While ecommerce is an amazing industry, it does have a dark side. The packaging of products can generate a huge amount of waste, especially plastic waste. There’s around 6.8 billion metric tons of plastic waste worldwide in our oceans and landfills. On top of that, most of it isn’t biodegradable or recyclable. This waste has major consequences for our health and our natural world, and the problem will only get worse if we don’t shift to more sustainable packaging options.
In this post, we’re going to discuss why you should use sustainable packaging and what it looks like. We’ll also give you tips for how to reduce the environmental impact of your shipping and go green.
Why switch to sustainable packaging?
You may be thinking, sure the oceans may have more plastic than fish in them by 2050, but why should I make the switch to sustainable packaging? That’s going to make it harder for my business to be profitable.
The great thing about making your business more sustainable is that it can actually be good for your bottom line! Unilever found that in 2017 that brands known for sustainability, such as Ben & Jerry’s, grew 30% faster than the rest of their businesses. Customers increasingly prefer brands that make their environmental impact a priority.
Some of the simplest ways to be sustainable are also just better for your profitability. Using less packaging material is both good for the planet and saves you and your customers money.
And finally, many governments are moving towards more regulation concerning plastic waste. The Canadian federal government is planning to reduce plastic waste to zero by 2030. Making the change to more sustainable packaging now allows you to get ahead of your competitors.
What makes packaging sustainable?
So how do you decide on what actually is sustainable? To do that experts recommend looking at the life cycle assessment (LCA) of a product. That essentially means we think about all the effects our product has on the environment from production to landfill.
Let’s say we wanted to reduce the amount of fossil fuels that get consumed from transporting our products to our customers. That would mean we would want to reduce the weight of our packaging and the lightest packaging would be plastic mail wrappers. But then we generate more non-recyclable plastic waste! If we’re not careful, our fix in one area may create additional problems in another.
We have to think about every step of the process when making our decisions on sustainable packaging. That may sound tricky, but there’s a few main points to consider that should make it easy. When making your choice in packaging the Sustainable Packaging Coalition has 8 criteria. In simpler terms, sustainable packing should:
- Work well: We don’t want your package to break
- Be cost-effective: Your business still needs to make a profit
- Be mostly made of renewable or recycled material
- Use as little material and energy as possible to create and transport
- Be easily recycled or reused
- Be healthy for people and the planet throughout its life cycle
What are some good sustainable packaging ideas?
So how do you make your packaging green? What works for you may depend on the product you’re shipping and what’s available in your area, but here are some big ideas and some great examples.
Use less packaging
The most simple way to be more sustainable is to just use less. Make sure that you use appropriately sized packaging for your products to reduce your environmental impact AND saves you money. While it’s important to make sure your product has enough packaging to keep it safe for its journey, you want to avoid packing it like a Russian doll set.
In a similar vein, if your customers are environmentally conscious, you can encourage them to buy in bulk. Zero Waste Cartel will only sell toothbrushes in packs of ten in order to reduce waste. This also creates savings for both them and their customers.
Finally, if you’re able to get creative with your packaging, you can go even further. Rothy’s created their own custom shoe box which can be shipped by itself! It also requires no packing tape and is resealable if the customer needs to return it! While you may not be able to go quite this far, it’s always good to think of great innovative ideas like this for reducing your waste.
Use packaging made from recycled material
This is another very simple one. While cardboard boxes are recyclable by themselves, it’s even better if you get boxes that are made of recycled material. There are several companies that provide shipping materials that are made from recycled materials, such as EcoEnclose.
You can also reuse boxes if they are still in good condition, but that approach may make it harder to use appropriately sized and brand friendly packaging.
One of the biggest problems we have with waste is that so many products come in single use containers. You buy it, and then you throw the container away. One of the big ideas a number of companies are trying out is to move back to a reusable container model. In this model, when you finish using a product, you would send it back to get refilled!
Plaine Products sells shampoo and other bath products. They package their shampoo in an aluminum bottle that users can ship back to be refilled. If they’d prefer, they can recycle the bottle just like they would an aluminum can. Programs like these are very exciting as they change the way we look at packaging. Customers may need to get used to products that have the odd dent or scuff in them. But in the end, both customers and businesses get far more usage out of their packaging.
Businesses are going to increasingly move towards more sustainable packaging and business practices as both customers and governments become more interested in sustainability. Sustainable packaging can be an effective way to both reduce the impact of your business on the environment and grow your brand. Ultimately it’s a win-win solution for everyone.
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