We all know how important it is to reduce our impact on the environment. Many businesses are now improvising new ways of designing and producing their products, attempting to lessen their carbon and environmental footprint, while simultaneously saving money. The concept of “cradle-to-cradle” — taking responsibility for a product’s impact from the sourcing of the materials to its ultimate disposal — is also becoming increasingly popular.

One of the biggest culprits when it comes to an industry’s impact is packaging materials and accessories. The cradle-to-cradle concept needs to take into account the shipping of a product from the producer, through to the retailer, and onto the consumer – a process which often involves significant quantities of expensive packaging materials. This has led to a wave of innovative new eco-friendly alternatives from environmentally damaging packaging materials. From recyclable plastics to biodegradable containers, there’s seemingly no end to the options available for the environmentally conscious business.

In this Green Business Bureau article we present 10 greener packaging alternatives your business should consider:


New York has recently reinstated a ban on Styrofoam, the light, airy material used for takeaway cartons and loose-fill packaging. Similar U.S. cities have followed suit preventing the use of Styrofoam, otherwise known as EPS (expanded polystyrene foam). EPS is neither biodegradable nor is it economically recyclable, often finding its way into waterways where it can have adverse effects on marine life.

Styrofoam has been a standard in loose-fill packaging for fragile or otherwise sensitive items, helping to prevent movement and cushion against shocks. For businesses looking for the closest alternative to this packaging classic, biodegradable air peanuts are now available. These work in the same way as their Styrofoam brethren, but they do not linger for eternity polluting the environment. They are also less expensive.


We’re all familiar with bubble wrap packaging, a kids favorite which helps to protect fragile items during shipping. However, this is not an eco-friendly material as it is plastic based. The good news is that a number of alternatives are being developed.

One of these is a wrap made of up-cycled corrugated cardboard. Rather than disposing or recycling post-consumer cardboard waste, the material is given an additional life as a cushioning agent. Small cuts are made to produce a concertina-type effect that protects against shocks just as bubble wrap does. The only downside is that you don’t get the satisfaction of popping the bubbles afterward!


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Inflatable air pillows are another great eco- and cost-saving alternative to Styrofoam or bubble wrap. Available in a variety of sizes, they are ideal for filling voids in boxes or providing cushioning around packed items.

Air pillows are small bags, which can be inflated meaning they consist primarily of air. This cuts down on the amount of plastic used in their production and transport when compared to other cushioning materials.

Once more, they can be reused, recycled, and are even biodegradable. Make sure to purchase air pillows that are made from 100 percent recycled materials, with the biodegradability emphasized. 


Of course, all these filler materials need to be housed in something, and cardboard boxes are the industry standard. While cardboard and paper are organic materials, if they are sourced unsustainably, their use can have a drastic impact on the environment.

Luckily, paper and cardboard are some of the most recyclable materials available. To ensure your packaging is as eco-friendly as possible, try to source post-consumer or post-industrial recycled paper and cardboard. Alternatively, materials marked as FSC-certified will be sourced from sustainably managed forests. Note that paper and cardboard can be recycled five to seven times over.


Cornstarch is an organic material that has made in-roads into the eco-friendly packaging industry. Derived from the corn or maize plant, it has plastic-like properties making it a good plastic alternative in many contexts – from bottles to other molded forms and loose-fill packaging.

While a more environmentally sustainable alternative to petroleum-based packaging, cornstarch is not without its problems. As it is derived from the grains of corn, it effectively competes with human and animal food supply, possibly raising the price of one of our dietary staples. It’s best to weigh both the pros and cons of this option when considering it for your packaging needs.


Another cheap, eco-friendly packaging alternative that can be used to support smaller items is, believe it or not, made from mushrooms. It uses cleaned and ground agricultural waste, which is then fused together by a matrix of mushroom roots, otherwise known as mycelium.

The agricultural waste is exactly that – waste – and therefore could not be used as a food source for humans or animals. It consequently avoids the possible controversy linked to cornstarch packaging. The raw material can then be molded into whichever shape is desired. It is then dried and used as packaging. Not only is this a petroleum free material, it also naturally degrades at an incredible rate. Mushroom packaging can be composted at home, breaking down into non-toxic, organic matter.


From corn to mushrooms, and then to seaweed, the gelatinous substance agar – found in a variety of seaweeds and algae – can be used as green packaging. Seaweed is also useful in the food industry, as it can be utilized as a thickener or a vegetarian alternative to gelatin.

Today we can celebrate the award-winning designers who prototyped seaweed packaging. Being made from a plentiful and sustainable raw material, seaweed packaging could be the next big thing in eco-friendly, biodegradable packaging alternatives.


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There’s no getting around it – some shipping needs require a sturdy and reliable material that isn’t going to break and can support heavy loads. While many of the alternatives based on organic raw materials can be great containers, cushioners or fillers, there are still times when only plastic will do. 

Yet there’s no need to cut back on your eco-credentials in these cases, as you have 100 percent recycled plastic options. From drums, spill trays, and spill control pallets, you can choose eco-friendly shipping materials for all your shipping needs. Yet it must be noted that plastic can only be recycled once, so avoiding this material all-together is your best green option. 


Plastic bags significantly impact our environment, with Americans using an average of 365 plastic bags per year per person (compared to Denmark populations who use 4 plastic bags per year per person). 

Yet there are eco-friendly alternatives such as organic fabrics for reusable bags. You’ll see a variety of organic fabrics are on the market including hemp, organic or recycled cotton, tapioca, palm leaves, and many more. All of these materials are biodegradable, taking ~100 days to decompose compared to the 10,000 years it takes for a plastic bag to degrade. There are also many other uses for these fabrics besides bags, such as clothing


Imagine walking around the grocery store and seeing food items wrapped in edible skin. Imagine eating your wrapped fruit, chocolate bar or ice cream right off the shelf, packaging included. Well you can with the invention of edible films. 

More appropriate to the food industry, edible films provide a sustainable packaging alternative to wrap food items. This packaging has the potential to make food storage and preparation simpler, while curbing food and packaging waste, and reducing chemical leaching from plastic coats. 

Different natural products can create edible packaging, but the most effective and widely used is chitosan. Chitosan is a sugar that’s made from treating the chitin shells of shrimp and other crustaceans. This makes chitosan one of the most abundant biopolymers after cellulose.

If you work in the food industry, switch to edible film to protect and package your food items, rather than environmentally-harmful plastic.


Cities throughout the U.S. and around the world are banning specific materials derived from fossil fuels. And so it seems the tide is beginning to turn on plastics. With so many eco-friendly alternatives on the market at competitive prices, more businesses are recognizing the opportunities in making the switch. Eco-friendly is becoming mainstream, and smart business owners throughout the country are making the change today to ensure they are ahead of the game tomorrow.

For more information on sustainable packaging for you business, why not read our Sustainable Packaging Guide for Small Business

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Author Bio:

Cory Levins serves as the Director of Business Development for Air Sea Containers. Cory oversees the development and implementation of ASC’s internal and external marketing program, driving revenue and profits from the Miami FL headquarters. Before joining Air Sea Containers, Cory Levins was the Director of Business Development for Marketing and Real Estate Lending Companies. Cory enjoys spending time with his family, traveling, sports, and the ocean.

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