Sustainable Packaging: Customers Expect It

One of the biggest culprits of plastic and styrofoam pollution in the world is the packaging materials that companies use in shipping their products. Businesses need to become more sustainable and shift to more eco friendly packaging. Customers expect it and the health of our planet demands it. There is a wave of new innovative eco-friendly alternatives to traditional packaging materials. From post-consumer recycled paper products to unique biodegradable materials, here’s a great overview of the latest options for your business shipping needs.

Sustainable Packaging Materials

Broadly speaking, sustainable packaging alternatives come in three varieties:

  • Biodegradable materials: Typically made of organic materials, these packaging materials degrade within a moderate timespan when exposed to environmental conditions.
  • Recyclable materials: These materials can be sent to the appropriate facilities for processing to be subsequently recycled into new raw material. Examples include cardboard, paper, and some types of plastic.
  • Reusable materials: These are the most eco-friendly products to use where possible since there is no waste generated and no plastic pollution. An example might be a glass container that’s ready for reuse after cleaning.

Most Popular – Paper Packaging

If sustainably sourced and processed, paper is one of the most planet-friendly products made from renewable resources. It is biodegradable and recyclable, and can often be used for renewable energy. Paper outperforms many in-the-box product alternatives especially when considering indirect costs such as handling and storage, employee safety (e.g. hazardous foam chemicals), machine downtime, and facility cleanup.  There are definitely long-term cost benefits of paper packaging that far outweigh those of plastic. If your volume is low and you’re simply looking to purchase materials, here are a few good options:

  • EcoEnclose is one of the largest, trusted eco-friendly packaging and box providers.  Whether you need a custom fit to ship your unique product or just a standard box, EcoEnclose offers shipping boxes in all shapes, sizes, and configurations.  They also utilize EcoEnclose’s algae ink printing for a truly green shipping experience. EcoEnclose offers eco-friendly options for mailers, bags, void fill and packing paper, stickers and labels, and more.
  • Packlane is perfect for you if you’re looking for a simple, affordable and purely minimalist option.  Their Econoflex shipping box use 32 ECT corrugated cardboard and is made from 100% recycled Kraft and is both fully recyclable and biodegradable. Once you upload your logo or other artwork, Packlane’s box designers convert it into a single-color (black), half-tone design and use direct contact printing for crisp line quality. Packlane also offers other features such as box dividers and void fill that is sustainable, 100% recyclable, and compostable.

If your volume is very high or you want to integrate paper packaging into your production lines, here are a few partner options who can provide the equipment and materials.

  • Ranpak provides paper converters to ensure there are no upfront costs for implementing their equipment. You only pay for the volume of paper needed. Their solutions are known to deliver greater operational efficiency – including low damage rates, reduced packing time and material usage, and maximum throughput.
  • Smurfit Kappa combines packaging automation experience along with world-class packaging expertise to offer complete packaging solutions. Their packing line solutions are designed to form, fill, close and palletize packaging and can be customized according to your needs.

Least Expensive – Discount Providers

If you’re looking to simply buy a small supply in bulk, there are several cost-effective options:

  • Uline offers a variety of paper packaging options at reasonable prices.  Although this packaging company does not solely focus on sustainable solutions, their Kraft paper wrap is eco-friendly and very popular.
  • SOLUT! is one of the leaders in eco-friendly food packaging. Their thermoformed paper food trays and bakeware are manufactured to exacting standards. Utilizing sustainable and disposable paper and paperboard materials, patented technologies, and years of knowledge and experience, SOLUT! Is a top seller for packaging that preserves food quality while watching out for environmental wellbeing too.
  • Amazon has hundreds of paper packaging options perfect for the online bargain shopper.  You can find corrugated packaging pads from Amazon as well as corrugated packaging rolls.  Although supporting independent companies is preferred, the reality is Amazon is an affordable, reliable and convenient e-commerce market that you may already be partnered with and use for some items.  Amazon’s most popular and recommended boxes come from Pratt.

Sustainable Packaging Using Innovative Biodegradable Bioplastics

There are a number of new bioplastic materials being used for eco-friendly packaging but be aware that we are very early in this new emerging industry and that not all bioplastic degrades in a timely manner.  It is important to find providers using Polylactic Acid (PLA), a bioplastics packaging option that is made from starch and is very biodegradable (under the correct conditions). PLA-based materials are derived from renewable resources such as corn and potato and used for many applications ranging from cups to utensils. While there are not many options today, the market for eco-friendly packaging is expected to expand as advances are rapidly being made in this disruptive industry.  Here are a few options:

  • Storopack is a manufacturer of biodegradable plastic packaging including loose fills and ESD films for protecting and bracing fragile items in transit.
  • Good Natured specializes in food packaging. They use plant-based packaging and offer a full selection of earth-friendly alternatives on their online shopping site.

As mentioned, bioplastics that are truly biodegradable are coming but the truth is, there is a lot of greenwashing that can misinform manufacturers and consumers. This has led to new standards and regulations defining what biodegradable plastic truly means.

There is also a new wave of hemp-based materials being used in a variety of products.  Once again, the packaging industry is still developing new and full-proof ways to use hemp effectively and sustainably but here’s one company whose hemp bioplastic formula is proving successful:

  • The Hemp Plastic Company provides a hemp PLA – a compostable bio-based polymer that is a 100% plant-based Polylactic Acid resin blended with 25% hemp content.

One unique approach to creating bioplastic is using seawood.

  • Notpla uses seawood to make food packaging and drink containers that “disappear”.  Notpla is also the name of their revolutionary material, made from seaweed and plants, that biodegrades naturally in weeks.
  • Kelpn is an early stage company looking to ship their first seaweed based products this year.  Kelpn is striving to create a soft plastic food packaging alternative that is truly compostable – that can safely breakdown anywhere in the environment- but which can also keep food safe and fresh just as effectively as conventional plastic packaging.

Recyclable Padded Mailers

If you’re looking for a padded envelope or mailer, paper is your best option. As a business, smaller mailers protect customer orders without needing to rely on bulkier boxes which take up carrier space and cause airplanes, semi-trucks, and delivery vans to depart with fewer customer orders aboard. Packing more orders in each load means fewer trips, less fuel burned, and a smaller carbon footprint.  There are good mailer options that are lightweight, recyclable and have durable cushioning.  Here are a couple:

  • Papermart, family owned and operated business for over 100 years, offers a variety of eco-friendly packaging products from boxes and bags to tissue paper and loose fill.
  • Amazon’s recyclable padded mailer is made by sandwiching a proprietary padded material between sheets of lightweight paper.

Eco-friendly Boxes

When doing your research for a box provider, be sure to consider all aspects.  You want to reduce the  environmental footprint of boxing and shipping. Your supplier should use the right ingredients with 100% recycled or raw material to create a circular economy. They should also have the right labor practices.  Be sure to consider who is making the product, working conditions, and other economic and social factors involved with manufacturing and selling packaging products.  Here are a couple options for sustainable box providers:

  • The Green Packaging Group serves as a packaging directory that connects customers to sustainable packaging vendors. Launched by three eco-minded businesses, Salazar Packaging Inc, Globe Guard Products and Nashville Wraps, the B2B company features a variety of sustainable options for shipping boxes, envelopes and mailers, wraps and fillers, and much more. The site also includes a blog for sharing tips and guiding customers on how to choose the best packaging for their products.
  • Printing Circle offers various sustainable boxing and packaging options as well as eco-printing that utilizes colors extracted from organic substances. Printing Circle offers a variety of wholesale boxes including Green Boxes, Recyclable Kraft boxes, Eco-friendly Gift boxes, Environment-friendly packaging, Ecological Bux Board Boxes, Reusable Cosmetic boxes.

Looking for more sustainable packaging suppliers? Checkout the recent Green Business Bureau article, Eco-friendly Boxes for Packaging and Shipping.

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