeal of your packaging is as important as the product you’re shipping. But it isn't just about aesthetics or popping colours.
It’s a combination of psychology and engaging the senses. It’s a level of personalisation that makes your customer feel understood. It’s being able to say, “we went above and beyond,” to create that memorable unboxing experience.
That’s quite a task. And if you’re not sure where to start, these 15 packaging ideas will kickstart your creativity and take your packaging game to the next level.
- Colour psychology
- White space
- Natural look
- Themed design
- Branded tape and stickers
- Custom shaped boxes
- Engaging interiors
- Personalised touches
- UV varnish
- Luxury touches
- QR codes
- Interactive packaging
1. Colours: more than meets the eye
In packaging, colour psychology is powerful. In fact, 85% of customers say they’ve bought a product just because of its colours. And your colour choices can also influence how your customers perceive your brand overall.
Take Tiffany & Co. Their trademarked 'Tiffany Blue' box is instantly recognisable. And you know right away that there’s something decadent inside. It’s synonymous with luxury, which enhances their brand appeal.
So, do you want to go for yellow, to be associated with optimism? A calming blue to suggest trust? Or a sleek black to evoke feelings of mystery and exclusivity? You can experiment with an online design studio to help you visualise your packaging until you’ve got it just right.
Ultimately, you want to choose hues and shades that align with your brand personality and your customers’ values. This way, you’ll spark the emotional response you want them to feel when they receive your package.
2. Contrasts: make a bold statement
Contrasts in your packaging design can really make it pop. That’s because contrasting colours are visually engaging. They attract attention and make your brand memorable.
Think of the iconic Coca-Cola red and white combination. It's simple, striking and globally recognised. Or Nike’s tick logo — whether it's white-on-black or black-on-white — it’s unmistakably them.
And that’s what you can do as well. Contrast two colours that symbolise your brand, so when customers see that combination, they think of you. It’s a brilliant way to generate brand awareness and stand out amongst your competitors.
3. White space: the power of minimalism
Filling every part of your packaging with your signature colours or designs can be tempting. But when designing, don't underestimate the power of white space.
White space, or negative space, refers to the unmarked portions of your design. Rather than looking plain, it can provide a clean, uncluttered look that exudes sophistication. Like Apple's minimalist packaging design, which suggests luxury and quality.
And leaving white space does more than make your packaging design look sleek. It also highlights important elements that draw your customer’s eye, like your logo or product name. That way, your messaging won't get lost amongst the noise.
4. The natural look: less is more
With more consumers valuing sustainability and authenticity, going for simplicity in your packaging is a great idea. This might mean opting for earthy colours or keeping design elements minimal. And looks needn’t be deceiving. Because the simple approach usually is truly more sustainable, using recycled, or fewer, materials.
With the range of kraft paper mailer boxes and envelopes available, an unprocessed look is easy to achieve. Simply choose the unbleached version and keep printing to a minimum. Cosmetics brand Aesop is a great example of a striking aesthetic that reflects a commitment to creating quality, botanical products.
5. Themed designs: ‘tis the season
Designing your packaging around a theme or season can create excitement, as your customers will already be engaged with other seasonal cues. Think festive packaging during the holidays or limited-edition designs celebrating new events like a movie.
Take Starbucks, whose holiday cups have become a cultural phenomenon. Each year, customers eagerly await their release. This is a smart marketing strategy as it drives both brand awareness and customer loyalty.
So, generate a buzz by looking at the year ahead to see if you can capitalise on what’s to come. This way, you’ll appear involved and up-to-date (and probably fun too).
6. Branded tapes and stickers: make your mark
Gone are the days of using tape simply to stick things together. Because now, your tape is another place to delight your customers and make your packaging stand out.
Branded gummed or self-adhesive tapes provide another place for your logo, slogan or signature designs. This helps your brand stay front and centre from the moment your package gets shipped until it's opened. Amazon is a great example of this. You can’t help but think of them when you see a package with their unmistakable branded tape.
And with branded stickers, you can go one step further. Like branded tape, they can hold parts of your packaging in place and boost brand awareness. But you can also give them away as freebies for customers to use however they wish. With branded stickers, you’ll be sure to stay top-of-mind, even when the rest of your packaging has been sent for recycling.
7. Custom shaped boxes: break the mould
Who says packaging should be square or rectangular? Custom shapes let you think outside of the box (pun intended) and can help your product stand out in a sea of conventional packaging. They add a surprise element and show your brand’s creativity.
Think of Toblerone's iconic triangular packaging. It does more than visually separate it from other chocolate bars. The shape makes customers think of far-away mountains, giving them an experience beyond the sugar hit.
Of course, the company has also thought about the logistics of stacking and shipping their product. Triangular prisms fit together pretty neatly, but the same can’t be said for circular boxes. Some shapes will lead to a lot of wasted space and increased shipping costs. So keep this in mind to balance uniqueness with efficiency.
8. Playful interiors: the unboxing experience
Creating a memorable unboxing experience involves more than a striking packaging exterior. Exciting interiors, such as custom-shaped inserts, colours, and decorations, bring your customer a whole new level of engagement and positive feelings.
The beauty brand Glossier, for instance, uses a clean, minimalistic exterior for its packaging. But they surprise customers with a fun, pink interior. The contrast creates a 'wow' moment and makes unboxing special. They also include hidden messages for the customer’s eyes only. It’s as if all the joy of receiving the package is a personal, exclusive secret.
9. Personalised touches: connecting with your customers
In a fast world where mass-production is the norm, personal touches can go a long way. In fact, 54% of consumers buying for the first time say that personalised communication affects whether they’ll buy from that brand again. So how can you personalise your packaging and delight your customers?
For starters, a handwritten note can be really special. Think about it — someone you don’t know has taken the time to write out your name. Wouldn’t that make you feel a connection to them? This is a great, low-cost approach for small brands that are just starting out and have manageable order volumes.
And if you don’t have the resources to handwrite personalised notes, don’t worry. Simply printing your customer’s name on your packaging materials can be effective. Think about how powerful the 2013 Share a Coke campaign was. For many customers, seeing their name on a bottle of Coke was novel and exciting, even if the contents were the same as always!
Personalised communication like this makes the whole buying process more human, enhancing the customer experience.
10. UV varnish: adding texture and luxury
If you think you’ve never seen UV varnish, think again. In fact, think specifically of an Apple product box and imagine running your finger over the apple logo. It feels different to the rest of the packaging, doesn’t it? That’s UV varnish.
This special type of varnish is cured under a UV light, hence the name. It can provide a visually striking and tactile difference to your packaging. And with a high-gloss finish, it gives a premium feel that customers equate with luxury and quality.
11. Luxury touches: elevate your packaging
Adding a touch of luxury to your packaging doesn't have to break the bank. There are plenty of simple yet effective elements you can embellish it with. Like reusable ribbons, tissue paper wrap, or pouches, which can add a sense of exclusivity and refinement. Some also double as added gifts for your customers.
Think back to that Tiffany box with its white ribbon. This thoughtful detail makes the receiving experience more luxurious and personal, and helps build the anticipation of seeing what’s inside.
12. Texture: adding a new dimension
How often have you mindlessly stroked a pet, ran your hands over the grass or sifted sand through your fingers? We humans are tactile creatures, and we love experiencing different textures.
You can create tactile experiences by using embossing or debossing in your packaging design. This sensory engagement adds that extra dimension to your packaging and sets it apart.
This is also important for accessibility. Creating inclusive packaging for visually impaired customers helps them read and enjoy your design. Like Kellogg's, whose braille packaging makes sure that children with eyesight challenges can still engage with it.
13. QR codes: bridging the physical and digital
Whether on your shampoo bottle, your favourite restaurant’s menu, or even your local library wall, QR codes are everywhere. And it’s not a passing trend.
Adding a QR code to your packaging gives your customers a quick and easy way to connect with your brand online. It can lead to exclusive content, special offers or even an augmented reality experience. And at the very least, it helps you save on materials, like promotional leaflets, and keeps your packaging designs uncluttered.
But your QR codes can do more for you than reinforce brand loyalty and promote exclusive content. Like yoghurt manufacturer Yeo Valley, who uses QR codes to educate customers about how they can put “nature first”.
14. Interactive packaging: fun with function
Interactive packaging transforms your package into a functional object or a fun activity. Die-cutting allows you to remove shapes or create specific configurations that will surprise your customers. Have fun with this and let your imagination run wild.
For example, your packaging could turn into a doll's house, a cookie oven, or provide puzzles and games. This not only adds a pleasing element to your packaging but also encourages users to engage with your brand more meaningfully. It’s one of the reasons children (and some adults) love McDonald’s Happy Meals.
Execute your packaging ideas with Sourceful
Whether you’re just starting out or you’re going through a rebrand, creating packaging that’s more than just a 'cardboard box' can seem daunting.
You want it to be memorable, make a solid brand statement, and resonate with your customers on a personal level. And you also need to be thinking about how to make your packaging more sustainable. It's a huge undertaking, especially when every other brand out there is trying to do the same thing.
But there are dozens of ways to stand out and create a connection with your customer. From playing with colour psychology to exploring a natural aesthetic, or creating an interactive unboxing experience.
And that’s where we come in.
At Sourceful, we’ve got the tools, products and the team to support you in your journey towards more sustainable, stylish packaging that’s not just a box, but an experience.
If you’re ready to get started, so are we.
What is fluting in corrugated packaging?
Corrugated board, the material used to make shipping boxes and mailer boxes, is made from three things: two sheets of kraft liner and one layer of fluting. Kraft liner is virgin paper that’s resistant to tearing and moisture, and is used for the outer layers of corrugated board. And fluting is the wavy, corrugated paper layer that’s sandwiched between the two sheets of liner. It’s what makes corrugated board rigid, durable and stackable, and without it, corrugated board wouldn’t actually be corrugated.
Fluting comes in different sizes, which are referred to as “flute profiles”. Some profiles are made from a single layer of fluting, like E-flute and B-flute, whilst others are made from two layers of fluting, like EB-flute. Each has its merits and limits, which is why it’s important to know what each means for your corrugated packaging. E-flute, for example, is ideal for printing on because of its high number of flutes (individual waves) per foot. This creates a smooth surface that doesn’t distort images and other artwork when printed on. At the same time, it’s too thin for shipping large, heavy products. Understanding flute profiles allows you to balance trade-offs and choose the fluting that best meets your exact needs.
Here’s a breakdown of four flute profiles you need to know about.
E flute is one of the thinnest flute profiles with a thickness of 1.5-2.0mm. This may not sound durable, but E flute has a high number of flutes (90) per foot. This not only creates the ideal surface for printing but offers excellent crush resistance too. E flute is also easy to fold, and it’s this balance of printability, durability and usability that makes it common for e-commerce packaging. Sourceful’s mailer boxes, for example, use E flute. Whilst E flute performs well in smaller sized boxes, its crush resistance starts to decrease at larger sizes. So if you’re shipping something big or heavy, a thicker flute profile may be a better choice for your corrugated packaging.
- Small boxes
- Print performance
B flute (2.5-3.5mm) is the most common flute profile for shipping boxes. As it’s thicker than E flute, it offers more cushioning and better puncture resistance, but it still has a smooth surface for printing on. This makes it a good, cost-effective alternative to E flute if you’re shipping slightly bigger products but don’t want to sacrifice too much print performance.
Where B flute does falter is shipping very heavy items. For this, you will need a double-walled flute profile (two layers of fluting combined) to give your product the most protection.
- Shipping boxes
- Optimising protection
- Mailer boxes
- Overall performance
As the name suggests, EB-flute (4.5-5.5mm)combines E-flute and B-flute into a double-walled material. Whereas the B-flute in EB-flute optimises durability, the E-flute optimises print performance. This makes it approximately 35% stronger than B-flute alone whilst maintaining a smooth outer surface for you to print on.
This combination may sound perfect, but like with all flute profiles, there are trade-offs. As a double-walled material, EB-flute is too thick to use in smaller boxes, like mailer boxes. And since it’s two flute profiles combined, it uses much more material than single-walled fluting. In turn, it’s more expensive and less sustainable, with a carbon footprint up to 40% higher than B-flute*. If you need to optimise both print performance and protection, EB-flute is a good choice, but using it without a purpose can create unnecessary costs and emissions for your corrugated packaging.
*Calculated using Sourceful’s live carbon footprint data. Learn more
- Optimising durability
- Optimising print performance
- Flood printing
BC flute is another double-walled material, but this time combining B flute and C flute. It’s one of the thickest flute profiles (7.0-8.0mm), and as a result one of the most durable, offering great cushioning and stacking strength.
The downside is that both B flute and C flute are thick flute profiles with a low number of flutes per foot. Because of this, BC flute doesn’t have the same print performance as EB flute and instead focuses almost exclusively on maximising protection. This is great for sending heavy items or stacking shipping boxes, but may not be the best option if branding is your priority.
- Maximising protection
- Heavy products
- Stacking strength
- Long transits
Choose your fluting profile
With Sourceful, you can choose your fluting as you create corrugated packaging online in real-time. For mailer boxes, E flute is the default option, but if you need something else, you can contact us to discuss creating a bespoke mailer box. For shipping boxes, you can choose between B flute, EB flute and BC flute, whichever works best for you.
Choosing fluting is just one part of creating corrugated packaging with Sourceful. You can also choose between materials, printing options and more for every product, and create right-sized packaging in minutes. Everything is done online, including workflows like proofing that traditionally take weeks to do offline.