2023 Buyer’s Guide to Eco Friendly Packaging

Canada Brown

Consumers are becoming more conscious about their shopping habits by the day. Not only are they now looking for eco friendly products, but they’re also concerned about the business’s overall sustainable practices.

If you want to maintain your customer’s trust and loyalty, then it’s time to go green and help protect the environment. Environmentally friendly packaging can have a huge effect on your branding, your profits, and of course, planet earth!

What are the top 5 Factors to consider in packaging?

Security and Durability

All packaging needs to be strong enough to protect the products inside it. However, the amount of protection needed depends mainly on the product. For example, packaging plays an important role in fresh produce and food products: it extends shelf life, reduces food waste, and ensures food safety standards are met. In this case, vacuum sealers are a good choice to maintain freshness, because they remove the air from the package and hold the product securely in place.

Affordability

Not only is your package an important part of your brand, but its cost is also part of your product’s retail cost. Your packaging budget should be around 10% of your product’s retail price. That way, it’ll be affordable to maintain and still make profit from your product.

Ease of Use

The more complex your packaging is, the longer it’ll take to prepare products for shipping, and the less satisfied your customers will be with overly fussy packages. Keeping it simple is always better for you, your customers, and the environment.

Supply Chain & Logistics

Although sales figures will give you a good idea of how much packaging supplies you’ll need, there’s no real way to predict if you’ll experience a sudden spike. You’re likely to run out of packaging supplies from time to time. That’s why it’s better to work with the same packaging supplier and build a relationship with them. That way, you’ll always guarantee the availability of your packaging supplies, and you won’t need to look for a manufacturer that meets your demands.

Eco Friendly Packaging and Compliance

Last but not least, you’ll need to check that your supplier is following all necessary state and national laws. It’s also better if they offer sustainable eco friendly packaging to help reduce carbon footprint.

What is Sustainable Packaging?

By definition, sustainable packaging is packaging that produces the most negligible impact on the natural environment. In other words, sustainable packaging materials are those that make the least amount of pollution in regard to manufacturing, production, shipping, and disposal or recycling. You won’t need to use more virgin resources to create new materials because sustainable packaging has a longer life cycle than other one-use packaging options.

What qualities are important for Sustainable Packaging?

Sustainable packaging should have these qualities:

  • The materials used in your packaging are sourced sustainably.
  • The disposed piece of your package supports recycling, reusing and/or composting
  • The package’s design is optimized for maintaining both, product and package quality
  • Your packaging solution is cost-effective and feasible for long-term usage.

This leads us to the Key Factors of Sustainable Packaging Solutions when evaluating eco friendly packaging materials.

Durability

Stiffer and stronger materials will support down-gauging and cutting through the material without much product damage, which drastically reduces production wastes. The end result is smaller, more convenient sustainable packages, without compromising protection.

Processability

A sustainable material is a raw material that allows multiple efficient processing and better output. These materials can minimize energy and waste and reduce labor and material costs.

Recyclability & Renewability

Using a material that could be recycled can save you money, energy, and resources while letting your customers know that you are environmentally conscious.

Weight

The weight of packages can make distribution and transportation more efficient. The lighter your package is, the better. Every year, millions of tons of packaging material is used, so even reducing the weight of your packages by a few grams can add up quickly to the efficiency of shipping and transportation.

Why packaging sustainability is important?

Good for the Environment

Sustainable eco friendly packaging helps preserve our natural resources from depletion. By using environmentally friendly materials, your company will lower its carbon print, and lessen the harmful impact on our environment. By using sustainable packaging, you’ll produce less solid waste, use less water and electricity, and reduce the emissions that come from the industrial production process.

Boosts Your Business Reputation

Your decision to go green and switch to using eco friendly packaging shows that your company cares about the environment and is taking action towards its social responsibility. one of the strong boosters to the reputation of your business is being known as a brand that cares. There’s no stronger emotion that could win over your customers.

Saves Money in the Long Run

Not only will eco friendly packaging reduce water usage, solid waste, electricity and emissions, but it’ll also reduces the expenses that come with the packaging process. Over time, the accumulated savings of your business will prove the transition to be cost-worthy for the company.

Custom Packaging allows for Branding Opportunities

Creating custom boxes, bags, papers, or even cups and food containers make all the difference for any business. Custom packaging will generally help your business establish brand consistency and brand awareness. Eco friendly packaging takes your brand to a whole new level. Not only will you company be known for its product, it’ll also be respected and admired for its values.

Offering sustainable packaging solutions is a win-win situation for all ends. Companies that go green help protect the environment, gain the respect and admiration of their customers and other companies, and their business gets to save money on the long run.

What is sustainable design in packaging?

The main goal of a sustainable packaging design is to create a product packaging that does as little damage to the environment as possible. This could be done by using recyclable or compostable materials, designing multi-use eco friendly packaging or reducing the amount of packaging used per order.

Top Eco Friendly Packaging Materials in 2023

Recyclable Plastic

Recyclable plastic has been around for a while, and for good reason. Recyclable plastic packaging is durable and lightweight; however, it does come with a high carbon footprint compared to others on our list.

Some of the most commonly recycled plastics are:

-Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET):

This type of thermoplastic polymer resin is used to create fibers for clothing, food and liquid containers, and thermoforming for manufacturing. This is because PET is an inert material that is recognized by health authorities as a safe plastic. Like glass, PET is hygienic and generally resistant to bacteria and other microorganisms.

You’ll find PET in your plastic food containers, plastic water bottles, and in clothes and textiles made of recycled plastic.

-Recycled Polyethylene Terephthalate (rPET):

rPET is made from recycled and reprocessed PET plastic to make something new. The best thing about rPET is that it’s 100% recyclable, meaning that it can be reintroduced into the loop many times, decreasing the need for resource extraction and drastically reducing carbon footprint. The process of sorting, washing, and flaking reused PET to make new rPET requires much less energy (75% less) than creating virgin plastic.

Not only is rPET used to make new plastic bottles, but it can also be found in many different products such as activewear, outdoor gear, bedding, pet beds, and even stuffing for toys. Anything made of polyester can include recycled PET.

Polypropylene (PP):

Another type of safe thermoplastics is PP Plastic. This type of recyclable plastic is approved by the FDA to be used in food containers, so you’ll find it in many applications, including packaging for food products, detergents, and other consumer goods. PP is also used to create automotive plastic parts and textiles.

Compostable Packaging

Compostable packages, also known as bioplastics, are made from natural materials, such as sugar cane and corn starch, that break down and return to the earth without leaving behind traces of toxic chemicals—making it a sustainable option for businesses that reduces waste and saves money. Compostable packaging materials are available in paper, cardboard, and plant based plastics.

However, not all compostable packages can be added to your compost pile at home. Some products are suitable for home composting, while others need commercial composting.

Home Composting VS Commercial composting.

Home composting is a great option for disposing materials without harming the environment. However, not all organic material can be completely decomposed at home. Some compostable foodservice packages need commercial composting. Materials accepted at commercial sites typically require higher composting temperatures than what’s safe to add to home compost piles. Moreover, if the compost comes from a commercial composting site, it can be resold and used as fertilizer.

The most popular two types of compostable packaging are PLA and CPLA

-Polylactic acid (PLA):

Polylactic acid is a type of polyester made from plant starch from corn, sugarcane, maize, cassava, or sugar beet pulp. All of these renewable sources have one thing in common—sugar. The sugar from these plant-based sources is fermented and turned into lactic acid, which is later made into polylactic acid.

One of the main environmental advantages of PLA over plastic is its life cycle. Starting from the manufacturing process, the carbon emissions associated with PLA production are 80% lower than that of other plastics. PLA is also biodegradable, which means it can decompose into the earth without leaving behind any harmful chemicals.

However, since it’s biodegradable, PLA can deform when exposed to heat, which means it can’t be left in the sun, or used in a microwave, or exposed to any source of heat.

Along with being one of the most popular materials used in desktop 3D printing, PLA is also used in compost bags, food packaging, disposable tableware, and loose fill packaging. As a fiber, PLA is used for disposable clothing, upholstery, diapers, and feminine hygiene products.

-Crystallized Polylactic Acid (cPLA):

cPLA is processed by applying high pressure and heat to PLA, chalk, and other biodegradable additives. This causes the material to crystallize, creating a harder product that’s less susceptible to heat degradation than regular PLA.

cPLA is commonly found in the lids of the disposable coffee cups you grab every morning before heading to work.

Corrugated Packaging

Corrugated packaging is made from corrugated paperboard. It is a strong, lightweight, and durable material that’s widely used in the packaging industry. Corrugated packaging is 100% recyclable. It is also biodegradable and compostable, making it an excellent choice for eco friendly sustainable packaging.

Corrugated packaging, such as cardboard, has a high resistance to crushing and tearing, making it ideal option for shipping boxes to protects all types of products during transport.

Almost all items which are shipped to a business or customers, use this most commonly used format of eco friendly packaging.

Kraft Paper

Like all paper, kraft paper is made from wood pulp, which is a renewable natural resource. Its sustainability comes from its eco friendly production process.

Krafts paper widely used in packaging because its high tear-resistance, its light weight, and its nature-themed aesthetic.

High tear-resistance:

Kraft paper is by far the strongest paper material used in packaging. Kraft paper is treated with minimum chemicals to help reserve its durability and strength. That way, it results in higher tensile strength, and it is less likely to tear or fray. Thanks to its strength and durability, Kraft paper can be reused several times before recycling it.

Lightweight:

Kraft paper is not only famous for high tear-resistance, but it’s also lightweight and doesn’t take up much space, which makes it beneficial to keep the shipping costs down.

Nature-themed product packaging:

One of the unique characteristics of kraft paper is its natural-colored coarse texture. It makes kraft paper the perfect representative of the nature-themed product packaging for any businesses selling natural and organic products.

With increasing demands for different colors, kraft paper is bleached to get other shades of its natural brown color. The bleaching extent is adjusted to bring out the natural brown kraft paper, creamy kraft paper, and black kraft paper. Light colors indicate that more bleaching is involved and thus the surface will turn out smoother.

Generally, it is best to print a single color on kraft paper to emphasize the natural texture of this special paper material. However, the kraft paper color will differ from batch to batch due to the different material sources and different times of harvesting during different weathers.

Kraft papers usually come in the form of paper sheets to fill a carboard box and secure its contents, or as paper bags that come in all shapes and sizes depending on their intended use.

Reusable Packaging

Tin

As a primary raw material in the packaging industry, tin is 100% recyclable and sustainable. it is malleable and could be process and returned to the production cycle without losing its quality. When processed, tin could be welded into corrosion-resistant tin cans and containers.

Steel

Stainless Steel are eco friendly containers because they producer less carbon emissions when they’re produced, and they have a long-life span since they could be reused multiple times. When it’s time to be replaced, stainless steel could be recycled to start a new lifecycle.

Additionally, Stainless steel food containers and bottles are toxin free and they’re save to use with hot foods and beverages, which gives them an edge over other types of eco friendly materials.

Aluminium

Aluminium is the most cost-effective material to recycle, since it uses only 5% of the energy needed to make it from raw materials. In addition, all the leftover scraps from the production process could be melted down and become reusable again and again. This is why aluminium is one of the best alternatives in the market for any single-use packaging solution.

Aluminium trays are perfect solution for storing and preserving all types of foods because aluminium provides a 100% water and gas resistance. Moreover, it’s corrosion resistant to substances in the pH range from 4 to 9.

Glass

Glass is made of 4 main ingredients: sand, soda ash, and limestone. Nonetheless, glass packages are 100% recyclable and can be endlessly recycled with no loss of quality. Glass jars, bottles, and other types of glass containers can all be reused or repurposed in a variety of ways

Consumers always have brilliant ideas to reuse glass containers, such as DIY crafts and projects, storage containers, a vase, a drinking glass, or a bottle to store your freshly squeezed orange juice.

Whichever way you reuse your glass containers, make sure you sanitize the glass between each use.

Bubble Wrap

Bubble wrap has always been an essential material for protecting fragile products while moving or delivering them. When their purpose is done, they could be stored and reused again! If the sheet is still in perfect condition, it could be used once more to move your fragile objects. But if it has takes a few hits, there are plenty of other ideas to reuse it. It could still be used to insulate your home or your plants, or line your grocery bag to protect any breakable or squishable goods. If all else fails, it’s a great way to relief your stress or entertain your children.

Glassine packaging

Glassine is a paper-like recyclable and compostable material made from wood pulp. It is FDA approved to come in contact with food, making it the best packaging choice for baked goods and confections. Glassine is also grease and moisture resistant, but not waterproof. That way it’ll keep your baked goods fresh and prevent moisture caused by condensation.

Mushroom packaging

Mushroom Packaging is a 100% biodegradable and compostable packaging solution. Mushrooms can be grown in weeks with food wastes, which makes them a renewable source.

Mushroom packages are extremely strong and versatile. Manufacturers are now using it to create everything from containers, to insulation, to packing peanuts.

Green Cell Foam

Green Cell Foam is a natural material. It’s made of non-GMO cornstarch, which leaves it with a 12-month lifecycle. Green cell foam is biodegradable, comostable, water-soluble, and dissolves in 1 minute when subjected to heat. All of which make it easy to decompose in moist soil in your backyard.

Green Cell Foam is used to package a wide variety of products, including electronics, aircraft parts, perishable foods, temperature-sensitive pharmaceuticals, and so much more.

Cellulose packaging

Cellulose is a natural renewable resource derived from wood or plants. Because its natural, cellulose makes a great biodegradable and compostable material. As an F&B business, cellulose is the key to help your business go green. Cellulose packaging is strong, durable, and it can be printed to create custom packaging for your business.

One of the famous uses of cellulose packaging is cellulose coffee pods and cellophane. Cellophane is an oil and moisture resistance, clear, thin plastic-like material that is used to store and display food items. You’ll usually find nuts, baked goods, and other greasy foods wrapped in cellophane to help preserve them.

Seaweed packaging

Seaweed is a natural renewable resource than can be grown in fresh or salt water and requires no additional media for growth. The nutrients and fibers in seaweed not only make it a great eco friendly packaging material, but it’s also used to explore innovative edible packaging options.

Seaweed packaging material is made from dried and shredded seaweed. It is biodegradable, recyclable, and can be reused for several times before needing replacement. Moreover, seaweed packaging material is also compostable and can be used as a soil amendment or mulch.

Seaweed is non-toxic, odorless, and does not leach chemicals into the food that’s wrapped in it. It is flexible, yet strong, making it ideal for wrapping delicate goods.

10 Tips to Promote Environmentally Friendly Packaging

Use sustainable packaging materials that can be repurposed

Using sustainable packaging makes it easier for your customers to repurpose the material and keep in use for longer. Being mindful of the material you use, and its lifecycle, should be the first step for all brands that use eco friendly packaging.

Use more recycled materials than virgin ones.

The longer you can keep materials in use, the better for the environment. The more recycled material you use, whether it’s plastic or paper, the less new resources you’re using from the planet and the less pollution you’re creating when manufacturing new material.

Use fewer packaging and stick to one material.

With fewer components in your packaging, you’re using less resources, less space in shipping, and putting less burden on the customers for disposal. When designing your unboxing experience, try to use the least amount of packaging you can to ship your product safely. Remember that the less material you use, the better.

Also, don’t mix materials together. When paper and plastic, or even two types of plastic, are fused together, they are no longer recyclable because the layers can’t be separated in sorting. Stick to packaging pieces that are made entirely of paper or the one type of plastic to keep your packaging eco friendly and sustainable.

Reduce the size of your packaging and ship items in bulk

Smaller package means less shipping costs, material costs, resources, and emissions when you ship to the warehourse or your customers. There are two strategies when choosing the size of your package. The first one is to have a wide range of sizes to optimize for different product assortments. The second strategy is to have only a few packaging sizes that fit most of your products.

The green option depends on your product line and order patterns. You first need to estimate how much air, aka free space, you’re shipping. Then, you either lose a few inches on your bags, boxes, or mailers, or you could switch to the other strategy to make optimize your sustainability.

For eco friendly packaging, ship your orders in bulk to decrease the carbon emissions from your means of transportation—of course, the less emissions, the better.

Avoid over-packaging throughout the supply chain

There are dozens of touchpoints in your supply chain for both, the product and the packaging. Throughout these touchpoints, products are bagged, baled, or bundled before they are delivered, often using additional packaging. These layers are added to keep your product clean, safe, and organized, but there are often chances you don’t need that much packaging.

Work with wholesalers to reduce individual shipments and limit return shipping

If this option fits your business, opt for working with wholesalers instead of individual shipments. that way people will be able to see and easily purchase your product without the individual shipments of online businesses. You, as a business owner, will be able to sell more, get fewer returns, and reduce the carbon print of your brand.

Offer a returns program for your empty product containers

Many brands now offer a returns program for empty containers at their store as part of being eco friendly and sustainable. Instead of laying the burden of recycling empty containers on their customers, they encourage their customers to bring back the empty containers to the store and get free gifts bags, free coupons, or even free samples in exchange for helping them become an eco friendly business.

Share disposal and recycling best practices.

Help the consumer recycle your recyclable packaging. Start with identifying your materials by using symbols on your package. Better yet, include a link or QR code to a page on your site where you break down disposal details about each piece of your eco friendly packaging. Maybe even give people ideas for reuse. This is a great way to take more of the disposal burden away from your consumers and build social responsibility and customer loyalty for your brand.

Use compostable packaging and mailers

Recently, a few brands starting offering compostable and biodegradable cornstarch packaging, including boxes, mailers, and labels, to replace traditional, hard to recycle packaging materials.

Plan ahead to avoid air freight.

Air freight shipments emit much more emissions that road, rail, or ocean freight. To avoid air freight, plan to send your shipment a few days before the necessary order date for Standard Delivery. This allows time for the package to be delivered without needing speedy, yet very polluting, air freight

FAQs

What is the most eco friendly packaging?

Corrugated cardboard boxes and other forms of paper based packaging are considered the most eco friendly and sustainable packages.

What is eco friendly plastic packaging?

It’s any package made from bio-based or plant-based plastics, which include starch-based material derived from potatoes or corn, polylactic acid (PLA), polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA), and an innovative new material made from seaweed.

How much do cardboard packages cost?

Folding cardboard boxes are available for around $1, while a corrugated box, like shipping boxes, costs about $2 or $3.

What is the cheapest eco friendly packaging?

Cornstarch packages, or PLA, are the cheapest biodegradable option for eco friendly packages. Corn is sustainable, cheap, and easy to produce, which makes cornstarch packages the ideal plant based materials to replace polystyrene.

What makes a package eco-friendly?

Eco-friendly packages are easy to recycle and they’re made from materials that are manufactured with minimal energy consumption or natural resources. Eco-friendly packages are usually made from recycled materials. These packages are commonly referred to as sustainable or green packages.

How can we reduce waste of packaging?

  • Carry a reusable bag, water bottle, coffee cup, straw and other utensils.
  • Buy in bulk to save money and reducing packaging waste.
  • Buy loose produce, such as fruits and vegetables, instead of pre-packaged packs.
  • When comparing similar items from two brands, choose the one with less packaging.
  • Reuse packaging products, like paper, plastic bags, tins and wrapping paper whenever possible.
  • Find used alternatives instead of buying new products.
  • When you do have waste packages, look for how to recycle your waste based on the materials.

What does FSC certified mean?

FSC certified products come from responsibly managed forests that provide environmental, social and economic benefits and show commitment to protecting the environment. The FSC Principles and Criteria provide a foundation for all forest management standards globally, including the FSC United States National Standard.

Is tin better than plastic?

Since tinplate can be recycled an infinite number of times, it is a much more eco friendly material than plastic. Due to its recyclability, tinplate reduces the amount of waste that ends up in landfills. In fact, the recyclability of tinplate is only one of the many advantages of the material.

Is glass more reusable than plastic?

Although glass may take more energy to produce and ship, it is 100% recyclable meaning that each time glass is recycled, the resulting product has no loss of quality. Glass can also be reused as it can be washed and sterilized. Most plastic can be recycled, but it can degrade with each cycle.