Understanding Sustainable Packaging and What it Means to Your Business

Sustainability. If there’s one word that’s defining how many businesses plan for the future, it’s that one. While many operations are going green by choice, knowing many consumers choose earth-friendly products over others, some businesses are bound by expanding regulations requiring them to use more green materials in the design, manufacture and shipping of their products.


That’s why the one area where even small business shipping departments have made major inroads in their efforts to “go green” is in packaging. Many companies have made substantial changes to their packaging and shipping processes, doing things like reducing the amount of packaging they use, choosing packing materials made from recycled and/or recyclable materials and working with transportation companies that have committed to more earth-friendly practices.

Sustainable Packaging: Not Always a Black and White Issue

Most businesses that do a large amount of shipping have taken steps towards sustainability. For example, few companies use Styrofoam packing peanuts to protect items these days, with most choosing air pillows or paper to cushion fragile items. Likewise, companies that ship large items, such as toys or lawn and garden equipment, often ship to consumers in the original packaging from the manufacturer, forgoing a second box. These small changes add up to big benefits in terms of cost and environmental protection.

Clearly, moving to sustainable packaging doesn’t mean that you have to avoid all man-made materials or risk damage to fragile items by using flimsy packaging. In fact, sometimes extreme efforts to move to more earth-friendly packaging can actually backfire. For instance, not using enough cushioning material to conserve resources can cause items to be broken or otherwise damaged during shipments. Corrugated cardboard made from all recycled materials often lacks the strength of new materials and could fail to adequately protect items during shipment. That leads to increased costs, and increased items in landfills, which could have been prevented by stronger packaging.

Failing to understand how packaging is manufactured can also lead companies to make changes that don’t actually help the environment. Plastic has a bad reputation in terms of its impact on the Earth, but switching to paper isn’t always the answer. Manufacturing a paper bag actually uses more resources than a plastic bag, and sometimes, plastic is the most durable and efficient way to transport items. Businesses need to look beyond what their packing materials are made of and consider the manufacturing process and the post-use lifespan of packaging materials when considering packaging options.

Choosing Sustainable Packaging

While making wholesale changes might not be prudent, businesses of all sizes can still make changes to move toward more sustainable packaging. Some of the changes to consider include:

Choose containers made at least partially from post-consumer recycled content. One hundred percent recycled materials may not be practical, but use materials that contain as high of a percentage of recycled material as possible.

Look at the entire product when evaluating packaging options. What kind of ink was used on the carton, for example? Choose those products that use non-toxic or natural inks and printing. Consider how and where the product was made and what will happen to it after it’s used to transport items.

Evaluate your packaging needs. Limiting the number of packaging options your operation uses can help improve shipping efficiency, but it can also create waste when you have to fill a large container with cushioning materials to protect the contents during shipment. Use the smallest container possible that offers the best level of protection.

Use recycled materials or air to fill space in containers when necessary. Plastic air bags, for example, can often be re-used by the consumer. If they won’t be re-used, the consumer can pop the air pockets and recycle the small amount of plastic that remains.

Choose packaging that includes recycling information. Encourage customers to re-use your packaging; if nothing else, include recycling information as required by law. Some retailers have even gone as far as to print recycling or re-use ideas on the outside of the packaging to help consumers remember to conserve resources.

Sustainable packaging is fast becoming the standard among manufacturers and retailers of all sizes, with many major stores issuing regulations regarding packaging to their suppliers. Taking the time to evaluate your own packaging and making small changes will not only help you save the environment, but it might save you money and keep your customers happy.


About the Author: Blogger Danny Russell combines his passion for the environment and business savvy in his popular posts about how to increase profits while going green. He always recycles his cardboard boxes.

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