6 more sustainable cosmetic packaging ideas in 2023
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.
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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]
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
Right-sized packaging is the opposite of shipping small products in big boxes. It’s packaging that minimises the empty space around your product — whilst not comprising its safety or your branding. Or put another way, right-sized packaging is the most effective, and most efficient, size packaging for your product.
The benefits of right-sized packaging are many. As a business, you reduce your material usage, which means fewer costs across procurement and production. And smaller, lighter packaging also means fewer costs across transport and storage. All of this means a smaller carbon footprint, less waste and a better, less frustrating customer experience.
Whilst right-sized packaging seems a logical choice, businesses are notorious for using oversized packaging. According to DHL, the average box is 40% too big for its contents. In part, this is because businesses often buy large volumes of stock packaging to reduce unit costs. As a result, they have just a few packaging options for all their products. Products are then shipped in the nearest fitting packaging, regardless of their size. In practice, this means companies end up shipping the product and all of the air around it, which is expensive and wasteful. To put the scale of this waste into context, eliminating the 40% excess volume DHL cite would mean 24 million fewer truckloads annually — in the USA alone.
Another catalyst of oversized packaging is e-commerce. Unlike traditional retail, e-commerce is more complex and more people are involved across fulfilment, freight and last mile delivery — with up to four times as many touch-points. And with more touch-points, the risk of damage increases. According to one study, the average package is dropped 17 times in transit. Businesses use oversized packaging and void fill to minimise this risk and avoid breakage costs. Reducing breakage is important, but many companies don’t realise that with right-sized packaging they can both minimise risk and reduce costs, all whilst being more sustainable.
Let’s dive deeper into why your business needs right-sized packaging.
1. Slash costs across your business
Right-sized packaging is an ideal strategy to reduce costs for any business. In fact, choosing right-sized packaging can have a fortunate snowball effect across your business. Smaller packaging means fewer material costs, which then means fewer production costs and handling fees. And it means fewer transport costs as more packages can fit on a pallet. Or if you’re sending single products via a courier or Royal Mail, your package may fit into a cheaper parcel bracket. And finally, you can store more products for less, which also increases your buffer stock — a useful way to build a more resilient supply chain.
One famous example of right-sized packaging is IKEA’s Ektorp sofa. IKEA’s engineers worked out that instead of shipping the sofa as one piece, they could break it down and ship it as parts. This allowed them to eliminate the air they were shipping (and paying for) and reduce the packaging size by 50%. For IKEA, the result was an annual saving of €1.2 million and 7,477 fewer trucks on the road every year.
2. Reduce your carbon footprint
Whilst IKEA reduced their packaging costs, they also reduced their carbon footprint. Fewer materials meant fewer resources and less energy used to produce those materials. And it meant significantly fewer transport emissions as well as less waste. Although there are exceptions, the rule of thumb is when you use less, your carbon footprint falls, and right-sized packaging is an opportunity to use less. It’s important to remember that right-sized packaging is about removing redundant materials and keeping those that serve a purpose. This makes it a simple way to create more sustainable packaging without jeopardising your product.
3. Create frustration-free packaging and empower your customers
Consumers are tired of bad packaging, so much so that they’ve started Reddit threads to showcase the worst examples. Youtube too is full of consumers venting their anger about oversized packaging.
Their irritation is twofold. First, oversized packaging is often frustrating to open, with unnecessary materials creating a more complex, sometimes overwhelming experience. And second, oversized packaging is wasteful. At a time when research is showing that consumers want to be more sustainable, using excessive packaging hinders their efforts and doesn’t reflect their values. Right-sized packaging, however, addresses both parts of their annoyance. By keeping material usage down, it creates a frustration-free packaging experience and empowers your customers to play a part in reducing waste. A win-win for them and you.
Managing right-sized packaging is hard, but Sourceful can help
As great as right-sized packaging is, it isn’t perfect. Problems often arise because right-sized packaging is only right for one product, which means you may end up with a lot of packaging SKUs. Managing this can be tricky, but with the right tools, it doesn’t have to be. With Sourceful, you can use smart tools like Auto-Stock to manage, track and replenish your packaging in one place. You can also store everything in Sourceful’s warehouse. Fast-growing brands like Zoe and Floom already use Auto-Stock to easily manage their packaging, no matter how much they have. Want to learn more? Contact us.
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