Eco-Friendly Packaging Options for Small Businesses
There’s no doubt that, when given a choice, modern consumers prefer sustainably manufactured products. This isn’t just a romantic, pie-in-the-sky sentiment. In fact, studies have found that products with “legitimate sustainability claims” consistently outperform alternatives that are equal, sans sustainability. When approached strategically, sustainability can help your bottom line.
One area, in particular, that may quickly have a profound impact on your company’s sustainability is your product packaging. Product packaging creates incredible amounts of waste. As one small example, Keurig Green Mountain sold over 13 billion plastic coffee pods in 2015 alone, creating heaps of leftover plastic waste in the process.
While paper and cardboard are often recyclable, businesses can show proactive eco-friendly initiative by looking for ways to take sustainability to the next level. From shipping material to product boxes and bags, here are a few suggestions for ways to embrace sustainability with your packaging endeavors.
Biodegradable Packing Options
As an alternative to plastics or other materials that must be recycled to reduce their footprint, biodegradable packaging is designed specifically with one-time use in mind. Instead of asking the customer to recycle the material upon receipt, the plastic used in the packaging is designed to be biodegradable or compostable, meaning it will either break down in landfills or can be used in composting systems in order to provide an eco-friendly lifecycle for the material.
Packing peanuts can be used in copious quantities for shipping, depending on the company and products involved. They fill empty space in boxes and provide that extra cushion and bounce that keeps products safe in transit. However, packing peanuts have traditionally been made out of environmentally unfriendly styrofoam. Sure, most of that styrofoam is air, but the polystyrene that gives peanuts their form can contain some pretty nasty chemicals.
Fortunately, you can now get biodegradable packing peanuts, prioritizing an eco-friendly lifecycle for this packaging product that is infamously difficult to recycle or repurpose.
Along with packing peanuts, it’s important to package your products themselves in sustainable containers, bags, and boxes. This applies to everything from bottles of soda to phone cases.
The good news is that you don’t necessarily have to swap out that sturdy plastic for a weak cardboard or paper alternative. You can replace traditional plastic casing with bioplastics — that is, plastic that is designed from biodegradable materials such as corn starch.
While there are some concerns with the scale of the environmental benefits that come from using bioplastics, most sources agree that, at the least, using bioplastics reduces the overall environmental impact, allowing you to claim that sustainability badge of honor with a clear conscience.
Organic Packaging Options
While biodegradable plastics are a good choice, you can take your sustainable packaging efforts even further by adopting an organic packaging option. Organic products, as defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, “Are produced without excluded methods such as genetic engineering or genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The organic standards are designed to allow natural substances in organic farming while prohibiting synthetic substances.”
Using organic materials typically allows your packaging to be directly composted without the need to worry about how synthetic substances will break down in a natural environment. Here are a few of the ways that you can use organic materials not just in your products, but in your packaging materials as well.
Cornstarch — and some other sugars — are used to create polylactic acid (PLA), creating a biodegradable organic plastic in the process. This can serve as a tough and trusty alternative to other chemically dependent plastic alternatives.
A wild, organic packaging option, mushroom packaging uses fungi to naturally grow packaging material that is very similar to the look and function of styrofoam. Mushroom packaging maintains a completely natural composite makeup that can be composted with ease.
Much like mushroom and cornstarch packaging, seaweed packaging consists of a variety of different seaweeds that form biodegradable containers. This dramatically reduces the amount of time required to properly breakdown the packaging material, as it can degrade in weeks rather than centuries.
Following the organic line of reasoning, when manufacturers grow textiles in a controlled organic setting that lacks chemicals like pesticides and herbicides, the resulting fabrics are also organic and, thus, break down easier when discarded.
More Eco-Friendly Alternatives
While the primary elements have been addressed thus far, there are several other components to the shipping and packaging process that can also be used to enhance a company’s sustainability efforts.
While most tape is made from cellulose acetate, if you do your research you can find alternative options that are made from more sustainable materials, such as wood pulp. This enables you to still seal your packages with a dependable material while avoiding the need to use strong chemicals.
Stickers can help with packaging and simultaneously market your company via logos, colors, and other branding elements.
While you can use sticker paper to print first-class postage online, if you’re not careful you can end up creating environmentally unfriendly consequences in the process. Instead, look for biodegradable sticker paper options that are plant-based and strive to use recycled materials.
If you print your shipping labels on regular paper, you can still make a push towards sustainability. This simply requires sourcing recycled paper — a product that has become readily available in many places — to use when you go to print postage.
Finally, whether you’re using plain recycled paper or biodegradable sticker paper, try to use BPA-free inks when it comes to the printing itself. In addition, look for companies that sell recycled ink cartridges that reduce the amount of plastic being used to house the ink.
From eco-friendly ink and paper to packing peanuts, biodegradable plastics, and a variety of organic options, there are plenty of ways to shift your packaging activities in a more sustainable direction. All of these enable you to market yourself as a sustainable, environmentally conscious enterprise that not only understands the needs and interests of their customer base but is willing to act on that information as well.
Start strategizing how you can incorporate eco-friendly packaging options into your business model as soon as possible.