It goes much deeper than recyclability; manufactured from sustainably sourced or recycled materials, produced carbon naturally, if it will break down and leave no damage - or even better, will it break down and give back to the planet? Depending on your business, it may not be possible for your packaging to tick all of those boxes, but it’s not all or nothing - do what you can, and seemingly small changes will make a big difference overall.
It depends on the material used, but most importantly, what happens to it once it’s finished with. You can have the prettiest packaging which boasts all of the eco credentials possible, but if it’s not disposed of in the correct way, it’s wasted. Plastic is a prime example of that; it’s extremely versatile and great for protecting products, but it gets a bad reputation because it ends up in landfill or the environment as consumers don’t know what to do with it.
You can include a recyclable logo on a plastic mailing bag, but unless you tell your customers that those mailers can actually be recycled with carrier bags at supermarkets, your green packaging is going to end up in the bin, never to be used again. Packaging is always going to be needed, and in ever increasing quantities, so my advice is and continues to be, choose as eco friendly as you possibly can, and tell your customers about it in an easily understandable way.
Some of the most traditional materials in the packaging world are surprisingly very eco-friendly already. Paper and cardboard are used for millions of despatches, whether it’s envelopes, boxes, or mailing bags. And the best part - they’re widely recognised and easy to recycle, biodegradable, plastic free, and even compostable. Paper and cardboard are the most recycled materials in the UK, and so the vast majority of cardboard packaging is made from mainly recycled content.
The best way to make plastic more sustainable is to recycle and reuse it - post-consumer waste plastic packaging is becoming the answer for a lot of businesses who rely on a plastic based solution, but want to reduce their environmental impact. Every piece of plastic ever made still exists in some form, so it’s best to use what’s here already instead of making new.
New environmentally friendly packaging materials are emerging as the demand continues to increase; grass paper is even more sustainable than standard paper as just a fraction of the water is needed in the production process which also generates significantly less CO2 as well. IKEA are using compostable mushroom based protective packaging, MycoComposite, which works exactly the same as styrofoam, but gives back to the planet instead of littering it.
Consider if you currently pack a lot of your despatches with void fill - could you actually find a more suitable, better-fitting packaging option instead? Otherwise you’re paying to ship air, taking up unnecessary extra space in delivery vans, resulting in more vans being on the roads, and therefore creating more CO2 emissions. If you do need to use it, make sure you choose eco-friendly box filler, and potentially one which can be reused. For example, packing paper can be re-used as arts and crafts material for children and then recycled, or starch-based packing peanuts are compostable, meaning they can go into your flower pots and give your soil a boost!
If you want a truly eco printed solution for your packaging, you should use plant-based inks. Plant based inks are fully biodegradable unlike most standard inks, so nothing is left behind if you’re advising your customers to biodegrade your packaging once they’ve finished with it.
It’s worth checking the credentials of any glue used in your packaging too as it may be a gelatin-based adhesive, which not only will have been made from animals, but can’t be recycled either and could damage the recyclability of the packaging. More sustainable packaging solutions are available now compared to a few years ago, and recyclable and biodegradable adhesives are growing in prominence on the market.
Don’t ruin the eco-credentials of your green packaging by making a poor choice with your packing tape. If you’re using cardboard boxes which are easily recyclable, don’t seal them with plastic tape as it can damage the recyclability of the box - instead choose paper packing tape. If the strength and security of your tape is a concern for you, reinforced paper tape is just about the strongest sealing method you could go for - and tamper evident too.
Watch your parcel weight - particularly if you’re sending via Royal Mail. All of the size brackets have a weight limit too, so don’t get caught out. If you’ve decided on Large Letter sized packaging, make sure you don’t go over the 750g limit, as you’ll end up paying parcel prices. Use the most appropriately sized packaging for your goods as otherwise it’s wasted materials which could be avoided.
Sustainable packaging materials are accessible for businesses of all shapes and sizes. Every operation has to start somewhere, so whether you’re sending 5, or 5 million parcels, begin with reviewing what you currently use. Your packaging shouldn’t be seen as an unnecessary overhead - it’s the first physical impression your customer has of your brand, so make choices which reflect who you are and represent your values. If you pride yourself on your plastic free products, don’t then send it in single use plastic. 70% of consumers are likely to be influenced by environmentally friendly packaging, so make the swaps you’re able to and your customers (and the planet) will thank you for it.