14 ways to make your packaging more sustainable
In the last five years, online searches for sustainable goods have increased by 71%. Customers are not just concerned with quality and price, but are also seeking value-aligned brands committed to sustainability.
Using recyclable, environmentally friendly materials in your packaging is a great place to start adopting more sustainable practices. But, there are other opportunities in your packaging’s design, manufacturing and disposal stages that can make it even more sustainable.
We’ve put together a list of strategies that you can use at each of these stages to make your packaging more eco-friendly.
14 strategies to make your packaging more eco-friendly
- Reduce packaging size
- Know your product’s carbon footprint
- Reduce waste with virtual sampling
- Source renewable materials
- Opt for recycled plastic over virgin
- Use eco-friendly void fillers and inserts
- Choose more sustainable colour solutions
- Use sustainable, easily separated adhesives
- Optimise packaging storage
- Choose economy over express delivery
- Offset your transportation emissions
- Offer return, refill and reuse options
- Provide repurposing inspiration
- Label clearly to make recycling easier
Design your packaging intelligently
Intelligent packaging design involves considering the function of your packaging. Whilst it can be tempting to give your materials a complete overhaul, you might find you can make your packaging more sustainable just by tweaking what you’re already working with.
Considering your packaging’s design, before any physical products are created, can go a long way in greening up your supply chain further down the line.
1. Reduce packaging size
A huge opportunity to become more sustainable is to see how much air you’re shipping. The average box is 40% too big for its contents, which increases its carbon footprint as this makes storage and transportation less efficient. Oversized packaging can also frustrate customers, with 81% of people believing that companies use excessive amounts of packaging.
A quick check can tell you how snugly your products fit. Can they be rearranged so that you can ship less air and reduce your packaging size? This means you can use fewer materials and void fillers, leading to a smaller environmental impact and reduced procurement costs.
Smaller packaging also allows you to transport more products at the same time, reducing emissions and costs per item. It also reduces the risk of damage during transport, which means fewer returns and increased customer loyalty — a win-win all around.
2. Know your product’s carbon footprint
A reliable carbon footprint estimate allows you to see your product’s environmental impact from cradle to grave. But calculating a reliable estimate can be a challenge as complex, multi-stage supply chains often have tens if not hundreds of variables.
That’s why we created Impact Engine. It combines data from manufacturers and leading emissions databases to give you a live view of your packaging’s carbon footprint. You can then use this to evaluate design decisions, compare ideas and reduce your footprint.
3. Reduce waste with virtual sampling
Thanks to the digital revolution, businesses can now use virtual sampling to make design decisions before seeing a physical product. This replaces the traditional trial and error process, where a prototype might be sent back and forth several times before agreeing on a design.
Services like our online design studio allow you to design and visualise your packaging in real time, which means you can test countless ideas without ever creating sampling waste.
In addition to reduced waste, virtual sampling also means reduced manual labour, wait times and sampling costs.
Choose more sustainable materials
In 2018, the average European citizen generated 174 kg of waste. But 85% of customers claim to have adopted ‘greener’ behaviours in recent years, with 34% willing to pay more for more eco-friendly solutions. This is encouraging for businesses, as it shows that the customer demand for more sustainable packaging is there.
Customers aren’t the only ones putting pressure on businesses to adopt more sustainable practices though, as governments crack down on waste through new regulations such as the Plastic Packaging Tax.
Changing the materials in your packaging is a big step towards becoming more sustainable, whilst helping you stay ahead of regulations and encouraging brand loyalty.
4. Source renewable materials
It may come as a surprise, but paper and card-based products can be some of the most sustainable packaging materials. This is because most kerbside recycling schemes will collect them and customers know how to dispose of them in the most sustainable way.
Look for packaging materials that are Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified. The FSC is a global, non-profit organisation that promotes responsible forestry and ensures certified materials meet specific sustainability criteria.
Some of our products that are FSC-certified include:
1. Mailer boxes
3. Gummed tape
There are also more exciting and unusual solutions coming into the mainstream that use natural resources. For example, mycelium packaging, made from mushrooms, can provide a more sustainable alternative to polystyrene. Seaweed is another innovative packaging material that can replicate the properties of plastic but with a reduced environmental impact.
5. Choose recycled plastic over virgin plastic
The reason we have a plastic pollution problem is the same reason that plastic has been so popular: it is durable, waterproof, and hard to break down. If you need packaging with these qualities, consider using recycled plastic packaging. This takes plastic products which are already in circulation and repurposes them, as we’ve done with recycled our mailer bags.
You can choose between a mailer bag made with 30% recycled plastic, for better print performance, or 98% recycled plastic, if sustainability is your top priority. Recycled plastic requires up to three times less energy to create than virgin plastic, saving you up to 30% of emissions compared with a virgin plastic bag. When their job is done, our recycled mailer bags can be dropped off at a local recycling collection point, further decreasing their environmental impact.
6. Use eco-friendly void fillers and inserts
Delivery issues, including damage to products, can be off-putting for customers and harm a business’s reputation. So it’s important your products arrive at their destination as intended. But, when space around your product and in your packaging is unavoidable, and you need to keep your products safe during transit, using eco-friendly dividers and inserts means you can say goodbye to harmful packing peanuts and bubble wrap.
Our FSC-certified corrugated dividers and custom inserts are simple, cost-effective and roadside recyclable, making them more environmentally friendly than traditional alternatives like plastic. Or, for an impressive unboxing experience, our sugarcane pulp inserts can keep your products in place and on display without the same environmental impact that plastic inserts have.
7. Choose more sustainable inks
Unboxing a beautifully designed package is now an essential part of the customer experience. It’s the first time your customer will see your product, so a good first impression is vital. In fact, a correlation exists between gift-like packaging and a rush of neurochemicals to the brain, giving customers a feel-good boost and increasing the chances of them buying again.
Unboxing can play a key part of your business’s marketing strategy. A favourable review online spreads brand awareness and gives e-commerce customers more confidence in purchasing. So whilst sustainability matters, so does the appearance of your product when it reaches your customer.
But you don’t have to compromise sustainability for appearance. When you design your packaging with Sourceful, you can print designs using a range of water-based inks, which have a carbon footprint that’s 30-40% lower than solvent-based inks and don't contain harmful chemicals.
What’s more, many of our packaging products are made using natural kraft paper, which is great for printing on. Unbleached kraft paper is the more sustainable option and works well with simple, bold designs. Bleached is the less sustainable option, but it’s better for vibrant colours.
8. Use more sustainable, easily separated adhesives
Recycling is a great way to keep materials in circulation and avoid them going to waste. But recycling is harder if the bonds between materials are impossible to separate, as the packaging can’t be deconstructed. This could mean that it ends up in landfill instead, where it can emit harmful greenhouse gases.
A way to solve this is to use natural materials that can be recycled, such as our gummed tape. It uses FSC-certified kraft paper and a starch-based adhesive that doesn’t affect recyclability. What’s more, it doesn’t leave the same sticky residue as plastic-based tapes, which makes recycling your packaging easier.
Designing for deconstruction when a product reaches the end of its life is a simple yet effective way to make your packaging more sustainable.
Maximise transit and storage efficiency
Experts predict that the e-commerce industry will continue to grow at a rate of 10-20% per year. Additional infrastructure and transportation on a global scale will be required to accommodate this growth. So, to reduce their environmental impact and save on costs, businesses can improve the efficiency of their storage and transportation systems.
9. Optimise packaging storage
The purpose of packaging is to protect a product and, in many cases, extend its shelf life. But packaging itself also has a shelf life. Corrugated cardboard, for example, does a great job of protecting products thanks to its fluted structures. Expose it to moisture or temperature fluctuations, however, and you may find it loses its strength sooner than you expected.
It can be tempting to stock up on packaging to make sure dwindling supplies never catch you out. But packaging that’s been damaged by improper storage means increased waste, increased replacement materials and increased costs to your business.
One solution is to automate stock replenishment using an inventory management system, such as Auto-Stock. This allows you to accurately track your stock levels, avoiding both overstocking and potential waste.
10. Choose economy over express delivery
Sea freight is a great way to reduce your packaging’s carbon footprint. Cargo ships are spacious, which allows you to transport more of your product in the same trip, saving transport costs in the process. What’s more, sea freight emits 47 times fewer emissions than air freight does, making it a much more sustainable shipping option.
Although shipping by sea can be up to ten times slower than air freight, it doesn’t have to impact your business. By knowing your product’s lead times, you can build a slower delivery method into your business strategy.
Of course, some products need to be delivered in a short time frame, so if air freight is the only option, you might consider offsetting the emissions instead.
11. Offset your transport emissions
If you need to transport your product over long distances, this can undo all of the work you’ve done to make your product more sustainable. Working with a local supplier can reduce the distance your packaging needs to travel, which in turn reduces harmful emissions. If that's not an option though, you can consider offsetting them.
You may hear the words “carbon offsetting” and think “greenwashing.” But there are reliable carbon offsetting programs that don’t solve one problem by creating one elsewhere. At Sourceful, we work with some of the best carbon removal projects in the world, like Charm Industrial. And unlike other offsetting projects such as planting trees, our project partners remove carbon permanently from the atmosphere. A truly long-term solution.
Engage and empower customers
Shifting consumer patterns show that customers are looking to buy from value-aligned brands. As a result, businesses are embracing more sustainable practices to both retain and grow their client base. But customers can be suspicious of sustainability claims, citing a lack of transparency in the supply chain.
Customers are fundamental to every business’s success. So, involving them in your sustainability efforts can demonstrate to them how committed your business is to creating positive environmental change.
Next, we’ll discuss how you can empower customers so that they can take control of your packaging’s end-of-life in the most sustainable way possible.
12. Offer return, refill and reuse options
From cereals to cleaning products, companies are considering how to switch from single-use to refillable packaging. Refilling at home involves customers buying a product refill and transferring its contents to their existing containers at home. Refilling on the go sees customers taking their packaging to refill stations in shops and supermarkets and replenishing it with the required product.
If a refill station isn’t available for a particular product, businesses, such as those in the beauty industry, can encourage their customers to send back their empty containers to be refilled and sent back to them, or simply returned. This can save countless amounts of plastic ending up in waterways and landfill and avoid the cost of sourcing new packaging.
Building return and refill options into business models can be a great way to encourage loyalty amongst consumers who are seeking brands that put sustainability at the heart of their operations.
13. Inspire customers to reuse
It’s a well-known tale among parents: painstakingly choosing a gift for their child, only for the child to get more enjoyment from the box it came in, rather than the gift itself. That’s because the creative potential of packaging is limitless — just like our imaginations.
An empty box can be a spaceship, a cosy bed for a pet, a mini garden or a home for family photos to name but a few possibilities. Amazon’s campaign “Less Packaging, More Smiles” aimed to encourage this kind of reuse. They printed a scannable QR code on their packaging, which linked to a webpage where customers could find ways to give their packaging a second life.
Involving customers in what happens to your packaging creates collaboration and can go a long way in making it more sustainable.
14. Label clearly to make recycling easier
Over 75% of the global population agrees that recycling is important and 64% feel personally responsible for taking climate action. But, variations in what can and can’t be recycled and in which locations can frustrate and deter customers from recycling at all.
Our packaging comes clearly labelled with recycling symbols, which helps consumers know how to recycle them. This leads to fewer products ending up in landfills and waterways.
Make your packaging more sustainable with Sourceful
From cradle to grave, there are many opportunities in your packaging’s life to make it more sustainable. And increasingly customers are choosing to align themselves with brands that are embracing planet-friendly practices.
At Sourceful, we're passionate about helping brands create more sustainable packaging. If you're curious about how we can help your business become more sustainable, let’s talk.
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