Congratulations on choosing to transition to sustainable packaging. It’s good for you, your business, and the planet.

After reading this comprehensive guide, you’ll be able to define sustainable packing, understand the difference between recyclable products and those that aren’t, and learn about a few sustainable packaging options. 

You will even find information on how to locate sustainability-focused companies.

What Is Sustainable Packaging?

Sustainable packaging is packaging that has a low impact on the environment. Packaging is sustainable if it is recyclable, reusable, or compostable. The Sustainable Packaging Coalition (SPC) states that sustainable packing is “beneficial, safe, and healthy for individuals and communities throughout life.”

Corrugated packing, kraft paper, glassine, and cellulose are a few types of sustainable packing. To determine whether the packaging is sustainable, assess its overall environmental impact. This assessment is called a life cycle analysis (LCA). An LCA estimates greenhouse gas emissions across their life cycles. Some analyses even assess water consumption used to manufacture packaging. 

Reusable package design helps reduce your carbon footprint even if you’re unable to use green packaging materials, or if you can only find bioplastics or recycled plastics to package with. Even though material-wise you may not be packaging sustainably, through reuse you reduce the overall packaging waste and environmental impact.

LCAs are somewhat limited because they usually do not consider if packaging material was made from renewable resources. They also may not assess the types of chemicals a product produces at the end of its life cycle. 

Why Sustainable Packaging Is More Important Than Ever

The Plastic Crisis Is Real

When it comes to unsustainable packaging, plastic is the biggest offender. Because plastic can take a century to break down, it has become one of the worst environmental issues we face today. Think of the amount of single-use plastic products you find all around you: shopping bags at the grocery store, pouches used in all corners of the supply chain for food packaging, cheap trinkets and memorabilia that form the backbone of the ecommerce industry. In fact, half of the world’s plastic has been manufactured in the last 15 years.

 The inability to properly recycle plastic has become such a problem that human beings are now ingesting the material. “Every human on Earth is ingesting nearly 2,000 particles of plastic a week,” according to Rolling Stone. How? Tiny particles of plastic, called microplastics, have entered your body via the air you breathe, food, and water you drink.

Plastic pollution doesn’t just affect human beings – it affects wildlife. Plastics have affected approximately 700 species. Many of these animals die after consuming or becoming entangled with plastic. 

Ninety-one percent of the plastic produced since 1950 has never been recycled. Nowhere is this more evident than in our oceans. Humans add an estimated 12 million tons of plastic to the oceans. This plastic waste consists of every plastic product, including toys, toothbrushes, traffic cones, bags, and fishing nets.

The production of plastic on its own is detrimental to the climate. Fossil fuels are used every time a piece of plastic is manufactured, adding more emissions and worsening climate change.

Many Packaging Materials Are Non-Recyclable

Plastic isn’t the only packaging material that threatens the environment. Several types of packaging materials are non-recyclable. These materials include:

  • Styrofoam
  • Bubble mailing envelopes
  • Packing peanuts
  • Mesh produce bags
  • Oil-soaked cardboard
  • Coffee pods
  • Waxed paper or cartons
  • Treated wood

When used, the condition of your packaging materials can also determine whether or not they are recyclable. If the packaging is too small, it can slip through the machines at materials recovery facilities (MRFs). 

If you do not separate your materials by type when you recycle them, it can be difficult for MRFs to sort them. Recycling may be impossible if your packaging is made of a combination of materials.

Contact your local recycling center for more information about what is or isn’t recyclable. They will have a list of products that can’t be recycled, and they may even provide explanations explaining why.

Lots of Packaging Options Include Unnecessary Add-Ins

A lot of packaging contains add-ins like styrofoam peanuts, packing paper, and plastic packing bubbles or bubble wrap. Cellphones often come with extra cardboard boxes or plastic inside. Even scissors sometimes go in their hard plastic packaging that needs to be cut off with another pair of scissors!

This use of extra packaging is wasteful and results in even more non-recyclable materials being sent to dump sites. While some companies have taken the initiative to stop including excessive packaging, others still have miles to go. 

Some packages require extra packaging to protect them from being damaged during shipping. Box Genie understands the need to protect your valuables, so we offer custom, sustainable box inserts and dividers to be used with fragile items.

How To Choose Sustainable Packaging

If you’re determined to use sustainable packaging solutions, a great way to do that is to work with companies focused on sustainability.

Work With Sustainability-Focused Companies

One way to find these companies is to head to the SPC’s members page. There, you have access to a growing list of companies prioritizing sustainability. If you want to check if a company you know of is on this list, you can use the Member Search feature.

Joining the SPC will give you access to its Goals Database, a curated list of commitments from various companies to transition to sustainable packaging. 

Companies typically develop their frameworks to determine how sustainable their packaging is. They may use LCAs, as discussed earlier, or other types of assessments. Even the SPC has criteria for deciding if a company’s packaging is sustainable.

Working with sustainability-focused companies can give you peace of mind. These companies are committed to providing environmentally conscious products. They use resources that have little to no negative environmental impact. 

Opt for Recyclable Packaging Materials

When possible, choose recyclable packing materials for your shipping needs. Recyclable packing helps the environment, and it can benefit your business. More consumers are seeking eco-friendly packaging options now than ever before. 

Recyclable packing can be reused after being processed. Some common types of recyclable packaging include: 

  • Paper
  • Cardboard
  • Glass
  • Metal
  • Organic fabrics

Cardboard has a high recyclability rate, and it is biodegradable. If you’ve purchased cardboard boxes lately, they were made from recycled material. 

The benefits of opting for recyclable packaging are numerous. Recyclable packaging helps reduce emissions, save energy during manufacturing, and reduce the need for raw materials. 

Use Kraft Packaging

Choosing recyclable packaging, or compostable packaging, is a way to help less waste end up in landfills. Some types of recyclable packaging, like corrugated cardboard – also known as kraft paper– are biodegradable just in case they are thrown out with the trash. 

Some other benefits of kraft packaging, in particular, are that it can be recycled up to seven times and reduces the energy needed to manufacture more packaging.

Kraft paper is the most eco-friendly packaging option. It is recycled more often than any other type of packaging material. It is manufactured from resinous pine wood pulp, and the chemicals used during the process are reusable.

If you don’t find kraft packaging esthetically pleasing, you’re in luck. Box Genie allows you to customize the look and feel of your kraft packaging by changing the color and applying prints to it, like your company logo.

Use Essential White Corrugated Cardboard

White corrugated cardboard is a popular choice for many retailers. Box Genie’s essential white corrugated cardboard is cost-effective and can easily be customized and branded. These basic white boxes are low on shine, making them great for displaying logos or other design elements. 

Essential white corrugated cardboard offers a clean appearance, but it makes colors and design elements look vibrant. If you’re looking for luxury but are on a budget, give this packaging material a try.

Wrapping Up

Using eco-friendly packaging solutions is one of the most effective measures you can take when going green. If you are ready to take that step but don’t know where to start, try Box Genie’s sustainable and high-quality packaging options. 

We’ll be with you through every step of the process, offer quick turnaround times, and have great customer service waiting to answer any questions.

Sources:

About Us | Sustainable Packaging Coalition

Plastic pollution facts and information | National Geographic

The Ocean Plastic Crisis | Greenpeace International

20 Surprising Things You Can't Recycle | Bob Vila

Is Recyclable Packaging More Expensive? (With Cost Comparison) | Citizens United

Members | Sustainable Packaging Coalition

Recyclable Packaging: Business Benefits of Switching | GWP Group

What is Sustainable Packaging? A Guide for Businesses | Eco Enclose

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Megan D., CEO at SSBD

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