Sustainability is a pervasive, long-lasting movement. Whether you’re a leading brand or a growing brand, it may be worth the investment to pivot to eco-friendly packaging for your business.
In the U.S., 55% of surveyed consumers report that they are “extremely” or “very concerned” about the environmental impact of product packaging. An even higher percentage of the population in Germany, Italy, Brazil, India, and Indonesia echo the same preference.
As consumers increasingly factor in sustainable packaging when choosing which brands to buy from, this guide will help your business transition to greener operations.
What is Sustainable Packaging?
Sustainable packaging or eco-friendly packaging refers to the sourcing, development, and use of solutions that have minimal environmental impact and footprint. It includes processes and materials that are Earth-friendly or do not contribute to the depletion of natural resources.
Choosing Earth-friendly packaging supplies and processes plays a crucial role in minimizing the pollution and waste that end up in our oceans and landfills. In addition, being sustainable may help you acquire loyal customers. Some examples of eco-friendly packaging strategies include using compostable and recyclable materials and minimizing the use of resources and processes derived from fossil fuels.
What Makes Packaging Sustainable?
According to a recent study, in more than 90% of consumer packaged goods, sustainability-marketed products grew faster than their conventional counterparts, delivering nearly $114 billion in sales. Here, it is clear that consumers are increasingly loyal to sustainable brands.
By integrating sustainability into your business strategy, your brand is helping drive social and environmental change while increasing your overall profitability. The following are the eight sustainable packaging criteria put forward by the Sustainable Packaging Coalition (SPC).
1. Safe benefits for communities
To be sustainable, packaging should be safe for individuals and communities throughout its life cycle. It should contribute to economic development and social well-being by facilitating the distribution and delivery of products to the marketplace. After its useful life, any subsequent waste should be manageable at the community level.
The SPC notes that it is possible to “design out” the potential negative impact of packaging on the environment through intelligent packaging design.
2. Use of innovative packaging materials
Sustainable packaging should seek to minimize packaging costs through efficient and safe life cycle design and sourcing. Improved design, resource optimization, informed material selection, design for recovery, and source reduction are essential considerations in creating a packaging plan.
3. Minimized use of fossil fuels
Packaging materials should be sourced, manufactured, transported, and recycled using renewable energy such as solar, wind, hydroelectric, biomass (biofuels and bio-power), tidal, and geothermal power.
Materials should be transported using hybrid vehicles or those that run on alternative fuels such as biodiesel, electricity, and ethanol. Modern forms of transportation powered by fossil fuels are discouraged whenever they can reasonably be avoided. Optimal energy efficiency fosters sustainability as it also generates positive economic and environmental impacts.
Recyclability is another essential criterion for sustainable packaging. Packaging materials should be recoverable after use through either biological or industrial mechanisms. It also should be possible to use them for new systems of production.
The use of recycled, bio-based, or renewable materials from well-managed sources can contribute to sustainable material flow and help conserve resources, ensuring the availability of raw materials for future generations.
5. Produced using eco-efficiency strategies
The production of packaging materials should support clean technology. Conserving resources, eliminating toxic and dangerous materials, and reducing the quantity and toxicity of all emissions and waste during production processes are eco-efficient strategies that significantly help reduce emissions, energy use, and waste.
Ensuring that the production processes adhere to best practice standards is important in linking manufacturing performance to sustainable packaging while reducing cost and improving long-term profitability.
6. Does not contain harmful substances
Packaging materials should be free from chemicals that release harmful substances during the package’s life cycle. While these compounds are typically utilized in small amounts, the scale and high volume of packaging and associated wastes can render them significant.
It is crucial that all chemical ingredients—including additives, inks, adhesives, and coatings—are sifted to be safe for humans and the environment throughout their life cycle. The goal is to identify and minimize or eliminate hazards associated with packaging.
7. Facilitates material recovery
Sustainable packaging starts with informed material selection and a clear understanding of performance requirements. These requisites include energy use during the life cycle of the package, impact of materials in all end-of-life scenarios, and appropriateness of the design to facilitate material recovery.
Packaging materials should be designed to optimize materials and energy usage. Consider the life cycle of a product as early as the design phase to anticipate its impact and minimize problems and waste.
8. Designed for biological recovery
Closed-loop systems are necessary for producing new items from material waste. Packaging materials should be manufactured for use in biological and industrial closed-loop cycles after their useful life.
Operational Sustainability Strategies To Consider
There are different ways you can incorporate eco-friendliness in your packaging operations and production. Here are some of them:
1. Educate consumers with recycling best practices
While recycling varies across cities, consider developing a general label by including a recycling icon on your product accompanied by the word “reusable” or “recyclable.”
Consider including a note encouraging buyers to recycle the product, highlighting the crucial role of recycling in protecting the environment. Actively campaign in your social media posts about the importance of recycling and what to do with your product’s packaging after customers have used it up.
2. Use eco-friendly packaging materials
When deciding on boxes, containers, or mailers, consider using recycled packaging materials. It’s a sustainable way to extend the life of previously used items.
Unbleached paperboard and kraft paper are two of the most common examples of recycled packaging materials. They are produced by turning fibrous materials from wood or recycled waste paper into pulp. Paperboard comes in various grades that address different packing requirements.
Brands can also use mailers and containers made from previously used plastic materials such as bottles and single-use bags. These are processed in a recycling facility and put back into circulation in packaging supplies.
3. Use plant-based materials
Plant-based packaging materials come from biological sources such as seaweed, corn, mushrooms, and food waste.
The right packaging options will depend on the products your brand needs to package or ship. For instance, if selling food, ensure that the material can protect it without affecting its flavor (bioplastics are a good solution). If shipping bulkier items, select durable plant-based materials such as packaging made out of cornstarch and mushrooms.
4. Consider recycling-friendly or wash-off labels
Wash-off labels have a multi-layer construction consisting of a polypropylene film, polyethylene terephthalate liner, and a wash-off adhesive. After removing a label, the glue and ink remain on it. Hence, it does not pollute the water used for washing.
Adhesives can be categorized by the raw materials used to make them. Opting for compostable materials will reinforce your brand’s sustainability goals. Note that non-compostable ones can contaminate compost, while non-recyclables can damage the machinery used in the recycling process.
Sustainable adhesives come in various forms. Be sure to consider biodegradable and compostable options. It is also important to know which type of adhesive works best for your chosen packaging materials and any special conditions your product may encounter. Be extra diligent when selecting these labels for food and beverage products that may be exposed to heat, cold, or moisture. Using the wrong kind of adhesive for eco-friendly labels and stickers can harm your sustainability efforts.
5. Become familiar with biodegradable alternatives
Using packaging alternatives that facilitate composting and biodegradable processes will help amplify your sustainability efforts. Consider using compostable packaging made of materials that can be composted both at home and commercially. This type is often made from plant-based polymer that breaks down in compost.
6. Partner with manufacturing companies that employ sustainable practices
Choose to work with manufacturers that value sustainability. Before signing an agreement with a supplier, ask about their manufacturing processes and practices. Working with companies that prioritize sustainability will strengthen your eco-friendly strategies and techniques.
Sustainability in Your Business Strategy
With today’s trends, incorporating sustainability into your business strategy is beneficial to brand value. In failing to factor in sustainability, your brand may be reducing your chances of increased profitability and growth.
You can learn more about how to incorporate sustainable packaging into your business from experts at Meyers. We offer packaging solutions that reduce environmental impact, helping advance your sustainability efforts.