Choosing a packaging tape may seem like a fairly straightforward task. Until you realise how many types there are, each with different strengths (literally). Combine that with sustainability concerns and a heap of customisation options and you’ll soon see it’s not as simple as you thought.
But making a choice doesn’t have to be too challenging. To help, we’ve compared two of the most sustainable custom tapes against a few more traditional tapes. Once you know their key features, you can see which ones align with your business and sustainability goals and choose the right one for you.
Most sustainable packaging tapes in 2023
More sustainable tapes
- Gummed Tape
- Self-Adhesive Paper Tape
- Brown Polypropylene
- Clear Polypropylene
- Coloured Polypropylene
- Vinyl Packaging
- Reinforced Glass Filament
More sustainable tapes
1. Gummed Tape
Gummed tape is the ultimate paper packaging companion. And yes, we’re a little biased — but with good reason.
Gummed tape is a kraft paper tape with a starch-based adhesive that’s activated by water. When applied to paper packaging, like a cardboard box, it doesn’t just stick like regular tape — it fuses to your packaging. This creates a strong bond and a tamper-evident seal as you can’t remove the tape without ripping the package.
Under the right conditions, it can secure packages up to 15kg in weight. And the packaging — gummed tape included — can be recycled at the kerbside once used. That’s a major advantage over plastic tape, which nearly always can’t be recycled. In fact, we’ve done the maths and found that using gummed tape instead of plastic tape can reduce your carbon footprint by up to 50%.
And the pros don’t stop there. Gummed tape offers a fantastic branding opportunity. You can easily print your logo, slogan and other artwork directly onto the tape, helping your packaging stand out and generating brand awareness.
- Plastic free
- Kerbside recyclable
- Available as FSC certified
- Long shelf life
- Needs a tape dispenser
- Slow to apply due to bonding process
- Only suitable for paper and card packaging
2. Self-adhesive paper tape
Self-adhesive tape is another paper-based tape with similar benefits to gummed tape.
For starters, it’s strong, securing packages up to 10kg. It’s also customisable, so you can add your logo, instructions for handlers or delightful messages for customers. And as the name suggests, “self-adhesive” means it doesn't need any specialised dispensers, making it quick and easy to use.
One key difference between this and gummed tape is that self-adhesive tape uses a solvent to stick to your packaging. The disadvantage here is that it makes it slightly less sustainable than gummed tape’s water-activated bonding adhesive. But an advantage is that it can stick to a wider range of surfaces.
Using self-adhesive tape can still reduce your carbon footprint by up to 20% compared to plastic tape. But it’s important to note that the adhesive means the tape fibres themselves aren’t easily recyclable. Though as long as there’s not a huge amount of tape used, it won’t create any recycling problems for the paper packaging it’s attached to.
- Kerbside recyclable
- No dispenser needed
- Available as FSC certified
- Suitable for a range of packaging materials
- Affected by humidity
- Not as durable as plastic tapes
- Shorter shelf life than gummed tape (~6 months)
3. Brown polypropylene tape
This is your standard, widely recognised brown parcel tape. It’s cheap and does a good enough job sealing packages. It blends with brown boxes, which might be your desired look, but it can look untidy against different coloured boxes.
Of course, it’s made from plastic, so it’s non-recyclable and has a higher carbon footprint than paper-based tapes.
- Moisture resistant
- Not recyclable
- High carbon footprint
4. Clear polypropylene tape
This tape is like brown packaging tape, except it’s transparent. This can be good if you don’t want your tape to conceal your packaging’s designs or instructions.
It’s available in a wide range of widths and thicknesses, which is helpful when you want to reduce the materials you're using. But, once again, it’s a non-recyclable, plastic tape with a higher carbon footprint than paper tapes.
- Suitable for a range of packaging materials
- Not recyclable
- High carbon footprint
- Hard to remove cleanly
- Noticeable on darker packaging
5. Coloured polypropylene tape
The difference between this and the other propylene tapes is that it comes in a range of colours. This can be useful when organising packaging during handling and shipping or for drawing attention to it.
- Allows for colour coding
- Suitable for a range of packaging materials
- Not recyclable
- High carbon footprint
- Limited colour options
6. Vinyl packaging tape
Vinyl tape is a heavy-duty tape that’s stronger than standard polypropylene (PP) tape. It’s less likely to tear or burst than PP tape and the adhesive can withstand colder temperatures, so it’s potentially a good choice for refrigerated goods.
- Highly durable
- Moisture resistant
- Variety of colours available
- Can be printed on to include instructions
- Not recyclable
- High carbon footprint
7. Reinforced glass filament tape
Reinforced glass filament tape is a strong, plastic tape suited to particularly heavy goods. The glass filaments can be added to run in one direction or be cross woven. Both of these create extra resistance and added security.
- Moisture resistant
- Suitable for a range of packaging materials
- Not recyclable
- Leaves residue
- Often hard to cut or tear
How to find the best packaging tape for your business
So now you know the key features of the most popular tapes. And you might already have an idea about what you want and what you don’t want in the one you choose. But before deciding, make sure you’ve thought about the following four key considerations.
- Ease of use
- Environmental impact
- Strength and durability
1. Ease of use
In any business, you want things to run as smoothly as possible. So, when choosing between packaging tapes, think about ease of application and convenience.
Some tapes, like gummed tape, may need a dispenser to activate the adhesive, whilst self-adhesive paper tape can be easily applied without any extra tools. There’s also the issue of noise. Packaging centres can be noisy places, and some tapes, like polypropylene, can add to that quite a bit. Although you can find “low-noise” variations, this can affect your team and slow down the packaging process.
It’s also worth weighing convenience up with sustainability. For example, gummed tape might take that a little bit longer to apply, but with a significantly smaller carbon footprint than plastic tapes, you might decide those few extra seconds are worth it.
Many businesses use a run-of-the-mill tape that simply does what it’s made for. But why not choose one that helps you stand out by going above and beyond its original function?
Using your packaging tape as a marketing opportunity is a great way to drive brand awareness. Custom tapes can get your logo out there and showcase your brand personality. And they’re also an opportunity to delight customers, showing them you pay attention to the little details that add to their unboxing experience.
3. Environmental impact
Sustainability may be one of your top priorities. Or it could be something you haven’t really thought about until now. But with the world of commerce shifting towards increased producer responsibilities, it’s best to stay ahead of the curve and reduce your packaging’s environmental impact. Tape included.
Switching from traditional plastic tape to paper-based tape, like gummed or self-adhesive, can significantly reduce your carbon footprint. This matters because customers are increasingly looking to buy from brands with strong sustainability agendas.
So choosing a tape that helps to reduce your environmental impact — instead of increasing it — is not just better for the environment but also for your business.
4. Strength and durability
It goes without saying that if your product doesn’t arrive intact, your customer won’t be happy. This can lead to financial losses in returns, as well as reduced customer loyalty as they switch to more reliable brands.
So, make sure your tape holds up against the weight of your package, weather conditions and any rough handling it might go through during transit.
And don’t forget that heavy-handed treatment isn’t the only risk to your package. Package theft is on the rise. And who’s to say that an opportunist won’t open your package, take what’s inside and seal it back up for your unsuspecting customer to receive?
That’s where stronger tapes come in. These will rip the packaging when removed, making any tampering obvious. Tapes such as gummed tape, with its unique bonding properties, are great deterrents for anyone thinking of practising their sleight-of-hand.
Make your packaging more sustainable with Sourceful’s packaging tapes
As you’ve seen, there’s quite a range to choose from when it comes to packaging tapes. But making the right choice doesn’t have to be hard.
For example, a basic brown packaging tape isn’t ideal if you’re looking for strength. And if sustainability is at the top of your priorities list, you’ll rule out all the plastic tapes mentioned, leaving just two to choose between: self-adhesive tape and gummed paper tape.
If you’re looking for a tape that you can brand and which sticks to a variety of packaging materials, self-adhesive tape is the one for you. Or if you want one that bonds to your paper packaging to create a stylish, secure and more sustainable seal, gummed tape is your best bet.
And if you’re still unsure, reach out to one of our experts. Get in touch
If you find the paper vs. plastic debate confusing, you’re not alone. From how much energy is used in manufacturing to the difference in recyclability, there’s a lot of conflicting information out there. All whilst you’re trying to strike the balance between sustainability and your bottom line.
But armed with the right information, you can settle the paper vs. plastic debate once and for all.
Paper vs. plastic: Which is more sustainable?
74% of paper is recycled in the UK, compared to just 6% of flexible plastic. And sourcing paper from responsibly managed forests is less harmful (environmentally and socially) than extracting the oil needed to make plastic. Although paper does release some methane when breaking down, it breaks down completely in weeks. On the flip side, plastic hangs around for hundreds of years and leaves harmful chemicals behind.
As the debate heats up you’ll need to weigh up these pros and cons so you can make the best decision for your business.
Pros of paper
Paper is the most recycled packaging material in the UK, with a recycling rate of 74%. That’s a stark contrast to plastic, where only 6% of flexible plastic is recycled. That includes things like plastic films, bags and wraps; pretty much anything you can scrunch. And the story’s even worse in the US: only 5-6% of total plastic waste is recycled there.
Paper isn’t infinitely recyclable. But a single paper product can be recycled several times before losing its original quality. This reduces the pressure on forests as fewer virgin materials are needed to create new products.
And that’s not all. The fact that paper is so easily recyclable means less of it goes to landfill. Landfill waste is notorious for releasing methane, a greenhouse gas thirty-four times more harmful to the climate than carbon dioxide. So, by choosing paper, you’re also diverting waste away from landfill.
“Recycling one tonne of paper can save 17 trees, 7000 gallons of water, 3 cubic yards of landfill space, and 60 pounds of air pollutants.” — Massachusetts Institute of Technology
2. Responsible sourcing
Responsible forestry is real. And it’s surprisingly common. What’s more, sourcing paper from responsibly managed forests has nowhere near the harmful impact that oil extraction for plastic has.
For starters, trees store carbon as part of the short carbon cycle, which can help tackle climate change. Now you would be cutting the trees down to make paper. But because paper is so widely recycled, the carbon stored in paper is kept out of the atmosphere for longer than if, for example, trees were left to rot. In other words, it’ll mostly get put back into new products for as long as it continues to be recycled.
But responsible is the key word here. Because cutting down trees must be done with the wider picture in mind. This means securing the longer-term integrity of the forest and staying clear of ancient or endangered forest.
So when choosing paper as a packaging material, look for certifiers like the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). An FSC label on your packaging is proof of your responsible sourcing efforts and shows climate-conscious customers that you care.
By choosing paper from these types of forests, you're supporting responsible practices and promoting better industry standards. With plastic, this isn't possible.
3. An established supply chain
Despite the rise of digitisation, paper packaging isn't going anywhere. Paper is part of an established industry that's been around for centuries. Because of this, it's widely available. And this also makes it one of the cheapest options out there. It can also be cheaper than some novel alternatives that don't necessarily deliver more impact.
Plastic, however, doesn’t have the same supply chain security as paper. One reason is plastic’s dependency on fossil fuels, which means as a packaging material it’s highly vulnerable to fluctuations in oil prices as well as geopolitical issues. And as the world continues to learn about plastic pollution, governments are bringing in new regulations against production and usage. In turn, this is also disrupting the plastic supply chain.
When it comes to reliability and deliverability, paper wins this round.
4. Breaks down easily
“Biodegradable” means that a material can be quickly broken down by bacteria or fungus under natural conditions. This includes all organic materials, like food scraps and —you guessed it — paper. Plastic on the other hand is a synthetic material. And unlike paper, it can take hundreds of years to break down, all whilst leaving microplastics behind which are a threat to ecosystems and health.
But biodegrading isn’t the best outcome for paper, or any packaging material really. That’s because whether it’s in landfill, on a compost heap or leaked into the environment, packaging breaks down and releases methane. Recycling is always the better option.
In the unfortunate event that your paper packaging doesn’t get recycled, at least its environmental impact will be less than that of plastic. Another point for paper.
Cons of paper
1. Barrier properties
If you’re using paper as your packaging material, its barrier properties are something you need to think about.
Paper isn’t water-resistant and air can flow through it. Of course, this isn’t a problem for all products. But it could affect those that must stay fresh or protected from external factors. Another caveat is that paper packaging is more easily damaged by moisture or humidity than plastic, which might affect your product’s quality or safety.
Luckily, there are ways to work around these limitations. For example, paper packaging can be coated or lined with other materials to improve its barrier properties. And these linings don’t have to be plastic or contain toxic chemicals. In fact, our HydroTec Paper Pouch has a water-based lining and keeps products fresh for up to 18 months (if you can resist the contents for that long).
These new developments mean even fewer reasons not to switch to paper packaging.
2. Energy efficiency
When it comes to paper manufacturing, the energy needed does indeed result in greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental impacts. But the good news is that the paper industry is becoming more energy efficient. Take the UK’s UPM Shotton paper mill, which runs on 100% solar energy during daytime hours.
Another way to reduce energy usage is to use recycled paper in your packaging. Compared with virgin paper, producing recycled paper uses anywhere between 28% and 70% less energy, as well as less water.
So, whilst energy efficiency has traditionally been a concern, progress in paper production is being made. Whereas plastic production still requires a lot of energy.
3. Can contain synthetic components
Paper isn’t resistant to moisture. So, until now, you’d need to line any liquid or oily product’s packaging with something extra. And that’s where PFAS came in.
Per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are used to make paper products water and oil-resistant. But they come with a range of health and environmental concerns. In fact, you might know them under their more common name — forever chemicals.
Thanks to better technology, it is possible to limit or avoid the use of PFAS completely. But many suppliers aren’t doing this, so you’ll still see a lot of PFAS-lined products on the market. And PFAS aren’t the only problem. Because producing paper can involve other toxic chemicals like bleach and dyes.
So does that mean giving up on paper? Thankfully, no. Instead, you can limit the use of bleaching and synthetic materials in your paper packaging. To be on the safe side, make sure you work with a reputable supplier that knows their industry and embraces transparency.
Pros of plastic
1. Recycled content
There’s been a fair bit of innovation in response to the plastic packaging waste crisis. Now, plenty of products do contain some recycled plastic content and stricter regulations mean this is increasing.
But the catch is, no plastic is perfectly recyclable. And the production of plastic packaging still creates a demand for virgin plastic — a finite resource.
So if you have to use plastic packaging, use materials with a lot of recycled content. This can reduce the need for virgin plastics as well as your CO2e emissions. In fact, our data shows that recycling just one tonne of plastic can avoid up to 1.4 tonnes of CO2e emissions compared to placing it in general waste. And using recycled content in packaging can reduce whole lifecycle emissions by up to 30% when compared to using virgin plastic.
Remember that not all plastics are created equally. And most don’t get recycled at the same rate as paper. So, pay attention to the specific type of plastic being used and aim for a high level of recycled content.
When it comes to packaging, durability matters. Plastic packaging has a clear advantage in this area. It can withstand multiple uses and exposure to water — ideal for products that need high barriers, protection or waterproofing. In fact, plastic packaging is generally more resistant to damage than paper packaging and is less likely to tear or puncture.
Of course, this all depends on whether your product needs that durability in the first place. Traditional plastic packaging can usually be swapped out for paper packaging that’s just as efficient. For example, clothing will be sufficiently protected by a paper mailer, which can be recycled after use.
So plastic wins on durability. It’s up to you to decide whether that’s a good thing and if you can swap it out for paper packaging instead.
Plastic packaging can be manufactured in large quantities with high-speed processes. That leads to lower production costs and reduces the overall cost of packaging. And plastic typically weighs less than paper too. This can help reduce transportation costs and emissions because you need less fuel to transport the same amount of product.
Of course, the cost savings of plastic packaging come with a huge cost to the environment. Plastic waste and pollution have become a global problem, and businesses must weigh the benefits of cost savings against the potential long-term damage.
If you have to use plastic packaging, make sure it contains recycled content and can be recycled once used.
Cons of plastic
1: High carbon footprint
Plastic’s environmental impact starts at the very beginning: extraction.
Plastic is made from oil — a fossil fuel. At its most basic, oil is just concentrated carbon from plants and animals that lived millions of years ago. To extract oil, you need to burn it. And this burning creates a greenhouse effect around the earth, accelerating global warming.
Then, to produce anything plastic, you need a lot of energy. This process also releases large amounts of greenhouse gases, especially carbon dioxide. And the carbon footprint of plastic doesn't stop there. Because once used, any plastic product that isn’t recycled leaks into the environment or landfills and releases methane.
So choosing plastic packaging means contributing to a colossal carbon footprint and the production of persistent waste. That’s in contrast to paper, which boasts responsible forestry options, better recycling rates and quicker breakdown times.
2. Harmful to the environment
Plastic’s durability can be seen as a strength compared to paper. But in the long term, it’s a major weakness. Plastic waste takes hundreds to thousands of years to degrade, releasing harmful greenhouse gases and contributing to climate change.
And low recycling rates around the world mean that plastic waste is building up in landfills and oceans alarmingly fast. In fact, the current amount of plastic waste in the world is set to triple by 2060.
Why is this a problem? Because animals eat this plastic waste, mistaking it for food. This can build up in their bodies and eventually kill them. Or they can die from entanglement, for example in bags or plastic rings for canned drinks.
Meanwhile, microplastics — manufactured beads or bits of packaging that have broken away — are also increasing. The UN estimates that there are 51 trillion microplastic particles in our seas. That’s 500 times more than stars in the galaxy. These are harmful to tourism and fishing industries, and cause huge damage to marine ecosystems.
So paper wins on the environmental front. Because if it does leak into the environment, at least it breaks down within weeks and doesn’t leave toxic fragments behind.
If you go shopping for new plastic Tupperware or a water bottle, you’ll probably see quite a few “BPA-free” labels. That’s because consumers are becoming increasingly aware of a major health hazard that comes with using plastic: its toxicity.
Many types of plastic packaging contain chemicals that can be toxic to humans and the environment. One major one is BPA (bisphenol A), which is commonly used in plastic production. This is a hormone disruptor that interferes with the normal functioning of our bodies. It’s also known to create developmental problems in children.
There are plenty of paper options that come minimally processed (like natural kraft paper) which can still be splashproof and even leak resistant. So there’s really no reason to settle for this kind of toxic plastic packaging anymore.
4. Recycling challenges
Customers are engaging with recycling like never before. But despite this goodwill, recycling plastic packaging comes with its own set of challenges.
Even when plastic is recycled, it’s usually downcycled. This means its quality and usefulness decrease with each recycling cycle. So there’s a limit on the amount of high-quality recycled plastic products, perpetuating the demand for virgin plastics.
Another major issue is that not all plastics are accepted by recycling programs. So they might end up in general waste after all. This includes bioplastics, which need special industrial processes to break down.
It’s easy to hope that recycling will help us out of the plastic packaging waste crisis, but that’s far from the truth. Whilst recycling is important, it's better to reduce your reliance on plastic and use more sustainable materials instead.
5. Bad for business
There’s no doubt that until now, plastic has had some important applications, like keeping food and medicine safe for use. But in today’s story, plastic is becoming the supervillain. And this has implications for business.
Firstly, the public perception of plastic has shifted. Consumers are aware of the negative impact of excessive plastic use and are seeking out brands with a commitment to sustainability. So using plastic packaging can be seen as a lack of responsibility, which can harm your reputation.
Next, there are initiatives like Plastic Packaging Tax as part of new extended producer responsibilities. These aim to reduce single-use plastics and encourage businesses to use more sustainable alternatives. Failure to do so can result in higher costs to your company.
So by embracing more sustainable alternatives, you ensure your business complies with regulations and avoids increased costs. And as a bonus, you get to boost your brand image whilst meeting the demand for more environmentally responsible products.
Which is better for your business?
In the search for more sustainable packaging solutions, one thing is clear: we need to part ways with single-use plastic. It's damaging to the atmosphere, depleting natural (and finite) resources and harming ecosystems.
Now, as a packaging material, paper isn't without its drawbacks. It may be less durable than plastic, and there are certain products it’s not the best choice for. But paper’s recyclability, renewable nature and lower environmental impact make it a better and more sustainable option for many products.
By choosing paper packaging instead of plastic, you can reduce your carbon footprint, contribute to recycling efforts and divert waste from landfills. And for when you really need plastic properties, opt for recycled over virgin plastic. This way, you’ll also be more aligned with the growing consumer demand for more responsible packaging solutions.
More sustainable packaging from Sourceful
Choosing paper over plastic is a chance to showcase your commitment to the environment and set your brand apart from the competition. And at Sourceful, we offer a wide range of paper packaging options to help you make the switch.
Paper is a packaging material that’s stood the test of time. Although it might not be the most novel, its versatility means it’s still one of the most exciting packaging materials to work with.
With every colour, shape and size imaginable, it’s a great way to make your brand stand out. And, when sourced and manufactured responsibly, paper can offer an alternative to less sustainable options like plastic.
That being said, paper isn’t without its limitations. Knowing these can help you choose the most suitable paper packaging for your product, without compromising on protection.
Benefits of paper for packaging
- Responsible sourcing
- Consumer preference
That’s because recycling paper is pretty easy. It doesn’t need to be sorted into specific sub-materials and is all processed into the same pulp. Then, it’s dried to the desired thickness and rolled onto large sheets, ready to be made into new products. High temperatures or specialised processes aren’t needed. So the process is easier and less energy intensive than recycling plastic or metal.
And because it’s so widely recycled, less of it gets sent to landfills compared to other packaging materials. That’s good because when degradable packaging waste breaks down in landfills, it releases methane — a greenhouse gas that accelerates climate change. So, by choosing recyclable paper packaging, you’re helping to reduce methane emissions compared to the alternatives.
Paper can also be recycled several times before losing its quality, so your packaging can contain lots of recycled content. This means you use fewer virgin materials, which reduces the pressure on forests.
The paper industry is well-established, with a long history going back centuries. Because of this, paper comes at an affordable cost compared to newer and more novel materials which often cost more but offer no extra value.
So, paper is widely available and reliable. But it's also easy (and cheap) to customise. You can create all kinds of shapes and forms, helping you optimise storage and shipping space. This creates further cost savings as you’re able to ship more products in one go.
In fact, flower delivery business Floom did just that. With Sourceful's help, they switched from an ill-fitting standard sized box to two new bespoke ones which reduced their packaging costs by 15%.
And if you reduce your packaging size, as you can easily do with our custom-sized mailer boxes, you can bring down your environmental impact by up to 12%.
The beauty of paper is how easy it is to fold and cut into any shape and size. This means the freedom to create packaging that suits your product's unique needs. Whether you need a simple box, an intricately folded design or a unique shape that reflects your brand identity, paper can deliver.
And it's not just about aesthetics. Paper can be produced for strength and protection too. Think about the familiar corrugated cardboard box. That wavy sheet in between the box’s walls is called the fluting and it comes in different sizes. So you can choose the exact level of strength your packaging needs, without wasting materials (or money).
Paper is also versatile enough to replace other common but less sustainable packaging. For example, our honeycomb mailer is inspired by one of the strongest, most efficient structures in nature — the honeycomb. Its latticed configuration makes it resistant to light impact, so you can wave goodbye to plastic bubble wrap and air pillows.
4. Responsible sourcing
Forests support life, act as carbon storage and are key to mitigating climate change. And responsible forest management has positive social effects as well as environmental ones. For starters, it creates jobs and income for local communities. And it can help to preserve cultural values and traditions too.
When you source paper from responsibly managed forests, you’re supporting these communities, as well as more sustainable supply chains. So, look for certifications like the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) or the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC). These organisations aim to guarantee that the paper you’re using is sourced under responsible practices.
The icing on the cake is being able to add an FSC label to your packaging. This helps you showcase your commitment to sustainability and stand out amongst your competitors.
Electronics retailer HP is a great example of this. As a printing specialist, HP’s products centre around paper use. So, the company works with NGOs such as the World Wildlife Fund to protect and restore forests. Not only is this a positive step by HP, but by promoting this collaboration they also showcase their values to climate-conscious consumers. In turn, they build brand loyalty.
5. Consumer preference
Consumers are increasingly aware of the environmental impact of their purchases. To them, sustainability is becoming just as important as cost and quality.
And paper is widely recognised as a more environmentally friendly material. So using it in your packaging sends a powerful message to climate-conscious consumers. It shows that your brand is committed to sustainability and that you're taking tangible steps to reduce your footprint. It also means you can stand out against competitors that are lagging behind.
“For packaging substrates, some 57 to 60 percent of US consumers rank glass, paperboard, and paper as extremely or very sustainable” — David Feber, Anna Granskog, Oskar Lingqvist, and Daniel Nordigården, McKinsey
What about the cons of using paper packaging?
Whilst paper packaging has a long list of benefits, you also need to be aware of its limitations. If it doesn’t do what you need it to, you could end up with damaged products, more returns and a damaged reputation.
But don’t be alarmed. Because when you know what paper’s weaknesses are, you can plan for them and even turn them into strengths.
Cons of paper
1. Lower barrier properties
If you’ve ever spilled a glass of water on an important document, you’ll know that paper is not waterproof. Because unlike materials like plastic, paper allows water and air to flow through it. And when wet, it can become weakened or even disintegrate. This becomes even more of a risk if you’re shipping over long distances or humid regions.
But don’t go reaching for the plastic wrap just yet. Although paper packaging might not survive a soak in the bathtub, you can find plenty of splashproof options, like our paper mailer bag. Splashproof packaging is often more than enough protection to get your product from A to B, and your customer can still recycle the packaging once it arrives.
There are also some exciting new products coming to market. Like our HydroTec Paper Pouch that’s ideal for food products, keeping them fresh for up to 18 months (though we find we’ve usually eaten up the contents long before that).
2. Added synthetic components
Paper isn’t moisture or oil-resistant. So synthetic components like PFAS (perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances) are sometimes used to make paper packaging more durable.
But PFAS (known more commonly as forever chemicals) hang around in the environment and build up in the food chain over time. And they’ve been linked to some major health issues. But they’re not the only problem, as the bleach and dyes used in paper production can also be toxic.
So how can you avoid these chemicals? For starters, reduce your use of bleached paper and opt for natural kraft instead. This can work in your favour as many customers prefer kraft paper for its unprocessed appearance!
You can also use natural inks instead of solvent-based or plasticised UV inks. And brands in the food industry should look for PFAS-free paper alternatives that offer moisture resistance without the toxicity.
Take it from us — your paper packaging can balance functionality, aesthetics, and environmental responsibility.
3. Energy efficiency
Manufacturing paper does require heat and electricity. This creates greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental impacts.
But players in the paper industry are working towards greater energy efficiency. Take the UPM Shotton paper mill in the UK, which operates on 100% solar energy during the daytime. That’s because renewables are now so widely-available and cost-effective against fossil fuels that switches like these simply make sense.
There are still some energy-related challenges associated with paper manufacturing. But the industry's commitment to improving energy efficiency is driving positive change. And you can support them by switching to more sustainable paper packaging.
How to choose the best paper packaging for your business
1. Consider your product
No matter how sustainable you want your packaging to be, it’s no use if it doesn’t protect your product. So, consider factors like moisture resistance, barrier properties and overall durability. Your product will be handled by countless people, so your packaging needs to withstand each human interaction.
You’ll also want to think about specific requirements that are unique to your product. For example, if you’re shipping delicate items like jewellery, your packaging needs to be highly protective. So, consider paper packaging with built-in padding like a honeycomb mailer. Or use a sturdy mailer box and custom inserts to take your protection to the next level.
Murphy’s law says if something can go wrong, it will. So when choosing any packaging — paper or otherwise — think about the journey your product will take and plan for any challenges. Then, run a few tests to ensure your paper packaging does what it’s meant to whilst travelling from A to B.
Once you know your packaging holds up, you can ship your products with confidence.
2. Let your creativity flow
Your packaging is more than just a protective shell. It’s an opportunity to showcase your brand's identity and stand out in a crowded market. And it’s often the first physical interaction your customers have with you, so a good impression is vital.
When choosing paper packaging, think about your target audience’s preferences. For example, if they value sustainability, look for more sustainable paper packaging options, like natural kraft paper instead of bleached paper. For younger customers, you might go bright and bold with water-based inks.
The good news is that whatever your idea, you can test it using our online studio, without any need for specialist help. When you think you’ve got a great design, ask your customers for feedback so you know what works and what to improve.
Remember that your paper packaging is an extension of your brand. So make sure its design reflects who you are and what your customers value.
3. Champion sustainability
Nothing is 100% sustainable (yet). So even though paper is one of the most sustainable packaging materials out there, you still need to make sure yours is responsibly sourced.
When choosing paper packaging, try to find products that use recycled content. This means using fewer virgin materials and reducing the pressure on forests. And if you do need to use virgin paper, look for certifications like Forest Stewardship Council (FSC).
You can also avoid manufacturers that use harmful chemicals and make sure your packaging can be recycled after use.
If environmental considerations like these make you feel out of your depth, that’s understandable. But getting reliable environmental data on your packaging doesn’t have to be difficult.
When you design your packaging with Sourceful, you get access to live carbon data. This shows you how every design choice you make can increase or decrease your packaging’s carbon footprint. With the guesswork removed, you can make decisions about your packaging design with confidence.
Get sustainable packaging with Sourceful
Paper is powerful. It's easy to recycle, it's affordable and it's versatile. And when responsibly sourced and manufactured, it can be one of the most sustainable packaging options available.
With unique paper packaging, you can embrace sustainability and still stand out in a crowded market. And that’s where we can help.
At Sourceful, we’re passionate about helping brands switch to more sustainable packaging, without sacrificing style or function.
We’re ready to help you unfold a world of paper packaging possibilities affordably and hassle-free.
With limited budgets and resources, running a small business isn't for the faint-hearted. And in a crowded market dominated by larger companies, standing out can be a daunting task.
But don't worry. As a small business owner, you can make your mark in plenty of ways — and packaging is one of them.
Packaging ideas for small businesses
- Choose the right packaging
- Elevate your interior packaging
- Give your branding a boost
- Add enticing extras
- Build your customer base
- Make more sustainable switches
- Create cost savings
1. Choose the right packaging
As a small business, you’ll want to build trust with your customers, fast. That means delivering products that arrive intact and as promised. And that starts with choosing the right packaging for your product.
For example, clothing is soft and flexible but susceptible to staining. It won’t break if it’s dropped but could pick up marks from moisture or fingerprints. So, a recycled poly mailer bag would be the ideal waterproof packaging to get products like these from A to B.
Of course, if you sell cosmetics, your needs will be different. Goods like makeup crumble easily when banged or dropped. So in this case, you’d want studier packaging that’s more durable.
And here’s where custom packaging, like our mailer boxes, comes into play. Mailer boxes are incredibly versatile and you can even create a custom size to match the size and shape of your product. This ensures a snug fit, reducing the risk of damage during transit. You can also choose the thickness of your packaging walls so it’s strong enough to deliver your product without being excessive.
Once you know the best type of packaging for your product, think about how you’ll store, stack and ship it. Remember that whilst uniquely shaped packaging can help you stand out from the crowd, it might not be the most efficient design.
Your packaging is an extension of your brand, and your reputation is always on the line. Aim to strike the perfect balance between protecting your products, conveying your brand's values and meeting your business needs.
2. Elevate your interior packaging
Your interior packaging needs to be functional and protective. But it’s also an opportunity to create an impressive unboxing experience.
One way you can do this is with custom inserts, a cost-effective way to take your packaging to the next level. They can be die-cut to fit any product, keeping it firmly in place. So when your customer opens their package, your products are presented just as you intended.
You can also dye your custom inserts to complement your exterior packaging or even the product itself. This extra attention to detail shows your customers that you care about their buying experience, which can encourage positive feelings and repeat purchases.
Die-cut inserts also allow you to neatly add extra items in your packaging, such as free samples of new or complementary products. This is a great opportunity to showcase what else you’ve got to offer and encourage customers to try other products.
3. Give your branding a boost
Take five seconds to picture a popular brand logo. What does it make you think and feel? If you’re visualising Nike’s tick, you’re probably thinking about effort and winning. If it’s Apple’s logo, simplicity and style.
Consistent imagery and powerful messaging like this sears your brand into your customers’ minds. So over time, you become a trustworthy and logical choice to buy from.
Think about the colours you use and how these will make your customer feel. You could opt for blue, often associated with calm and trust. Or black, which in colour psychology is considered edgy and minimalist. Paper-based packaging, like mailer boxes, can be printed on with any colour so the sky’s the limit.
But why stop at one? Using colour gradients helps you bring in more shades from your unique brand palette. Whatever you go for, the point is to use colour to make your brand recognisable (and attractive) to existing and potential customers.
Your artwork is another opportunity to stand out. You can embrace minimalism with a plain background and strategically placed logo. Or, go all in with detailed designs that your target audience will love.
With tools like our online design studio, you can upload your own designs and experiment endlessly until you find the look that’s just right.
So now you have a packaging design that reflects your brand's unique personality. But what can you add to it for that extra flair? How about replacing your run-of-the-mill packaging tape with branded gummed tape? For starters, it’s a great alternative to plastic packaging tape, with a carbon footprint up to 50% smaller. Secondly, it’s another place to add your logo or on-brand messaging, helping you generate brand awareness.
And let’s not forget stickers, a cost-effective, stylish way to elevate your packaging. Use them as an extra, branded seal or to hold tissue paper in place. Or give them away as a freebie for your customers to enjoy! They’ll be reminded of you every time they see one.
4. Add enticing extras
Think about the last time you received a package that made you excited to open it. Perhaps it had a personalised note or a beautifully tied ribbon. Or maybe the packaging itself was so striking that you couldn't wait to see what was inside. These extra touches create a sense of anticipation and generate a positive emotional connection with your brand.
And in today's digital world, presentation is more crucial than ever before. Unboxing has become a major trend on social media, and customers are heavily influenced by unboxing videos that showcase the excitement of receiving and opening a package. These videos can instil confidence in potential buyers who are unable to see the product in person.
So, what kind of extras can you add to enhance the unboxing experience?
Consider thoughtful elements, like personalised notes. These don’t necessarily need to be handwritten; simply greeting the customer by name can create a connection between you. And this isn’t just a nice-to-have, it’s increasingly expected. 54% of consumers buying for the first time say that personalised communication affects whether they’ll buy from that brand again.
You can also delight customers with collectibles like cards or stickers. They can use these unexpected extras as decorations and may want to buy again and collect the full set.
Then there are reusable items like fabric pouches or refillable containers. These practical gifts show the customer you’ve thought about their experience using your product, which can make them feel valued and appreciated. It can also build a sense of belonging and exclusivity to your brand.
Cosmetics retailer Lush is a great example to follow. Their monthly subscription boxes not only come in brightly coloured packaging but also include fun extras inside. This adds to the unboxing experience and encourages customers to share their orders on social media. It’s basically free advertising.
So remember, the little details can make a big difference. Take the time to create an experience that will leave a lasting impression, and watch your brand's reputation grow.
5. Build your customer base
As a small business, you know that building a loyal customer base is key to your success. And by offering promotions and incentives, you can keep your customers coming back. In fact, McKinsey research shows that top-performing loyalty programs can boost yearly revenue by up to 25% — pretty impressive.
Your packaging is a prime opportunity to do this. Include a card or leaflet to advertise promotions, loyalty schemes or referral discounts. For a sense of urgency that can boost sales, offer limited-time or seasonal discounts.
And if you want to reduce materials and costs, print a QR code on your packaging instead. Customers can then access your website or app and interact with your brand on a whole new level. This can create a sense of community and can lead to higher customer lifetime value.
6. Make more sustainable switches
No matter how big or small your business is, your packaging has an environmental footprint. And whilst sustainability might be high on your business agenda, for many it can be a source of concern. For example, you might feel unsure about which materials are the most sustainable, or what the cost of switching to these might be.
The great news is that there are plenty of affordable options available. For example, paper and cardboard products are some of the cheapest packaging materials out there. These typically have a lower carbon footprint than plastic or styrofoam and can be just as effective in protecting your products. Plus, they’re widely recyclable at the kerbside. This makes disposal easy and takes the pressure off the planet’s virgin resources.
And this isn't just about you caring for our environment, or feeling a sense of duty to take action on climate. Reducing your environmental footprint is key to the success of your business.
Consumer concern about the environmental impact of their purchases is growing. In fact, online searches for sustainable goods have increased by 71% since 2018. And your customers won’t budge on their values. In the fashion industry alone, 81% of people surveyed said they’d boycott brands that haven’t prioritised sustainable practices by 2025.
When switching to more sustainable packaging, make sure you’re not accidentally greenwashing. This is becoming more of an issue and it compromises the fight against climate change. Many brands worry about accidental greenwashing and the implications for their reputation, but there are steps you can take to stay in the clear.
Firstly, take genuine impact that can be evidenced with data. Talk about it as factually as you can and avoid buzzwords like “eco-friendly” or “green”.
A good example would be making sure your paper or cardboard packaging is responsibly sourced through the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). The FSC ensures that the products come from responsibly managed sources, mitigating the risk of illegal logging or the destruction of ancient and endangered forests. Knowing you’re working with a well-known and respected authority means you can confidently report all of this to your customers and stakeholders.
You can also use tools like our online studio to create your packaging, which gives you live carbon data as you design. Accurate data like this backs up your claims and helps you to be transparent with your customers. This builds trust and loyalty to your brand.
To cover all your bases, find your local equivalent of the Competition and Market Authority’s Green Claims Code. Check off every item on the list and you can rest assured you won’t be caught greenwashing.
Sustainability is no longer a nice-to-have. It’s a key part of any modern business strategy. And as a small business, you have an opportunity to stand out against industry giants as that climate-conscious brand your ideal customer is looking for.
7. Create cost savings
Setting up a business comes with many unforeseen challenges and expenses. And that’s on top of what it takes just to keep things running day-to-day. Luckily, a bit of resourcefulness goes a long way in keeping your costs down.
For starters, buy your packaging in bulk. For example, you can save up to 80% per unit when you buy 1000 Sourceful mailer boxes instead of 100. And if storage is an issue, you can keep your packaging in our warehouse until you need it. This also means you’ll have a buffer stock in the event of supply chain disruptions, so you can keep your operations (and finances) running smoothly.
Another way to save money on packaging is by designing your packaging online by yourself. Our online studio is the ideal tool for this. It’s user-friendly and can help you create custom designs that reflect your brand's personality and values. This is all at a fraction of the cost of hiring a professional. Of course, if you get stuck, we’ve got a team of experts on hand to help you.
Purchasing your packaging has an obvious cost. But there are less obvious ones that you also need to be aware of, like the extended producer responsibilities. These are new regulations that make businesses responsible for managing a product's environmental impact throughout its whole lifecycle. This includes what the customer does with your packaging once it’s done its job.
So, you need to stay up-to-date on how environmental regulations like these are changing and what this means for your business.
For example, think about the plastic packaging tax, a recent tax on plastic packaging with less than 30% recycled content. Any packaging below that threshold will be taxed, which translates into higher costs for you. Simple switches, such as from a virgin poly mailer to a recycled one, can help you avoid these.
As a small business, you don’t have money to waste. But with some careful planning and the right tools, your packaging can be one area where you save. And it’s an added bonus that reducing the environmental impact of your packaging can bring your costs down further. A win-win.
How to choose the best custom packaging for your small business
1. Know what you’re prepared to pay
Your budget will affect the materials you use, packaging extras and how custom your packaging can be. And yes, budgeting is vital. But going for the cheapest, no-frills option may not be best for your business. That’s because your packaging can also be seen as an investment that encourages repeat purchases and increased sales in the future.
So, consider an acceptable top and bottom amount that you’d be willing to pay and what you’re prepared to stretch on. Then, see what your options are.
If you want to design your packaging yourself, our design studio gives live pricing data with every change you make, so there’ll be no surprises when it’s time to order. But if you want help working out how much you should be spending and how this fits into your budget, get in touch with our team. They’ll be happy to help you work things out without breaking the bank.
2. Know your target audience
Would you use wrapping paper designed for an adult as gift wrap for a child? Probably not. Because design appeal differs between demographics. So yes, your branding should represent your brand's personality and values. But it should also reflect what your target audience likes.
To do this, you can consider customer age, nationality, ethnicity, gender, profession, religion and income to name a few. Think about what your customers value and are drawn to. Remember, always be sensitive and avoid reinforcing stereotypical ideas if that’s not your intention — like pink for girls and blue for boys.
To know if you’re on the right track with your design, ask the audience! Post some options on social media, send out surveys, stop people in the street or run focus groups. They’ll tell you which designs appeal to them most, and you can confidently start ordering your new packaging in bulk.
3. Know your competition
When you’re running a small business, you need to know what you’re up against. This includes all the small businesses like yours, right up to those big corporate giants. How do they package their products? Do you notice any industry trends?
This is an opportunity to see what works well and why (if no one is making triangular shipping boxes, there’s probably a good reason). It’s also a chance for you to spot gaps in the market that you could fill. This is where you find your niche — that thing that makes you stand out against the rest. Because niches can apply to packaging as well as products.
Start your small business packaging journey with Sourceful
As a small business owner, standing out in a crowded market can be a challenge. And limited budgets and resources can make it even harder. But your packaging is one area where your small business can make a big impact.
From reliable delivery to memorable unboxing experiences, your packaging choices help build your reputation and boost sales.
At Sourceful, we understand the challenges that come with running a small business. Which is why we offer custom packaging that delivers on sustainability at an affordable price. So, if you're ready to elevate your small business packaging and make a lasting impression on your customers, we're here to support you every step of the way.
When shopping for jewellery, customers are increasingly seeking brands with a strong sustainability agenda. But sustainability doesn’t stop at your product. In fact, the materials you choose to package your jewellery with also matter.
Here’s a list of 12 ideas to help you offer beautiful jewellery packaging whilst reducing your environmental impact.
More sustainable jewellery packaging ideas
- Corrugated cardboard
- Recycled poly mailers
- Organic cotton
- Tissue paper wrapping
1. Paper: best for lightweight protection
Paper has been used as a packaging material for centuries, and for good reason. It’s lightweight, versatile and customisable. Because of this, it’s easy to showcase your brand’s personality and values. This can help you attract and retain customers.
Paper is great for jewellery packaging in bags or envelopes. Like our paper mailer bags, which are a more sustainable alternative to plastic poly mailers. They can also be used as secondary packaging to protect your jewellery’s primary packaging (think boxes or fabric pouches) during transit. Or, for added protection, you can send your products in a honeycomb mailer bag, a neat (and more sustainable) replacement for bubble lined mailers.
Paper packaging is easily recycled at the kerbside and can be made into new paper-based products, which reduces waste and the need for virgin materials. And whilst trees are a renewable resource, not all forests are managed sustainably. So for the most sustainable approach, choose paper packaging that’s certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. This is an international organisation that promotes responsible management of the world's forests.
Both of our paper mailers are made with FSC-certified, natural kraft paper to help you reduce your environmental footprint.
Benefits of paper
Cons of paper
- Limited protection
- Limited barrier properties (moisture and air)
2. Corrugated cardboard: best for delicate items
Picture your customer receiving their jewellery in a beautifully designed box. What does that box look like? Maybe it’s black and sleek, oozing elegance. Or it’s charmingly fun and floral. With corrugated cardboard, the design possibilities really are endless.
Corrugated cardboard mailer boxes are a jewellery packaging staple. They’re so versatile that you can choose the exact dimensions you need, whether you’re packaging a necklace or earrings. You can then pair them with custom inserts, to keep your items neat and tangle-free ready for your customer to open.
You can also can print your own branding and artwork on corrugated cardboard. This will help drive brand recognition and create that special unboxing experience for your customer.
In terms of sustainability, corrugated cardboard is one of the most sustainable materials out there. For starters, you can choose the exact dimensions you need for your product so there's no wasted space. This stops you from shipping wasteful air in your packaging, which would otherwise increase your carbon emissions. Corrugated cardboard is also widely collected at the kerbside and easily recycled into new products. Seemingly small decisions like these can actually have a big impact on the sustainability of your jewellery packaging.
Benefits of corrugated cardboard packaging
Cons of corrugated cardboard packaging
- Not moisture resistant
3. Cartonboard: best for branding
Have you ever seen a necklace or pair of earrings in a shop window, backed by a slim piece of card? That’s cartonboard. And it does a great job of keeping jewellery items visible with minimal packaging.
One major advantage of cartonboard is how easy it is to customise. You can create packaging in all shapes and sizes and print unique designs that appeal to your customers. You can use it to make boxes, sleeves, tags, and gift cards for special messages — all perfect for jewellery.
Our cartonboard products are FSC-certified and easily recycled, which can help you reduce your business’s environmental impact.
Benefits of cartonboard
Cons of cartonboard
- Not moisture resistant
- Not as protective as corrugated cardboard
4. Recycled poly mailers: a direct swap for virgin poly mailers
We get it. Despite the ongoing plastic packaging crisis, sometimes you may need certain traits of plastic to protect your jewellery. For example, you may need a waterproof material. Or, you may simply want packaging that will conceal the contents, which would be true for more expensive pieces.
If this is the case, choose recycled plastic poly mailers. These are a more sustainable alternative to virgin poly mailers. They repurpose plastic waste, preventing it from entering landfills and oceans and are widely collected at the roadside for recycling.
Using one of our recycled mailer bags can help you reduce your carbon footprint by up to 30% compared to a virgin poly mailer. And improving your sustainability doesn’t mean sacrificing style. You can customise your mailer bag in all the usual ways (like printing artwork), so that it remains an extension of your brand.
Our mailer bags also contain at least 30% of recycled content, keeping you aligned with regulations and exempt from the Plastic Packaging Tax.
Benefits of recycled mailer bags
- Recycled materials
Cons of recycled mailer bags
- Don’t break down naturally
- Not protective against crushing
5. Organic cotton: best for stylish details
There’s something about fabric that adds flair to any gift. And cotton is no exception. Its soft, cushioning character protects from scuffs and scrapes during handling. This couldn’t be more important for jewellery which, with its delicate metals and stones, can be easily damaged during handling.
Cotton is a great choice for jewellery pouches, ribbons and void filling. It’s a more sustainable alternative to synthetic materials, like nylon. And you’ll probably be most familiar with cotton in its fabric form. But, did you know that unwanted cotton rags can be turned into a cotton pulp, which can then be hardened to create bespoke jewellery boxes? For jewellery brands looking to stand out, this could be attractive to climate-conscious customers.
Before choosing cotton over less sustainable alternatives like plastic, check that it’s been grown in the most responsible way possible. For example, cotton grown under Fairtrade Standards has been grown with fewer harmful chemicals. The farmers’ health, safety and salaries are protected and the Fair Trade organisation also helps them adapt to climatic changes.
Benefits of cotton
Cons of cotton
- Can be costly
- Not waterproof
- May require extra packaging for protection
6. Linen: best for a natural appearance
Linen, like cotton, can be used for ribbons and pouches. And it’s often celebrated among the climate-conscious for its natural, wrinkly appearance. Just like cotton, linen can add a decorative touch to your jewellery packaging, as well as protect your items from scratches during handling.
Linen fabric comes from the flax plant, a resilient crop which can be grown in poor soil conditions. This means it requires less water and fewer pesticides than some of our most popular crops like cotton. What’s more, every part of the flax plant can be used, from creating linseed oil to harvesting flax seeds for food. The fact that flax is so low maintenance and useful means it’s a great packaging material for brands that want that soft, natural appearance.
Benefits of linen
- Premium feel
Cons of linen
- Not waterproof
- More costly than paper
- May require extra materials for protection
7. Bamboo: best for durable, reusable packaging
For packaging that gives off natural, rustic vibes, bamboo could be the material for you. It’s easily shaped and can be used to make reusable boxes, trays and stands. It’s also strong and sturdy, making it ideal for safely shipping and displaying jewellery.
Bamboo is known for its durability and unique texture. Not to mention its perception among customers as a more sustainable packaging material. And they’re right. Bamboo grows quickly and requires little water, so it's considered a renewable resource with a lower environmental impact than traditional plastic packaging.
Bamboo packaging’s striking appearance can really help you stand out as a brand with a strong sustainability agenda. But make sure you choose bamboo packaging that's certified by organisations such as the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). This way, you’ll know that your bamboo has been grown and harvested in an environmentally and socially responsible way.
Benefits of bamboo
- Unique and natural texture
Cons of bamboo packaging
- Can be costly
- Limited availability
8. Tissue paper: best for void fills and unboxing experiences
Simple yet effective, tissue paper is an excellent jewellery packaging choice for brands seeking lightweight and budget-friendly wrapping. It’s a thin, translucent paper that’s fully customisable and easy to handle. As a wrapping material, it offers soft, cushioning protection against scrapes. But it can also be used as interior packaging to fill voids and add a colourful and stylish touch to the unboxing experience.
From a sustainability viewpoint, tissue paper can be made from recycled materials and is also recyclable after use.
Benefits of tissue
- Low cost
Cons of tissue
- Not durable
- Limited protection
Approaches to more sustainable jewellery packaging
Choosing the most sustainable materials for your jewellery packaging is key to reducing your environmental impact. But it doesn’t stop there.
Here are four design and manufacturing approaches that you can take to reduce your impact even further.
9. Mono-material packaging
“Mono” means “one.” So, mono-material packaging is made from just one material. This can be a more sustainable alternative to multi-material packaging for two reasons.
First, your customers don't need to worry about separating materials before disposing of your packaging. It's easy and straightforward. Second, as it can be hard for waste treatment centres to separate packaging with multiple layers, mono-material packaging is much easier to recycle and has a lower chance of ending up in landfill.
Benefits of mono-material packaging
- Reduces waste
- Easier to recycle
Cons of mono-material packaging
- Extra steps needed to ensure protection (e.g. thicker walls, coatings)
Minimalist packaging design embraces simplicity and functionality. This is where you use fewer materials (reducing waste) whilst protecting and displaying your jewellery. It’s a common sight in retail jewellery stores, with necklaces, bracelets and earrings attached to a thin piece of cardstock and then suspended on a rack.
Cardstock isn’t the only way to embrace minimalism. It can be as simple as reducing your packaging size. This means you end up using fewer materials and reducing packaging voids, making your packaging more efficient.
And less packaging doesn’t mean a missed branding opportunity. High street jewellery retailers like Accessorize do this brilliantly. You’ll see jewellery displayed on stylish cardstock with a tasteful logo. Proof that a simple design can be just as eye-catching as a more elaborate one and may even help your products appear more luxury.
Benefits of minimalism
- Reduces waste
Cons of minimalism
- Creativity needed to stand out from competition
We’ve all picked up an embossed product and absentmindedly ran our fingers over it. This printing technique creates a raised design on your packaging, adding an attractive tactile element. It’s also an impressive sight, creating a high-end, luxury feel.
Embossing can reduce your need for additional materials, such as stickers, labels and inks used in printing.
Benefits of embossing
Cons of embossing
- Limited design options
- Intricate designs may be hard to see
It’s happened to most of us. Opening that Quality Street tin only to find it stuffed with sewing supplies. Now, Nestlé probably didn’t design their chocolate packaging to store needles and thread. Or, maybe they did and it's a clever marketing ploy. All we know is that it’s a perfect example of packaging that can be used again and again. And how you can keep your brand in your customer’s mind for months, even years after purchase.
Reusable packaging helps brands reduce their waste. But it also means providing something that customers can use for other purposes, such as boxes or bags. This includes that rustic bamboo box or stylish fabric pouches we mentioned earlier. You could also offer drawer-style packaging, which customers can store your jewellery in for years to come.
Benefits of reusable packaging
- Reduces waste
- Generates brand awareness
- Reduces single-use packaging
Cons of reusable packaging
- May be more expensive to design than single-use options
How to choose the best sustainable jewellery packaging for your business
1. Figure out your product’s protection needs
When switching to more sustainable jewellery packaging, the first step is to consider the level of protection you need. This will depend on the materials and fragility of your product. For example, you may need packaging that provides extra padding, as with glass or metal items that may scratch easily.
Getting your jewellery to your customers in perfect condition is crucial. So it’s important that you strike that balance between protection and sustainability.
2. Decide what you want your packaging to say
Your packaging carries your brand’s personality and values into the hands of the customer, so it’s important to get its design right. This will help you increase and maintain brand awareness and loyalty.
You might find, for example, that your customers appreciate the raw, unprocessed simplicity of natural kraft paper packaging. This would help you appeal to a more climate-conscious demographic. Or, you might ditch excess materials in favour of a more sophisticated, minimalist look.
As an extension of your brand, your packaging can be powerful in differentiating you from your competitors. So, when designing, think about the impression you want to leave your customers with.
3. Design for recycling or reuse
Ideally, your jewellery packaging should be reusable or recyclable. This way, it can have an extended life in your customers’ homes or be turned into new products. For example, paper and cardboard are amongst the easiest materials to recycle because they’re collected at most kerbsides. And they don’t need intensive heating or energy to be turned into new products.
To take the pressure to recycle away from customers, some companies, like Boots, are offering a take-back scheme. They encourage customers to drop off any plastic packaging to a Boots store and sometimes reward them with loyalty points. Boots then sends the packaging to a processing company that turns even the hardest-to-recycle materials into new products.
Discover more sustainable packaging with Sourceful
Whether packaged in lightweight tissue wrapping or sturdy corrugated cardboard boxes, your jewellery needs to get to your customer scratch and tamper-free. And your jewellery packaging design can be as impactful as the product itself. One that signals your brand values whilst maintaining a lower environmental impact can leave a lasting impression on your customers and even increase loyalty to your brand.
For mailer boxes, cards and a whole host of more sustainable packaging to perfectly package your jewellery, browse our shop.
From bread wrapping to cardboard shipping boxes, it’s hard to escape some form of packaging in our day-to-day lives. But have you ever considered just how many packaging materials there are or why some are better than others?
Below we discuss the properties of the most common (and some not-yet-so-common) packaging materials and break them down into four categories: primary, secondary, tertiary and ancillary packaging.
- Primary packaging materials
- Paper and card
- Secondary packaging materials
- Paper and card
- Tertiary packaging materials
- Corrugated cardboard
- Ancillary packaging materials
- Paper and card
Primary packaging is designed to contain and preserve contents. It’s in direct contact with the product and is also known as “consumer packaging.” For example, that sealed pouch you can buy your coffee in? That’s primary packaging.
Primary packaging isn’t purely about function. It also acts as a source of information for the customer, including branding and product information.
Primary packaging materials include:
- Paper and card
Glass: best for product visibility
When you hear the sound of glass clinking, what do you think of? Maybe a celebratory toast? Or a luxury item? That’s not accidental. Thanks to its glossiness and weight, glass packaging signals “high-quality” to the customer. And for that reason, it’s especially popular in the cosmetics and food and drink industries.
But glass is much more than just fancy packaging. Due to its inert qualities, it doesn’t affect the taste, smell or quality of its contents. It’s easy to sterilise and impermeable, keeping products safe and fresh. And as it’s transparent, users can see what’s inside. Pretty helpful for buying and checking whether products are still safe to use (because no one wants mouldy food).
As long as it’s used multiple times, glass is considered a more sustainable alternative to plastic. This is because it’s infinitely recyclable, without losing any of its quality. But one disadvantage of glass is that it often needs extra materials, such as silicone lids and seals, so that it can be closed securely.
Glass is commonly used in bottles, jars and ampoules. It’s easy to label and can be embossed and etched upon to generate brand awareness.
Benefits of glass
- Infinitely recyclable
Cons of glass
- Production is energy-intensive
- Requires secondary packaging
- Heavy (increased transport emissions and costs)
Metal: best for extending shelf life
Most of us will be familiar with that tin of beans that’s been in the cupboard for years and is still fine to use. That’s because metal packaging is an excellent preserver. It seals products, keeps out external elements and maintains freshness.
Aluminium and steel are the most common kinds, often found in the form of foils and cans. But it’s not just the food and drink industry that sees the benefits of metal packaging. Others, like cosmetics, are seeking more sustainable alternatives to plastic and are increasingly switching to metal packaging. And this is not just because of metal’s ability to preserve products. Like glass, metal suggests a higher quality product compared to plastic packaging, which can be appealing to customers.
Some examples of metal packaging are drinks cans, food tins, aluminium wrapping and cosmetics packaging like lip balm tins.
Benefits of metal
- Easily shaped
- Strong and durable
- Infinitely recyclable
Cons of metal
- Can be costly
- Corrosion can be an issue
- Sometimes heavy (increased transport emissions and costs)
Paper and card: best for dry goods and lightweight products
Both paper and card are widely recyclable, often collected at kerbsides and easily recycled into new products. Combine this with responsible sourcing and the use of natural inks and paper and card are some of the most sustainable packaging materials available.
Paper and card are a popular choice for items that are dry or that don’t need airtight seals. Examples include paper bags, egg cartons and wrapping for cosmetic products like soap bars.
Benefits of paper and card
- Use recycled content
Cons of paper and card
- Not airtight
- Not waterproof
- Not as strong or durable as metal or glass
Seaweed: a potential replacement for plastic films
Can you imagine popping a seaweed “bubble” in your mouth and biting down to get a burst of whatever’s inside? Because that’s now a reality. Seaweed is being used to create food and drink sachets. It’s a fast-growing, renewable resource that doesn’t require land, freshwater or fertilisers to grow. So, it offers a more sustainable alternative to plastic films.
Because it can be consumed along with its contents, seaweed packaging leaves no waste. And, since it’s edible, it’s non-toxic. Meanwhile, if used to package non-food products, like cosmetics, it can still be disposed of with other organic waste. It will then break down naturally without leaving harmful substances behind.
Benefits of seaweed
- Breaks down in nature
- Typically no harmful chemicals
- Can be transparent (allowing for product visibility)
Cons of seaweed
- Still in the development stage
- May condense on the inside, creating mould
Plastic poses a severe threat to the environment. The world produces 400 million tonnes of plastic a year, of which 76% ends up in landfills or released into the environment. It takes hundreds of years to break down and releases harmful chemicals and emissions as it does. In fact, every year, plastic packaging contributes 1.8 billion tonnes of carbon emissions to our planet.
What’s more, when plastic does break down, microplastics stay in the environment. These small plastic fragments work their way onto land and into rivers and oceans, where they can be ingested by animals. Microplastics have even been found in living humans, where they can damage cells.
The variety of packaging alternatives to plastic is increasing. Meanwhile, governments around the world are cracking down on plastic use with incentives like the Plastic Packaging Tax. So, before opting for plastic, check what else is out there so that you can avoid contributing to the plastic waste crisis. Otherwise, use plastic that contains recycled content.
Below, we dig into the two main forms of plastic and consider more sustainable alternatives that you can use to reduce your dependence on them.
Soft or flexible plastic packaging includes films, bags, wrapping and void fillers like bubble wrap.
In 2020, soft plastic made up 22% of UK consumer packaging, yet only 8% of it was recycled. If you’re unable to find an alternative, replace it with more sustainable packaging, such as a recycled plastic mailer bag.
Benefits of soft plastic (primary packaging material)
- Easily shaped
- Lightweight and flexible
- Recyclable (in some cases)
Cons of soft plastic (primary packaging material)
- Difficult to recycle
- High carbon footprint
- Not puncture resistant
- Takes hundreds of years to decompose
- Releases harmful chemicals and microplastics
On the other hand, rigid plastic is used for heavier or more fragile products. They’re used in industries including food and beverages, cosmetics, medicine and electronics.
But there are many more sustainable alternatives to rigid plastic, such as cartonboard, metal containers, glass and bamboo packaging. And let’s not forget that 72% of customers consider sustainability in their purchasing decisions. So, choosing more sustainable materials is better for the planet and your business.
Benefits of rigid plastic
- Easily shaped
- Strong and durable
Cons of rigid plastic
- High carbon footprint
- Some types are not easily recyclable
- Takes hundreds of years to decompose
- Releases harmful chemicals and microplastics
You might hear the term “bioplastics” and think these are a more sustainable alternative to plastic. In reality, it’s more complicated than that.
Bioplastics are made from renewable materials such as sugarcane and corn. Whilst these raw materials are bio-based, they don’t necessarily help to solve the plastic waste crisis.
This is because the controlled industrial infrastructure that bioplastics need to decompose isn’t widely available. So, bioplastics often still end up in landfills and waterways, where the lack of oxygen stops them from breaking down. They can then persist in the environment for a long time, releasing harmful greenhouse gases, like methane.
Bioplastics are currently used for food packaging, cutlery, bags and films. If possible, we always recommend using more sustainable alternatives, such as bamboo cutlery.
Benefits of bioplastics
- Use natural materials
- Similar properties to plastics
- Reduces reliance on fossil-fuel materials
Cons of bioplastics
- Need to be industrially processed
- Not as cheap as traditional plastic
- Sometimes have a higher footprint than fossil plastics
Unlike primary packaging, secondary packaging isn’t in direct contact with the product. It’s designed to group items together for better stock organisation. Secondly, it protects primary packaging during transportation. For example, think of a box of cereal. The cardboard box that contains the cereal bag is the secondary packaging. That box contains the primary packaging (bag) that directly holds the product (cereal).
Secondary packaging can also reduce tampering with the primary packaging. And (think of that cereal box again) it can be used to display branding and can influence customer perception and purchasing.
Secondary packaging materials include:
- Paper and card
Paper and card: good for branding and product information
The secondary packaging market is being driven by the demand for more sustainable materials, such as paper and card.
As secondary packaging, paper and card are often used to create boxes, bags, and wraps. They can be cut and folded into hundreds of configurations to suit both the product and the brand image. Paper and card are easy to print on. So, they’re good materials for providing product information and branding which attracts customers.
Common examples of paper and card as secondary packaging include carton boxes, corrugated card boxes and sleeves. They can also act as more sustainable alternatives to traditional materials — think swapping out the plastic rings on packs of drinks cans for cardboard ones.
Benefits of paper and card
Cons of paper and card
- Not be suitable for fragile items
- Not be as durable as glass or metal
- Limited protection against moisture and air
Plastic is widely used in primary, secondary, tertiary and ancillary products. As a secondary packaging material, it can make up stretch wrapping, shrink wrapping and blister packaging. As mentioned earlier, plastic packaging poses serious threats to environmental and human health. So, we always advise looking at alternatives or recycled plastic products over virgin products.
Tertiary packaging protects and transports secondary packaging and multiple units of products. Unlike primary packaging, it isn’t designed for the end user. In fact, it’s usually removed at a distribution centre, before the products reach their retail destination.
Tertiary packaging you’d probably recognise includes pallets and shipping cartons. These allow products to be efficiently moved through the supply chain.
Primary packaging materials include:
- Corrugated cardboard
Wood: best for heavy goods
Wood has been used for centuries to transport goods easily and securely. Wooden crates and pallets are the most common packaging examples. These can be custom-sized to fit the needs of the product or shipping method being used. And thanks to its strong, durable nature, wooden packaging can also be stacked to maximise shipping efficiency.
When sourced responsibly, wood-based packaging can be a more sustainable alternative to materials like plastic as the wood comes from renewable, natural sources.
Benefits of wooden crates
- Excellent protection
- Easily transported with machinery
Cons of wooden crates
- Inconvenient to store
- Not be suitable for fragile items
- Need maintenance to ensure longevity
Corrugated cardboard: best for lightweight goods
When you think of shipping goods, chances are you’ll think of the iconic corrugated cardboard box. As a packaging material, corrugated cardboard has stood the test of time thanks to its lightweight yet durable qualities.
Corrugated sheets are made from two kraft liners that sandwich a corrugated board, called the ‘fluting’. You can choose your fluting thickness, which gives you control over the level of protection your packaging offers. What’s more, corrugated card can be cut to any size, creating a bespoke packaging product.
In boxes, corrugated card is used to ship multiple units of secondary packaging and its contents. The boxes are easy to stack and can be labelled with important shipping information. Using corrugated card as a packaging material streamlines the transportation process.
Cardboard is a renewable material that can be sourced from responsibly managed forests. As it can be easily customised to fit the product, it can also help reduce material waste and make shipping more efficient.
Benefits of corrugated cardboard
- Can be made with recycled material
Cons of corrugated cardboard
- Not waterproof
- Not suitable for heavy items
- May require additional materials to protect fragile items
As a tertiary packaging material, plastic can be used in stretch wrapping, shrink wrapping and intermediate bulk containers. And whilst products like intermediate bulk containers can be reused many times, it's still recommended that you explore alternatives or recycled plastic products. That’s because virgin ones have a higher carbon footprint, making them less sustainable.
Ancillary packaging’s job is to support or enhance primary, secondary, or tertiary packaging. It offers extra information, protection or convenience in the form of labels, sleeves, stickers, tapes and inserts. It can also create a more impressive experience for the customer.
Ancillary packaging can be made from:
- Paper and card
- Polystyrene and plastics
Paper and card: best for labels, tags, gummed tape and leaflets
How many times have you sifted through a clothes rack, flipping over labels until you find your size? Those labels are a prime example of ancillary packaging. And in this category, paper and card are the go-to materials when it comes to branding, informational labels and promotional materials. This is because they’re cost-effective, widely available and easily customised.
Another type of paper ancillary packaging is gummed tape, a more sustainable alternative to plastic packaging tape. And not forgetting the familiar paper leaflet, which is a cheap and easy way to communicate information to your customers.
Benefits of paper and card
- Great for branding
- Can be responsibly sourced
- Ideal for product information
Cons of paper and card
- Limited protection against moisture and air
Fabric: best for enhancing presentation
Picture that quintessential Christmas present. Does it have a bow? That mental image exists because whether as a bag, pouch, wrap or ribbon, fabric can add an extra special touch. Fabric is often used to offer additional protection to the primary or secondary packaging, as well as enhance its presentation.
When choosing fabric packaging, natural fibres like organic cotton are a much more sustainable alternative to synthetic fabrics, such as nylon and polyester. And in the spirit of sustainability, fabric packaging can also be reused and repurposed. In fact, the Japanese practice of furoshiki sees gift-givers wrapping presents in fabric. It can be kept to wrap another gift, serve as a placemat, used as a bandana and many more.
Examples of fabric packaging include small gift bags, velvet or suede pouches for luxury products, canvas or cotton wraps and jute bags.
Benefits of fabric
- Can be made from natural fibres
- Can be customised for branding
Cons of fabric
- More expensive than paper packaging
- Limited protection against moisture and air
- Reuse requires additional cleaning or maintenance
Mycelium: a potential replacement for polystyrene
Mycelium is gaining in popularity as a more sustainable solution to protective packaging, like polystyrene. It’s made from the root network of mushrooms and needs little light and water to grow. It can also feed off agricultural scraps which would otherwise be wasted, so it’s pretty resource-efficient.
Mycelium packaging can be grown in just a few days and breaks down naturally in a matter of weeks. What’s more, it can be shaped around any form, allowing you to create bespoke packaging for any product. Like Electronics retailer Dell, which switched to mycelium to protect delicate electrical equipment from damage during transit.
The thing is, mycelium as a packaging material is relatively new. So, no one really knows how sustainable it will be in the long term. What we do know is that it seems to be a good replacement for polystyrene, which is a synthetic material. And let’s not forget that extracting and disposing of polystyrene negatively affects soil and water systems. So, if you used mycelium instead of polystyrene, you’d likely reduce your environmental impact.
The known drawbacks are that because mycelium does break down in nature, it will release greenhouse gases in the process. And if it’s not processed in the right facilities, this will increase its carbon footprint significantly.
Benefits of mycelium
- Easily moulded
- Breaks down in nature
- Excellent shock absorption
Cons of mycelium
- Limited availability
- Disposal requires a specialised facility
- Emissions when breaking down
Plastics and polystyrene as ancillary packaging
Plastic is often used to create tape, tags and labels. This secures packaging and can provide information to the user. Polystyrene, a petroleum-derived plastic product, is used to fill voids and cushion delicate products during transit. Other examples of plastic in ancillary packaging include bubble wrap, plastic bags, plastic windows and wrapping.
At Sourceful, we help brands switch from using plastic packaging as we know there’s a more sustainable alternative for almost every need. And actually, it’s never been easier to ditch this harmful material and reduce your business’s environmental footprint.
If you can’t do without the properties of plastic, use recycled plastic packaging, like our recycled mailer bag. It’s better and more sustainable to give plastic a second life than to create new plastic with virgin materials.
More sustainable packaging with Sourceful
Here at Sourceful, we’re passionate about making packaging more sustainable. That’s why most of our packaging is made with paper and card. These are renewable materials that, in our case, come from responsibly managed forests certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. We also use recycled material wherever possible, as with our book mailer and recycled poly mailer.
What’s more, we help brands become more sustainable whilst avoiding the pitfalls of accidental greenwashing. To do this, we only work with vetted suppliers who adhere to strict EU and UK environmental standards. We also created our Impact Engine, which allows you to see your carbon footprint in real time as you create your packaging online. This brings a new level of transparency to packaging design, helping you know exactly what’s in your packaging and pass on accurate information to your customers.
Learn more: How to Avoid Greenwashing in 8 Steps
4 factors to consider when choosing a packaging material
With such a wide range of options, choosing a packaging material that suits your product’s needs can seem daunting. And as extended producer responsibilities come into play, you might also be thinking about making your packaging more sustainable.
So, when considering your packaging materials, think about the following four questions:
1. What level of protection does your product need?
Your product’s characteristics are the biggest indicators as to which packaging material to choose.
For example, if you’re shipping a soft and bendable product, like a t-shirt, you won’t be worried about it cracking during transit. But, you might want to make sure that it is protected against moisture. So, in this case, a recycled mailer bag would probably be more suitable than a rigid mailer box.
Once you figure out your product’s properties and how it will cope when handled, you’ll have a good idea of which material is right for you.
2. What are the costs?
When juggling business costs, it can be tempting to choose the cheapest packaging material for your product. But reduced initial costs don’t always mean long-term savings.
For example, plastic is so widely used because it’s cheap to make. But governments are cracking down on waste with initiatives such as the Plastic Packaging Tax. These will see businesses facing fines if their use of plastic breaches regulations. So what’s cheap in the short term might end up costing you more over time.
And that’s not all. More and more, customers are seeking out brands with sustainable values. In fact, 61% of customers are prepared to switch brands after just one negative experience. So showing that you understand what matters to them is more important than ever. Switching to more sustainable materials doesn’t have to be costly. But even if you did face some up front costs, maintaining and growing your customer base can benefit your business in the long run.
3. What more sustainable alternatives exist?
When choosing a packaging material, always investigate whether there’s a more sustainable option.
For example, you might be using cardboard boxes to ship your product, but are these sourced from responsibly managed forests? Simply upgrading your paper products to FSC-certified products means you’re sourcing your materials in a more sustainable way.
Or, if you need a waterproof mailer bag but you don’t want to increase plastic waste, you can opt for a recycled poly mailer instead.
Packaging will always have a footprint, so you can reduce it by using materials already in circulation, instead of new ones.
Switch to more sustainable packaging with Sourceful
Whether at the primary, secondary, tertiary or ancillary level, packaging serves to protect the product so that it can reach the customer as intended. And from individual food and cosmetics products to large bulk shipments, there’s a wide range of packaging materials available. Some, like metal and glass, can be associated with quality and luxury. Others, like plastic, are convenient yet environmentally problematic.
But deciding which material is right for you doesn’t have to be a challenge. At Sourceful, we have a wide range of more sustainable, functional packaging materials that cater for many different products and industries.
From our FSC-certified paper products to our certified recycled plastic ones, you can see exactly what goes into your packaging with detailed information on our product pages. And, when you design your packaging online, our live carbon data lets you know the impact of each material, taking you one step closer towards your sustainability goals.
To figure out your packaging needs and switch to more sustainable materials, get in touch with us today.
Mailer boxes can play a vital part in the customer experience. As well as delivering your product safely, a beautifully designed mailer box can trigger a rush of feel-good neurochemicals in your customer’s brain. This gives them a memorable experience and increases their chances of buying from you again.
So, designing beautiful packaging that customers will love needs to be a key part of any brand’s business strategy. But where do you start?
We’ve put together a list of 12 ideas to help you create stunning packaging to boost sales and keep your customers coming back for more.
12 mailer box design ideas
- Customise packaging size and shape
- Create eye-catching designs
- Add interior flair
- Showcase custom artwork
- Make colours pop
- Signal sustainable values
- Embellish with UV varnish
- Showcase certifications
- Seal packaging sleekly
- Seal packaging stylishly
- Create picture-perfect presentation
- Make your filling fun
1. Customise packaging size and shape
Before you create your eye-catching packaging, you need to know the surface area you’re working with. And that depends on your product.
If you’re shipping jewellery, you’ll probably use a smaller box. But if you’re shipping a subscription package or a gift, you might need something larger. Packaging companies always offer standard mailer box sizes, but many also allow you to create a custom size for your product.
Getting the right-sized packaging for your product is important. When your packaging is too large, you’ll end up shipping more material and using up more freight space, which increases your carbon footprint and your costs. It’s also important for customer retention, as 48% of UK customers cite oversized packaging as one of the most annoying things about e-commerce.
You can even generate brand awareness by designing a more unique size and shape, helping you to stand out in a sea of standardised packaging.
2. Create eye-catching designs
When you hear the words “Coca-Cola” what colours do you think of? Red, white and brown? That’s because the company uses consistent colours, making its products instantly and internationally recognisable.
So, like Coca-Cola, you can use your colour palette on your external-facing packaging to increase familiarity with your brand. But, there’s even more to using colours than creating brand recognition.
Certain colours create an emotional response. Yellow, for example, is associated with optimism and is great for grabbing customer attention. Black is more secretive and often used for exclusive or luxury items. Blue is associated with trust, which is why you see it in so many banks’ logos. Colour psychology is a powerful marketing tool. In fact, one study found that 85% of customers cited colour as their primary reason for buying a product.
Using tools like our online design studio allows you to choose a block colour for your packaging to appeal to customers, or to make a bold statement. You can also add designs, text and logos to showcase your brand’s personality.
3. Add interior flair
A stylishly designed mailer box makes for a unique customer experience. But whereas anyone can see the outside of your packaging, the inside is reserved especially for the customer. So, seeing that you’ve thoughtfully designed the interior as well as the exterior makes them feel special, which can strengthen the relationship between you.
Just like the outside of your packaging, the inside can be designed with colours, patterns and special messages for your customer’s eyes only.
4. Showcase custom artwork
Displaying custom artwork is a great way to reinforce your brand image in your customer’s mind. And your choice of artwork will depend on your brand’s personality, as well as your target audience.
To find out what your target audience likes, you’ll need to do some research. Focus groups, interviews and surveys can tell you what customers love about your design, as well as what you could improve. By appealing to your target audience, you’ll retain and attract more customers, boosting sales and brand awareness.
Ultimately, customers want to feel that their chosen brands understand them. So thoughtful designs that appeal to your audience is a great way to demonstrate this.
“People don't buy the products you create, they buy the stories you tell. And the stories that you tell come alive in the way you do the creative” — Richa Goswami, Head of Digital, Johnson & Johnson APAC
5. Make colours pop
A bleached white paper mailer is a great way to make your printed designs stand out. It highlights contrasts between elements and can draw attention to key features like your logo.
If being more sustainable is a priority, choose a white finish on just one side of your packaging and a choose a natural kraft finish on the other. Reducing the amount of bleached materials in your packaging makes it that little bit more sustainable, so keep this in mind when designing your mailer box.
6. Signal sustainable values
For a more sustainable finish, embrace the natural appearance of kraft paper. As an unbleached paper, it can be one of the most sustainable packaging materials, especially if it’s sourced from responsibly managed forests.
You can leave your packaging completely blank, or print your designs against the natural kraft paper background. As it happens, kraft paper’s raw, unprocessed appearance is celebrated by customers and businesses to symbolise a commitment to sustainability. So by embracing the minimalist look, your packaging can make a lasting impression.
7. Embellish with UV varnish
Adding UV varnish can add that extra special sense of style and luxury to your packaging. Here, a varnish is applied to certain parts of your packaging and is then dried under an ultraviolet machine, giving a glossy finish.
UV varnishes create interesting differences in your packaging’s texture and can draw your customer’s attention to key features.
8. Showcase certifications
Customers are increasingly looking for climate-conscious brands to purchase from. So to build trust among your customer base, source materials from suppliers with recognised certifications.
For example, The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is an organisation that promotes responsible forestry practices. When a material is FSC-certified, you can be sure that it's come from a forest that's well-managed.
If your materials have been sourced from an FSC-certified supplier, adding an FSC label to your packaging showcases your commitment to sustainability.
9. Seal but don’t distract
Sometimes, you want your mailer box to speak for itself. This means no visible adhesives or added labels that obscure your design. Concealing these functional elements can give your packaging a sleek, sophisticated edge.
Our mailer boxes have side wings which can be folded in to close your packaging, so you don’t actually need any extra adhesives. But, for added security, you can add a single peel and seal strip. This sits inside the box’s front flap and seals it neatly, meaning you can secure your packaging whilst letting your exterior artwork take centre stage.
10. Seal with style
On the other hand, you can also celebrate your mailer box’s closure by making them a design feature.
Stickers are great for sealing and can add a pop of colour, style and luxury to your packaging. You can also use them to communicate messages to your customers, such as your materials’ origins or recycling information. What’s more, our customisable stickers can be recycled when stuck to any recyclable packaging, so your customers won’t have to separate them before disposal.
Alternatively, you can securely seal your packaging with gummed tape. It’s made from natural kraft paper and a starch-based adhesive, which is more sustainable than plastic-based tapes. It can also be customised with colours and your logo to generate brand awareness. Gummed tape can be recycled easily along with the rest of your mailer box.
11. Create the picture-perfect presentation
A memorable unboxing experience is a key customer loyalty-building strategy. And custom inserts, which present the products inside your mailer box in style are a great way to do this.
Our custom inserts can be die-cut to fit your product, and can also be printed on to match your mailer box design. They’re made from corrugated cardboard and are kerbside recyclable, making them a better choice over other common inserts, like styrofoam.
And for packaging that showcases innovation, sugarcane pulp inserts are an ideal choice. They can be moulded to fit any shape and are perfect for presentation boxes. They’re made from leftover waste from the sugar industry and can also be kerbside recycled. This means a reduced carbon footprint and an overall more sustainable alternative to conventional plastic inserts.
12. Make your filling fun
Sometimes you need to add a little extra protection to stop products bumping or scraping against each other. This can decrease the risk of returns, which in turn can lower your carbon footprint.
Tissue paper offers good protection and can be included in your mailer box as an additional branding tool. You can choose from a range of colours and patterns, or create your own custom tissue paper with your branding.
How to choose the best mailer box design idea for your business
The range of mailer box design possibilities is endless and knowing which one to choose can be a little daunting. To help, ask yourself these three questions before making a decision.
1. What does your product need?
Understanding your product’s needs rules out unsuitable designs, leaving you to choose from the most suitable ones. And an obvious place to start is by considering size and shape.
Rather than choosing a standard, predefined mailer box, first think about your product’s dimensions. For example, are you shipping tall cosmetics bottles or a single square-shaped toy? Leading with your product will help you choose the best shape and size for your packaging.
Shaping your packaging around your product has sustainability benefits too. The right-sized packaging means you ship fewer materials and less air, reducing your carbon footprint.
2. Who’s your target audience?
Identifying exactly who you're trying to reach will help inform your design choices. A teenager, for example, may enjoy brighter colours and packaging that makes unboxing fun whilst an older client may appreciate a more subtle style.
Meanwhile, your customers may be aligned with you not because of their age or professions, but because you share the same values. For example, customers interested in sustainability may prefer a simpler packaging design that uses fewer resources.
So, before going all in on your packaging design, consider who your ideal customer is. Find out where they work and what do they do for fun. You can also collect feedback on your existing or potential packaging design through surveys, social media polls and focus groups. Knowing what appeals to your target audience will help you to create packaging they’ll love.
3. What’s the cost?
Whilst making your mailer box attractive is important, so is considering the practical aspects. And that means thinking about production. What will your materials and printing decisions cost? Is this in line with your budget?
Depending on your business strategy, you might decide to go all out on vibrant colours, eye-catching patterns and additional features like stickers. Or you may opt for a more minimalist design, stripping it back to the essentials only whilst still conveying your brand message.
With Sourceful, you can see the price of every design decision in real time, helping you weigh up the costs and benefits of each element. In this way, you can create a mailer box that both appeals to your target audience and aligns with your financial goals.
Create a beautiful, bespoke mailer box with Sourceful
These days, customers want more than an exchange of goods. Instead, they’re looking for a memorable unboxing experience. And you can give them one with a combination of thoughtful design ideas, showing your customers that you understand who they are and what they value.
At Sourceful, we’re here to help you switch to more sustainable packaging that leaves a lasting impression. You can contact us for advice on how to get started, or head over to our design studio and start creating your custom packaging today.
You may have heard the term “sustainable packaging” and thought about recycling. And you’d be right. Recycling does play a key role in reducing packaging waste. But did you know that there are other ways to make your packaging more sustainable, from changing the materials you use to setting up packaging return schemes?
Here at Sourceful, we’re passionate about packaging with a lower environmental impact than conventional packaging. So, we’ve put together a list of nine common ways to make packaging more sustainable, along with information about how you can get started today.
What is sustainable packaging?
As clothing retailer Patagonia says, everything has an impact. And the same is true for packaging. Even the most sustainable packaging possible still has a footprint. Put another way, it can't be truly sustainable. That doesn't mean that some packaging can't be more sustainable than other packaging. And that's the aim: to reduce packaging's footprint.
By changing how you design, manufacture and use packaging, you can make sure it has the lowest environmental impact possible. Designing packaging that conserves resources, uses renewable or recycled materials, and can be reused or recycled will help you minimise its carbon footprint.
Why packaging sustainability is important
Packaging waste is increasing. As recently as 2020, Europeans generated as much as 177.2 kg of packaging waste per person and less than half of that was recycled.
One of the major problems here is that much of this waste is petroleum-based. This includes packaging we’re familiar with, such as yoghurt pots as well as common materials like styrofoam. Because these materials are so durable, they can take hundreds of years to break down. When sent to incineration, which is about half the time in the UK, they release harmful greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide and methane, both of which contribute to global warming.
But that’s not the only damage petroleum-based products do. Whether in landfill or floating in the ocean, these materials are also hazardous to human and animal health. They can leach chemicals into the environment, block waterways and also be directly ingested as microplastics.
Paper and cardboard are two other common packaging materials and whilst made from trees, they're also one of the most sustainable. This is simply because trees are renewable resources, and most paper and cardboard can be recycled after use. In fact, 80% of cardboard and paper products in the UK are made from recycled material. Using recycled materials, or virgin materials sourced from responsibly managed forests, helps to reduce the negative environmental impacts of deforestation.
So, the materials you use to create your packaging have a direct impact on the environment. But there are other factors to consider too. For example, the amount of energy needed to source and manufacture your packaging can increase or decrease its carbon footprint. As will the distance between you and your supplier, because greater distances can mean increased transport emissions.
And governments around the world continue to put regulations in place to ensure producers take greater responsibility for their packaging waste as well. So, all this considered, there’s never been a better time to get started. The following list will give you an idea of the most common materials and schemes that businesses are using to make their packaging more sustainable.
9 types of more sustainable packaging
1. Recyclable packaging
Recyclable packaging is any packaging material that can be collected and processed to make new products. This reduces the need for virgin materials and helps reduce waste on a global scale.
Plenty of materials are recyclable, including metal cans, certain plastics, glass and wood. And not forgetting paper and card — two of the most easily recyclable materials. All of the paper-based packaging we offer is recyclable, either by the roadside or at a local collection point.
2. FSC-certified packaging
Paper and cardboard are some of the most popular packaging materials. They’re natural and renewable and can easily be recycled after use. But because these come from forests, it’s important to make sure that they’re extracted in a responsible way.
The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is a global non-profit organisation that promotes responsible forest management. This helps to protect the local wildlife and communities from the environmental and social impacts of poorly conducted forestry.
The FSC-certified label can tell you whether your paper-based packaging has been responsibly sourced. FSC-certified products often include corrugated cardboard boxes, kraft paper products like paper mailer bags, cards and envelopes.
3. Recycled paper and cardboard packaging
Using recycled paper increases the circularity of packaging. It reduces the consumption of finite resources (such as water and land), cutting down trees and stops materials from being sent to landfill.
The good news is that paper and cardboard are two of the easiest things to recycle. In fact, the UK recycles 80% of its paper and cardboard into new products.
You can find a variety of recycled paper products, including cardboard packaging like book mailers, gift cards and even toilet paper.
4. Recycled plastic packaging
The world produces 141 million tonnes of plastic packaging every year and much of this ends up in landfill or in our oceans. So, using packaging made from recycled plastic keeps it out of the environment and reduces the need for virgin materials.
Recycled plastic can be used in many ways, from cosmetics bottles to recycled mailer bags.
5. Plant-based packaging
Plant-based packaging on a large scale is a relatively new idea but the possibilities are exciting. Plants are a renewable resource, which makes them more sustainable than fossil fuel materials like plastic. What’s more, there are plant-based packaging solutions that use leftover waste from other industries, which reduces the need to source more materials.
A good example of plant-based packaging is sugarcane pulp, which uses plant fibres left over from the sugar processing industry. As it's easy to mould, sugarcane pulp is ideal for making custom inserts which can replace harmful packaging like styrofoam.
6. Edible packaging
Nature is filled with its own edible packaging, like the skin of an apple, for example. Like apple skins, edible packaging can be consumed with the product it’s protecting. Although relatively new, it's proving to be a promising replacement for non-renewable packaging often associated with consumables, such as plastic films and sachets.
Seaweed is a great example of a renewable resource that can package and protect products, and it can be consumed or disposed of naturally after use.
7. Returnable packaging
Returnable packaging is designed to be returned to the manufacturer or distributor after use to then be used again. This saves resources, as fewer virgin materials are needed. It also reduces waste.
Examples include bottles used for cosmetics and packaging envelopes used in deliveries.
8. Reusable packaging
Reusable packaging can be used multiple times before it needs to be replaced or disposed of. When designed for multiple reuses, it reduces the need for new packaging production and virgin materials as well as waste.
Cardboard boxes, plastic bags, metal cans, glass jars and plastic containers are all great examples of packaging that can be used multiple times.
9. Mono-material packaging
Mono-material packaging is made from one type of material. Using a single material requires fewer components during manufacturing and enables easier recycling, especially where plastic is concerned.
Aluminium cans are a great example of mono-material packaging.
Benefits of using more sustainable packaging
When balancing your business priorities with your sustainability goals, you might wonder if switching to more sustainable packaging is really worth it. The answer to this is yes, and you may be surprised to hear that the benefits extend beyond reducing your carbon footprint.
Reduce your costs
When considering the switch to more sustainable packaging, a common worry is whether it will be more expensive than traditional packaging. But actually, more sustainable packaging design can save you money in both the short and long term.
Ikea, for example, reconfigured some of its packaging to make it fit more snugly, which means they could ship more products in one go. This saves them €1.2 million per year in transport costs and has the added environmental benefits of fewer transport emissions and fewer packaging materials used.
Meanwhile, governments around the world are cracking down on packaging waste under new extended producer responsibility laws. For example, the Plastic Packaging Tax that now affects plastic packaging in the UK that contains less than 30% recycled plastic. As costs increase for importers and manufacturers, it's likely they will likely pass on some or all of that cost to brands like yours. Choosing more sustainable packaging will help you avoid these new costs.
Improve your social impact
You may not have realised it, but how sustainable your packaging is can have significant social implications.
The FSC, for example, works with local communities, making sure that they’re involved and positively impacted by their forestry operations. So, if you choose FSC-certified products over non-certified products, your packaging can have a more positive impact on people as well as the planet.
Packaging waste has also become a human health hazard in countries such as Indonesia and Malaysia. To avoid contributing to this serious issue, consider recyclable, returnable or reusable packaging and keep packaging away from human habitats.
Create a positive brand perception
Online searches for sustainable products have increased by 71% in the last five years. This shows that customers now not only value price and quality, but also a brand's environmental impact. And customers aren’t afraid to take their business elsewhere if they find a brand that’s more aligned with their values.
So, switching to more sustainable packaging can help you retain your existing client base as well as attract new fans. This can help you stand out from your competitors as a forward-thinking, climate-conscious brand.
Companies using more sustainable packaging
Switching to more sustainable packaging has clear environmental, social and financial benefits. But more sustainable packaging isn’t just for e-commerce businesses. Take the following four brands from different industries that are finding ways to reduce their packaging’s footprint.
Lush is well known in the UK for its natural approach to skincare. Their first choice in making their packaging more sustainable is to use as little of it as possible, which works well for solid products such as soap and shampoo bars. For loose or liquid products, they use recycled materials which can be reused, returned or recycled after use.
Mondi, a packaging manufacturer, has helped early-adopter brands like Handl Tyrol switch to mono-material food packaging. This reduces the variety of materials the manufacturer needs to source and makes recycling easier for their customers.
The fashion industry doesn’t have a good track record when it comes to sustainability. But Stella McCartney’s brand is changing this narrative, using FSC-certified, recycled, paper packaging to complement its more sustainable clothing ranges and reduce fashion’s environmental impact.
How to switch to more sustainable packaging
If you’re thinking that making the switch to more sustainable packaging sounds like a great idea, you’re in good company. But before you make any big changes, we recommend taking the following steps to help you make the right decision for your business.
1. Consider your product’s needs
The first step is to think about what your product is and what kind of protection it needs. You might find that your product needs a lot less packaging than you’re using.
For example, if you’re shipping soft, non-fragile items, such as clothing, in a mailer box, could you switch to a paper mailer bag? This could save materials and improve your shipping efficiency.
2. Conduct customer research
It can be easier to make the switch to more sustainable packaging when you know what your customers value. You might find that your customers would be happy receiving packaging with minimal artwork, for example, which could save you both money and materials.
Or, they might be willing to participate in return schemes, sending the packaging back to you, or to a third party, when they’ve finished with it. RePack is an example of a packaging return scheme that operates internationally.
You may even find that your customers are willing to pay a little extra for more sustainable packaging, which could help you balance out any upfront costs from by the switchover. Knowing what your customers value can help you make informed decisions about your sustainable packaging design.
3. Make changes to your existing packaging
Did you know that the average delivery box is 40% too big for its contents? As a result, you can end up shipping air in your packaging, which takes up space and means you can transport fewer products in one go. It also means you might need to use additional packaging materials like void fillers so that your product doesn’t move around in transit.
You can also check to see whether your packaging includes any materials that aren’t essential. For example, if you want to communicate with your customers, instead of including a card you could print a QR code on the box, which they could scan to access the information they need.
Sometimes tweaking what you’re already working with can make a significant difference to your packaging’s sustainability.
4. Work with a reputable company
Joining forces with a dependable company, like Sourceful, offers some noteworthy benefits. Firstly, you’ll be reassured that the materials and processes used to create your packaging are certified to certain standards. Dependable companies also tend to have more resilient supply chains, helping you maintain streamlined, consistent operations.
And by collaborating with reputable experts, you benefit from their experience and industry knowledge. This helps you make design decisions with confidence, ensuring your packaging aligns with both your product’s needs and your brand identity.
Working with a reliable supplier can also simplify your switch to more sustainable packaging. For example, easy-to-use tools, like our online design studio, let you take full control of your packaging design without the need for any special skills. Or, you can always lean on the skills and expertise of a team, such as our in-house designers, to help you create bespoke packaging that delivers.
In short, collaborating with a dependable company means your switch to more sustainable packaging can be seamless and stress-free.
Make your packaging more sustainable with Sourceful
With global packaging waste building up, there’s never been a better or more crucial time to switch to more sustainable packaging. Brands from a variety of industries are making the commitment to reduce their environmental impact and finding that this can benefit their business in the long run.
The e-commerce industry is growing and shows no signs of slowing down soon. Left unchecked, this could lead to an increase in packaging waste which is already causing untold damage to the environment and to human health.
Fortunately, there is a more sustainable solution for most packaging needs — it’s just a case of finding the right one for your brand.
So, we’ve put together the following list of more environmentally friendly packaging, according to what they’re best suited for.
More sustainable packaging solutions:
- Best for heavier items: shipping boxes
- Best for unboxing and gifting: mailer boxes
- Best for non-fragile items: paper mailer bags
- Best for waterproofing: recycled mailer bags
- Best alternative to padded envelopes: honeycomb mailers
- Best for void filling and unboxing: shredded paper
- Best alternative to plastic tape: gummed tape
- Best for protecting against scratches: tissue paper
- Best for shock absorption: honeycomb packaging
- Best for regifting: furoshiki wraps
- Best for flat products: book mailers
- Best alternative to plastic inserts: sugarcane pulp
- Best for sharing information: QR codes
1. Best for heavier items: shipping boxes
You’re probably familiar with the corrugated cardboard shipping box, which is a great way to transport heavier or bulk goods. It’s versatile, strong and lightweight, making it one of the most popular packaging materials available.
It’s also one of the most sustainable. Firstly, many packaging providers use Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified materials in their shipping boxes. This means that any virgin materials have been sourced from responsibly managed forests. Secondly, paper and card are two of the most easily recyclable packaging materials, which keeps waste out of landfills and reduces the need for virgin materials.
Corrugated cardboard’s strength is due to the wavy board sandwiched between two kraft liner sides. This is called fluting. Different fluting thicknesses provide different levels of strength, so you can choose the right protection for your product.
Corrugated cardboard packaging is also highly versatile. You can customise your packaging by size, shape and fluting thickness, which can ensure it's the right size for your product. This means you ship less air in your packaging and can transport more in one go, reducing your carbon emissions.
Ready to start designing your own shipping box? Design online now.
2. Best for unboxing and gifting: mailer boxes
Mailer boxes are used in e-commerce to ship products of all kinds to customers. Like shipping boxes, they’re made from corrugated cardboard, which is often FSC-certified or made from recycled materials. They're easily recycled and can be collected at the kerbside.
But mailer boxes do more than just protect your product. They are fully customisable and are a great opportunity to generate brand awareness. What’s more, by pairing them with a custom insert, you can create an impressive unboxing experience to impress your customers and increase brand loyalty.
You can design your own mailer boxes with Sourceful’s online design studio. And you don’t need any special software or design experience.
3. Best for non-fragile items: paper mailer bags
Paper mailer bags are great for shipping soft, non-fragile items in a more sustainable way. They can also be customised to display your branding and promote brand awareness.
Paper mailer bags can be made from FSC-certified kraft paper and they're easily recycled after use. Our paper mailers are a more sustainable alternative to poly mailers, which are made from virgin plastic and have a higher carbon footprint.
4. Best for waterproofing: recycled mailer bags
Recycled mailer bags are suitable for soft, non-fragile items that require a little more protection than paper mailers provide. And as they’re made with recycled plastic, they offer more resistance to water than paper does.
Recycled mailer bags are more sustainable than conventional poly mailer bags, which are made from virgin, petroleum-based materials. These are non-renewable, take hundreds of years to break down and release harmful greenhouse gases. Instead, recycled mailer bags take plastic that’s already in circulation and give it a second life.
We have two types of recycled mailer bags, one which contains 30% recycled plastic and another that contains 98%. They’re both eligible for custom printing, so you can still display your brand personality whilst reducing your environmental impact. Using either bag also exempts your business from the Plastic Packaging Tax.
5. Best alternative to padded envelopes: honeycomb mailers
For items that need more protection than paper mailer bags and recycled mailer bags, honeycomb mailers are a great solution. The padding is made from kraft paper in a shape inspired by the strong honeycomb structure.
Thanks to their lower carbon footprint, honeycomb mailers are a more sustainable alternative to traditional padded envelopes. Our honeycomb mailers are FSC-certified and 100% recyclable.
6. Best for void filling and unboxing: shredded paper
Shredded paper is a useful void filler. It’s made from paper that's been cut into small pieces and it protects your product from moving around during transit. Using a void filler can actually reduce your carbon footprint in some instances, as damaged products create waste and emissions through the returns process.
As paper is an easily recyclable material, shredded paper is a more sustainable void filler than styrofoam, bubble wrap or plastic air pillows. Ideally, it will be made from post-consumer waste paper in order to save virgin materials.
Shredded paper can do more than just protect your products. It comes in a variety of colours and can be used to create an impressive unboxing experience. And it can also become a part of your garden. Botanical Paperworks offers a post-consumer, seed-lined void filler which can be planted to produce flowers.
Before choosing any void filler we recommend checking that your packaging is the right size for your product, as this can reduce the amount of void filler you need.
7. Best alternative to plastic tape: gummed tape
Gummed tape is a great way to seal your packaging in a more sustainable way. It’s made from kraft paper, which can be FSC-certified, is easily recycled and is widely collected at the kerbside.
It gets its stickiness from a water-activated, starch-based adhesive. This means that every component of gummed tape is made from a natural, renewable resource. Gummed tape is a more sustainable alternative to plastic tape, which is made from non-renewable resources and is difficult to recycle.
And the benefits don’t stop there. Gummed tape can also be printed on, creating an additional branding opportunity for your business.
Sourceful’s gummed tape is fully recyclable, customisable and can reduce your carbon footprint by up to 50%.
8. Best for protecting against scratches: tissue paper
When your customer receives their order, they expect it to arrive in perfect condition. But because e-commerce items are handled twenty times more than those headed for retail stores, there’s a higher risk of your product being damaged before it reaches the customer.
Tissue paper is great for protecting your items against scuffs and scratches. As it’s thin and flexible, it can be wrapped around delicate items of any size, from jewellery to picture frames. Tissue paper can also be dyed and printed on, another opportunity to generate brand awareness.
Using tissue paper can reduce your environmental impact by ensuring your items aren’t returned as a result of damage during transit. And it’s a more sustainable alternative to single-use plastic wrapping and void fillers as it’s lightweight, can be FSC-certified and widely recycled.
9. Best for shock absorption: honeycomb packaging
Honeycomb packaging is a relatively new yet promising design. It’s similar to corrugated cardboard, in that there is a shock-absorbing paper structure sandwiched between two sheets of kraft paper. But instead of the fluting we find in corrugated cardboard, we find a honeycomb paper structure.
Imagine the typical image of the honeycomb found in a beehive. That shape is what you’d see if you removed one of the sandwiching kraft liners. This structure makes it even stronger than corrugated cardboard, so it does a great job protecting fragile items from knocks and bumps.
Honeycomb packaging is also made using renewable resources and can be recycled after use.
10. Best for regifting: furoshiki wraps
Furoshiki refers to a traditional Japanese practice in which gifts are wrapped using fabric. Once the gift has been unwrapped, the receiver can keep the Furoshiki wrap or give it back to the gift giver. It can be used again for another gift, or for any instance where you might need a square of fabric, from bandanas to placemats.
The fabric can be any design you like, which adds a personal touch to the packaging. This reduces the need for single-use paper or plastic wrapping and helps to reduce waste.
You can buy premade Furoshiki wraps or reuse any fabric you have at home.
11. Best for flat products: book mailers
Book mailers are a great way to transport flat products like books and magazines in a more sustainable way. They’re made from corrugated cardboard, so they can be sourced from FSC-certified forests and are easily recycled at the kerbside.
Our book mailers can be folded to fit any size, so you only need to order one size and it will fit a variety of products. This means your packaging will fit your product more snugly so you can avoid shipping air.
12. Best alternative to plastic inserts: sugarcane pulp
Sugarcane pulp is a paper-like product that can be moulded to create a snug-fitting packaging insert. It’s made from sugarcane fibres, a byproduct of the sugar industry. This repurposes waste which would otherwise be incinerated or sent to landfill. It also means reduced dependence on traditional plastic inserts.
Our sugarcane pulp inserts can be custom moulded to fit any product and mailer box, in turn helping to create an impressive unboxing experience.
13. Best for sharing information: QR codes
One of the most impactful ways to make your packaging more sustainable is to help your customers dispose of it more sustainably.
QR codes are codes printed on your packaging, which customers can scan using a smart device, such as a phone or tablet. The code directs them to a website where you can provide recycling instructions, promotional information and anything else you want your customer to know.
Printing QR codes can be made even more sustainable by using water-based and vegetable-based inks. These are more sustainable than solvent-based ones.
How to choose the most sustainable packaging for your business
1. Consider your product’s needs
The level of protection your product requires will inform which type of packaging is right for you. For example, if you’re transporting fragile items, such as glass vases, a paper mailer won't provide the level of protection needed to keep the product from breaking. Instead, you may need a shipping box with box dividers to keep the items from moving around.
2. Make small changes to what you’re already using
Rather than choosing a new type of packaging, making changes to your existing packaging might be the most sustainable option. For example, the average box is 40% too big for its contents, which can mean that you’re shipping more air and using excess packaging materials. This increases your carbon footprint.
But reducing your packaging’s size can make your shipping more efficient, allowing you to transport more products in one go. It can also reduce your need for void fillers, decreasing your environmental impact even further.
3. Make more sustainable switches
You might find that you’re already using the most environmentally friendly packaging design. Or, you might be able to replace it with more sustainable options. For example, if you need the waterproof qualities of a plastic poly mailer, use one with recycled content. In this way, you’ll be keeping plastic out of the environment, instead of adding to it.
You can also check whether your packaging provider uses sustainably sourced materials. Here at Sourceful, all of our card and paper products are FSC-certified, so you can be sure that your packaging comes from responsibly managed forests.
Get started with sustainable packaging
Whether it’s due to sustainable values, or to stay ahead of extended producer regulations, e-commerce businesses around the world are finding ways to reduce their environmental impact. The good news is that there are plenty of more sustainable options to choose from.
If you need to ship heavier or bulk items, you can use an FSC-certified shipping box. Or, if you’re looking for waterproof protection for a non-fragile item, choose a recycled mailer bag to avoid single-use virgin plastic. Whatever your need, there’s a more sustainable packaging solution out there for your business.
Here at Sourceful, we’re passionate about more sustainable packaging. If you’d like more advice, get in touch and we’d be happy to help you.
From sugarcane to paper that acts like honeycomb, more sustainable packaging materials are becoming increasingly available for businesses that want to reduce their environmental impact. But with so many possible designs, making the right choice can be a challenge.
We’ve put together a list of 26 ideas to help you understand the materials available, so that you make the right choice for your business, putting you firmly on the path toward more sustainable packaging.
What is sustainable packaging design?
Sustainable packaging design is designing packaging to have the smallest environmental impact possible. This can involve using natural, chemical-free materials, more efficient sizing or designing with your product’s end of life in mind. In reconsidering packaging design, you have an opportunity to reduce your carbon footprint, stay ahead of extended producer regulations and increase brand loyalty.
Why sustainable packaging design is necessary
In 2020, packaging waste in Europe reached 79.3 million tonnes. Whilst recycling rates have been mostly increasing in the last decade, they remain low compared to total waste, especially for plastic. As a result, a lot of single-use packaging is discarded and ends up in landfills and waterways. Here, it takes longer to break down, can release toxic chemicals, poses a risk to wildlife and ultimately contributes to greenhouse gas emissions.
Customers are increasingly looking to businesses to take the lead on sustainability. There’s an opportunity for businesses not only to ensure their packaging can be recyclable but to also examine their packaging’s total life cycle and reduce its environmental impact long before it reaches the customer.
6 more sustainable packaging materials with 14 design examples
The sustainable packaging industry is rapidly expanding. You can now choose from tried and tested natural materials, such as corrugated cardboard, to innovative market disruptors, like mycelium.
Deciding which one is right for you depends on the functional needs of your product (barrier properties, level of protection, etc.), your sustainability targets and your budget.
1. Corrugated cardboard
Corrugated cardboard is one of the most sustainable packaging materials available. It consists of a corrugated sheet, commonly known as fluting, sandwiched between two kraft paper liners. Each of these components can be FSC-certified, whilst the fluting usually contains a high degree of recycled material. Corrugated cardboard is also widely kerbside recyclable, which makes it easier for customers to dispose of it more sustainably.
Fluting comes in a variety of thicknesses and is what gives the cardboard its strength. A thicker, double-walled flute offers the greatest protection, whilst a thinner, single-walled flute is still durable but uses fewer materials. This is a hidden opportunity in sustainable packaging design because getting the level of protection just right reduces the risk of damage and returns, which can add to your carbon footprint if left unchecked.
Corrugated cardboard does have a few drawbacks. For example, it’s not completely waterproof. What’s more, if not stored correctly it can lose its strength, as moisture and temperature fluctuations can cause its structure to warp and weaken. But its continued popularity shows that its benefits as a strong, recyclable packaging material far outweigh any downsides.
Here are some products that use corrugated cardboard:
If you’re looking to create a memorable unboxing experience, mailer boxes are a great option. They're fully customisable, which means you can print as much or as little as you want to showcase your brand’s personality. Custom sizing then allows you to make sure your packaging is the right size for your product, which can further reduce its carbon footprint by up to 8%.
For heavier or bulkier items, shipping boxes are ideal. Their strength is largely determined by the fluting, which can be chosen according to the protection needed. Like mailer boxes, shipping boxes can be customised to ensure they're the right size for your product, which reduces unnecessary space and allow you to ship more efficiently.
Crash lock boxes
Crash lock boxes are an alternative to mailer boxes. While they boast the same performance qualities, they’re faster to assemble by hand, saving time and labour costs. What’s more, a lot of their strength comes from their interlocking sides, which means fewer adhesives and fewer materials.
Box dividers are normally paired with shipping boxes to protect products from moving around in transit. A range of styles and shapes means they can be used to keep products of all kinds safe. Using box dividers as a protective measure can also reduce the need for void fillers, such as packing peanuts, which avoids unnecessary waste.
Custom inserts are die-cut to the shape of your product, holding it in place during transit before showcasing it when your customer opens their package. When paired with a mailer box, inserts can help you create a memorable unboxing experience and both insert and box can be recycled after use.
Book mailers are a cost-effective packaging solution for shipping books, magazines, and other flat products. And because they can be folded at any height, you only need to order one size which reduces the number of SKUs you have to manage. This versatility also reduces redundant space in your packaging allowing you to ship your product more sustainably.
Not only can book mailers be FSC-certified, but they can also be made from 100% recycled material. Once they have served their purpose, they can be put back into the resource stream to be recycled into new paper and card products, reducing the demand for virgin materials.
2. Kraft paper
Kraft paper is made from wood pulp and can be responsibly sourced under FSC standards. Kraft paper products can also be widely recycled at the roadside. This reduces waste ending up in landfill and means fewer virgin materials are needed to create new products.
Kraft paper does have a few limitations to bear in mind. For example, like corrugated cardboard, it’s not waterproof. What’s more, intricate designs won’t stand out as much on unbleached paper as they would on its bleached counterpart.
Nevertheless, in both its bleached and unbleached forms, kraft paper can be printed on to build brand awareness. It’s even considered a symbol of sustainability and celebrated amongst customers and businesses for its natural appearance.
At Sourceful we use kraft paper in our boxes and some of our more lightweight packaging, including mailer bags and gummed tape.
Paper mailer bag
For soft, non-fragile items such as clothes, paper mailer bags can be a more sustainable option than traditional plastic poly mailer bags. They’re thin and lightweight, which means fewer emissions during transit. And because of their flexibility, there are fewer voids to fill, making your packaging even more sustainable.
Paper mailer bags are splashproof and recyclable.
Honeycomb mailer bag
Taking its cue from nature, the honeycomb mailer bag has the same benefits as the paper mailer bag but uses built-in kraft paper padding to offer additional protection. Although this uses more materials, it reduces the risk of damage for fragile projects that paper mailer bags aren’t suited for, which in turn reduces returns and extra transport emissions.
Gummed tape is a more sustainable alternative to plastic-based tapes, which are petroleum-derived and can be difficult to recycle. Instead, gummed tape is made from renewable, natural resources: kraft paper and a starch-based adhesive. It’s kerbside recyclable and using it in place of traditional packaging tape can reduce your carbon footprint by up to 50%.
Gummed tape can also be printed on, adding a little personality to your packaging and building awareness for your brand.
From gift cards to paracetamol boxes, cartonboard is a familiar sight in shops and supermarkets. It offers protection without the need for plastic and can be customised in size, shape and colour to be both protective and attractive.
Cartonboard’s thin, lightweight qualities reduce its carbon footprint during shipping compared to thicker or heavier packaging materials. What’s more, FSC-certified cartonboard comes from responsibly managed forests and is a more sustainable alternative to plastic packaging.
With no fluting, cartonboard is not as strong as corrugated cardboard, so it’s best used for smaller or lighter items that aren’t at risk of being damaged.
FSC-certified cards can help you communicate your sustainability efforts to customers. You can choose between flat or folded styles, and they come in a variety of sizes. To make sure you’re not adding unnecessary materials to your packaging, we recommend using cards only if they serve a real purpose.
Sourceful cards are widely kerbside recyclable so customers can dispose of them with ease.
4. Recycled plastic
Plastic is popular thanks to its durability and protective qualities. Yet, 79% of all plastics ever made are still in landfill or out in the environment. Plastic can take at least 400 years to degrade and can release harmful chemicals as it breaks down.
So, when you need the properties of plastic, using plastics already in circulation and giving them a second life can reduce the damage that they can do to the environment. By including at least 30% of recycled plastic in your packaging, you’re also exempt from the Plastic Packaging Tax.
Recycled mailer bags
Here at Sourceful, we're leading the charge against plastic pollution with our 98% recycled content mailer bag. It’s GRS-certified (Global Recycled Standard), which verifies the recycled materials content and ensures complete supply chain transparency.
Recycled mailer bags offer a more sustainable alternative to traditional poly mailer bags which are made with virgin plastics. Using our 98% recycled plastic mailer bag can reduce your carbon footprint by up to 30%, whilst using our 30% recycled plastic mailer bag can reduce your carbon footprint by 9% compared to virgin poly mailer bags.
And just because they're recycled doesn’t mean you have to compromise on appearance. Both recycled mailer bags can be printed on to reflect your brand and increase customer awareness. Whilst our 98% recycled mailer bag does have some white flecks due to the high quantity of recycled material, you could use this as a badge of honour to showcase your commitment to sustainability.
Deciding which is right for you will depend on how you balance your business’s branding with your sustainability efforts. The good news is that using either bag means your business will be exempt from the plastic packaging tax, whilst reducing the amount of plastic in circulation.
5. Sugarcane pulp
Packaging innovators have been searching for more sustainable materials in response to the plastic packaging waste crisis. And one promising material is sugarcane pulp. What's great about sugarcane pulp products is that they're made from sugarcane fibres, which are a byproduct of the sugar industry and would otherwise be incinerated or thrown away. By using this waste input, less material goes to landfill and fewer virgin materials are needed.
Sugarcane pulp products can be collected for recycling and reprocessed into other products. These products shouldn't, however, be confused with sugarcane “bioplastics” which often have additional, non-renewable chemicals added and can only be composted industrially.
Sugarcane pulp inserts
Sourceful’s sugarcane pulp inserts can be combined with a mailer box to create an impressive unboxing experience. These paper-like inserts can be moulded to fit any shape, which keeps your products in place and on display as you intended.
3 easy steps to move towards sustainable packaging design
Choosing a more sustainable material can go a long way in making your packaging more eco-friendly. But there are other design choices you can make that don’t require changing materials that can still help you to reduce your packaging’s waste and carbon footprint.
1. Reduce your packaging size
Did you know that the average box is 40% too big for its contents? This means that even if you’ve chosen the most sustainable material possible, the extra space your packaging takes up means you can ship less in one go, which increases your carbon footprint.
By making your packaging the right size for your product, you can combat this waste. This will also save you money as you’ll reduce the shipping cost per item.
What’s more, tighter-fitting packaging means that products aren’t at risk of rattling around in transit, so you can also reduce your need for void fill.
2. Reduce unnecessary materials
Reducing your void fillers and packaging size aren’t the only ways you can save on materials. You can also think about any extras your packaging has, such as cards or leaflets.
If you do want to communicate with your customers, a great way to do this without adding extra materials is to print QR codes on your packaging. Your customers can scan these with their smart devices and access the same information through a website instead of on paper.
3. Simplify your packaging’s appearance
Using colours and designs in your packaging can show off your brand personality and make for an impressive unboxing experience. And, if you’re using packaging printed on with water-based or vegetable-based inks, you’re already using a more sustainable alternative to the traditional solvent-based inks.
But, if you want to go the extra mile, you could reduce the designs on your packaging’s exterior and embrace its more natural appearance.
Our Studio lets you play with endless design ideas until you find one that’s perfect for you. Even if you don’t have any experience designing packaging, you can visualise your new packaging easily and within minutes. When you’re done, our experts will proof every inch ahead of production so you can design with confidence.
Design sustainable packaging with Sourceful
The growth of the e-commerce industry means that packaging waste is set to rise. But you can reduce your environmental impact by examining your current packaging and thinking about what can be changed to make it more sustainable.
And admittedly with so many materials and styles to choose from, it can be difficult to know where to start. But we’re here to help with that.
Chat with our team of experts about how you can start making the switch to more sustainable packaging today.
As e-commerce grows, so does packaging waste. In response, governments around the world are cracking down as extended producer responsibility becomes more widespread. The result? More brands seeking ways to stay ahead of regulations by creating more sustainable packaging.
Recycled materials, intelligent design and creative, novel solutions can make this a possibility. Here, we dig into eighteen ideas for making your packaging more sustainable, what other businesses are doing, and how we at Sourceful can help you make the switch.
More sustainable packaging ideas for 2023
- Recycled packaging
- Returnable packaging
- Reduced packaging size
- Reusable bags
- Eco-friendly packaging tape
- Edible packaging
- Natural inks
- Smart labels
- Intelligent packaging
- Active packaging
- Carbon-neutral shipping
- Sea freight
- Limited return shipping
1. Recycled packaging
Recycled packaging refers to packaging that's been made from previously used materials, such as card, paper, glass, metal and certain plastics. In the packaging industry, corrugated cardboard is one of the most frequently recycled materials and is used to create paper and card products. And of course — more boxes.
Many cities and counties in the UK have recycling programs that can accept a variety of materials. In fact, 2021 data shows that 63% of the UK’s packaging waste is collected for recycling. Customers can find the range of recycling labels confusing, so it's always helpful to include clear recycling instructions on your packaging.
Sourceful's recycled mailer bags, which contain up to 98% recycled plastic, are a great example of how plastic can be given a second life. What’s more, using one of our recycled mailer bags instead of a virgin poly mailer bag can reduce your carbon footprint by up to 30%.
Using packaging made from recycled materials conserves resources and makes for a more sustainable option than those made from virgin materials.
Upcycling, or repurposing, involves taking materials that you would have otherwise discarded and turning them into new products. This is a chance to get really creative! For example, you can turn an old t-shirt into a tote bag with just a pair of scissors in less than ten minutes.
Sourceful's shipping boxes are the ideal upcycling candidate. You could encourage your customers to turn them into a cosy pet bed, a picture frame or even a planter for plants and flowers. With corrugated cardboard the possibilities are endless.
3. Returnable packaging
Returnable packaging is packaging that can be returned to the manufacturer or the distributor after use. A common example in the packaging industry is reusable crates and pallets. But returnable packaging is becoming more popular in retail too.
When set up in the right way, it can drive high return rates and long product lifetimes. For example, Boots offers loyalty points to customers who return packaging they can’t recycle at home. Boots then recycles the packaging into new products.
Meanwhile, RePack offers a closed-loop system that keeps all waste products out of landfill and turns them into something new. In a closed-loop system, packaging can be returned, recycled and even upcycled into completely different products.
Making packaging returnable helps us move from a linear economy toward a circular one. In a circular future, waste is a valuable resource that reduces the need for virgin materials and reduces the pressure on the planet.
Mono-material packing is packaging made from just one material. The advantage of this is that it can be easier to recycle, which reduces the chance of it ending up in general waste and in turn landfill.
Packaging manufacturer Mondi has helped Handl Tyrol, a food producer, reduce its plastic waste and increase its packaging’s recyclability by creating food-safe mono-material packaging.
5. Reduced packaging size
Reducing packaging size involves looking at whether you’re shipping air in your packaging and then reducing its size accordingly. This helps you use less packaging material and also allows you to ship more of your product at any one time, saving emissions costs in the process.
Furniture giant Ikea reconfigured their packaging and now saves €1.2 million, uses fewer materials and has removed 7747 trucks from the road annually. Proof that reducing packaging size can be both more sustainable and good for business.
At Sourceful, some of our most popular pakaging can be custom-sized to fit your product’s exact specifications:
6. Reusable bags
Reusable bags are bags that can be used for years before they need to be replaced or disposed of. If you’ve shopped in a supermarket in the last year, you’ll know that there’s now a 10p charge on single-use plastic bags, and that customers are encouraged to bring their own.
“Bag for Life” is a term many people are now familiar with. This can refer to fabric bags and those made from more durable plastic. Encouraging customers to bring their own bags reduces the need to produce new bags and stops waste from going to landfill.
7. Eco-friendly packaging tape
The most sustainable packaging tapes are those made from paper and use natural adhesives. But the first step towards being more eco-friendly is to see if you can reduce your material use by using less tape and fewer labels. If that’s not practical, using a more sustainable alternative is the next best thing.
Sourceful's gummed tape has a 40-50% lower carbon footprint than traditional plastic packaging. It’s made from FSC-certified paper, which can be recycled and made into new paper products after use. We also use a starch-based adhesive to make it sticky, which is a natural, renewable resource that doesn’t affect recyclability.
What’s more, our gummed tape can do the job of both a tape and a label as you can print your logo or other information on it.
8. Edible packaging
Nature is full of its own edible packaging, such as the skin of an apple or a cucumber.
And edible packaging in the packaging world isn't that different. Just like apple skin, this packaging is designed to be consumed along with the product. It can be made of fruit peels, leaves, and films made of starch or protein. Using edible packaging can replace non-renewable packaging, such as plastic, and subsequently reduce waste.
You might have already seen some edible packaging if you’ve watched marathon runners grabbing hand-sized transparent pouches containing drinks. Notpla is a company that uses seaweed to create an edible bubble. This natural, renewable resource can replace plastic bottles and sachets.
Furoshiki is the traditional Japanese practice of wrapping gifts in cloth, which can be used again either by the giver or the receiver of the gift. The fabric can then be used to wrap another gift or in many other ways including handkerchiefs, bandanas and decorations. This practice reduces the need for single-use packaging, which in turn reduces waste and saves the energy required for waste processing.
The Furoshiki Wrap Company sells ready-made wraps in a range of sizes. Though of course, you could use any fabric you have at home in order to avoid purchasing new products.
Using foliage as packaging involves using twigs, leaves and branches to protect or add a decorative element to your product. The advantage of using foliage is that it’s natural, can be sourced locally and can reduce your packaging’s carbon footprint.
Supermarkets around the world are beginning to replace plastic packaging with natural packaging, such as banana leaves. These break down naturally and can be disposed of with other organic waste.
Minimalism involves looking at what protection your product really needs, and then using as little packaging as possible. This could mean using fewer exterior materials, reducing packaging layers or reducing interior materials such as void fillers.
At Sourceful, we have a team of sustainability and packaging experts who can advise you on minimising your packaging whilst still protecting your product.
12. Natural inks
Natural inks, such as water, soy or vegetable-based inks are a more natural choice than petroleum-based inks. The main carrier is naturally derived, they are non-toxic, and producing them creates fewer harmful emissions.
We work with a range of inks to help you make your packaging more sustainable. We use vegetable inks for custom designs on our mailer boxes and water-based inks on our shipping boxes. And our stickers use soy-based inks and are great to use as part of your branding strategy.
13. Smart labels
Smart labels, like scannable QR codes, make packaging interactive. These provide information about the product or about the packaging itself, such as recycling instructions. Using smart labels helps you to reduce your carbon footprint as you can use fewer materials in your packaging.
Smart labels can also be used as advertising to drive brand loyalty. For example, sandwich franchise Pret a Manger uses QR codes that it prints on its coffee cups. These lead customers to a coffee subscription page — a neat way to build their membership base.
14. Intelligent packaging
As well as QR codes, intelligent packaging includes sensor tags. These can monitor the condition of perishable goods, such as food products and pharmaceuticals, and can reduce waste. What’s more, both sensor tags and QR codes can help you track the journey of your products, informing you of inefficiencies in your supply chain and helping you optimise it.
15. Active packaging
Active packaging is packaging that interacts with its contents, extending its shelf life and optimising for quality and freshness. Active packaging can be used in different ways, depending on a product’s need. For example, it can absorb oxygen from the air inside the packaging, keeping its contents fresher for longer. Or it could release antimicrobial agents to stop bacteria and mould from spreading.
A great example of active packaging is Essentra’s Aquasense labels, which can be used to control the moisture levels inside the packaging, keeping their products fresh for longer.
16. Carbon-neutral shipping
Aside from the packaging itself, you can also make your packaging more sustainable by offsetting the emissions generated during transit. Whether your suppliers are local or further afield, offsetting your packaging’s emissions can help you make progress toward net zero.
At Sourceful, we work with some of the world's best carbon removal projects like Charm Industrial and Running Tide. Their projects permanently remove carbon from the atmosphere, which initiatives such as tree planting don’t do, making them a truly long-term solution.
17. Sea freight
Shipping in bulk involves shipping larger quantities of your product at any one time. This can help reduce the emissions generated during transit and can help you save on transport costs.
And the most efficient and sustainable way to ship in bulk is by choosing sea freight. As container ships are large, you can ship more of your product in one go. It is also cheaper than air freight and produces 47 times fewer emissions.
18. Limited return shipping
By limiting return shipping, you can reduce the carbon emissions of your packaging as it won't have to make a second journey. But this doesn't mean not offering your customers refunds if they’re dissatisfied. It actually means making sure they have all the information they need to make an informed purchase, and that your product arrives in the best condition.
Inspecting the product before it’s packaged, providing accurate product descriptions and ensuring the right level of packaging can all make sure your customer is happy when they receive your product.
How to choose the most sustainable packaging for your business
Knowing how different businesses in your industry use eco-friendly packaging can give you the inspiration you need to switch to more sustainable alternatives. But it’s also important for you to balance your sustainable values with your business priorities.
So, before making any changes, it can help to take a step back to consider what you’re already working with and what practical changes you can make.
1. Conduct customer research
Knowing what your customers value can shape your design decisions. For example, they might appreciate 100% recycled materials over virgin materials, giving you the confidence to make the switch. Or, they might fully embrace the concept of Furoshiki packaging.
They may also be prepared to pay more if they knew it meant investing in a business with a commitment to sustainability. This could allow you to increase your prices to cover any additional costs in changing your design or processes.
2. Re-evaluate the protection your product needs
Considering what your product is made of and what protection it needs can help you make the best sustainable switch for your business.
For example, you might be shipping clothes in boxes but find you can reduce the packaging size or forgo most of it altogether. Or you may find that a recycled mailer bag can do the job of a shipping box (if your product isn't fragile) just as well, whilst allowing you to ship less air and increase your packaging’s efficiency.
3. Calculate your carbon footprint
It’s hard to make informed decisions without having the data to back them up. This is where Sourceful's Impact Engine can help you. As you create your packaging online, you’ll see live carbon footprint data, as well as price and lead time information. This can guide your design choices to help you to make your packaging as sustainable as possible.
Create more sustainable packaging with Sourceful
With increasing regulations and pressure from customers, brands need to doidog all they can to make their packaging more sustainable. Fortunately, from traditional recycled cardboard to intelligent sensors, there’s a host of options out there to help you make the switch.
To find out how Sourceful can help you, head to our shop to browse the full range of packaging.
Why aren’t more biodegradable and compostable items on this list?
We haven’t listed many packaging materials that claim to be biodegradable or compostable because this messaging can be misleading.
These terms make it sound as if biodegradable or compostable materials can easily break down in nature in a short time frame, without leaving any residue. But often they require specific conditions to do this only available via industrial processing. When left to break down in the wrong environment, they can stay around for much longer than intended (or advertised), releasing greenhouse gases such as methane and toxic chemicals as they slowly decompose.
What are the alternatives to traditional packaging?
There's an almost endless list of materials that you can use to replace unsustainable ones. Corrugated cardboard, for example, which we use for shipping and mailer boxes, is the one of the most sustainable options as it’s FSC-certified and fully recyclable.
You can also switch out what’s inside your packaging to make it more sustainable. For example, replacing styrofoam inserts with sugarcane pulp ones.
Does more sustainable packaging mean compromising on appearance?
Not at all. You can showcase your brand’s personality just as easily but with the added bonus of reducing your environmental impact. Sourceful's mailer boxes are a great example of low-impact custom packaging that you can use to create an impressive unboxing experience.
If you’d like to see what's possible, try Studio, Sourceful's online design tool where you can visualise your best packaging ideas in minutes.
Is it expensive to switch to more sustainable packaging?
Switching to sustainable packaging doesn’t have to be expensive. Just like Ikea, you can actually save on materials, shipping space and money by making your packaging more efficient.
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.