When it comes to how customers interact with ecommerce brands, packaging is by far one of the most ubiquitous elements. It’s a necessary part of getting your goods from A to B securely, but has much wider consequences than just your business.
It’s predicted that global ecommerce sales will hit $4.5 trillion by 2021, a staggering 246% increase since 2014. This is great for business, but with all of this spending comes another cost: more packaging waste, and therefore a growing environmental impact. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that packaging constitutes one third of all household waste, and this is destined to rise along with ecommerce sales. The only way we can reverse this trend is if we increase our efforts at choosing packaging that’s as good for the planet as it is for business.
What is eco-friendly packaging?
Unfortunately, there is no universal criteria for eco-friendly packaging. This makes it a difficult area for many businesses to engage with. More often than not, articles on the topic sound like you need to a science degree to understand them! Sustainability has never been a more important issue, so it’s time to start breaking down the jargon.
Eco-friendly packaging refers to designs and materials chosen to minimize its impact on the environment. This can vary depending on the industry, but usually takes the following into consideration:
- Minimizes waste
- Maximizes the usage of recycled/biodegradable materials
- Maximizes the use of renewable energy during production
- Is safe to consumers and the environment throughout its lifecycle
- Meets cost and performance requirements
Why should you use eco-friendly packaging?
We may not like it, but packaging is a necessary evil in ecommerce. Online retail involves shipping large quantities of goods over long distances, and the right packaging can greatly increase speed and efficiency. Businesses also have to guarantee that goods will arrive safely. So packaging itself is not the enemy — but the materials we use can be.
Plastic, which makes up the majority of packaging materials, is one of the most polluting forces on the planet. It can take up to 1000 years to biodegrade, making reuse and recycling practices crucial. Yet between 1950 and 2015, only 9% of the world’s plastic was recycled. The rest ends up in landfills and within our oceans, with catastrophic consequences for ecosystems.
So while eliminating packaging completely is not feasible, we can make smarter and more sustainable choices about packaging that is better for our planet.
Tips for eco-friendly packaging
Here are some tips for making more eco-friendly packaging choices for your ecommerce business.
Choose materials that are recyclable and biodegradable
Papers and cardboard: The most commonly used elements in packaging (think the ubiquitous Amazon box), these can be easily reused/recycled by the consumer. Most importantly, they are also easy to source in quantities to suit the business.
Bioplastics: These are usually derived from plant-based materials such as corn starch and wheat straw, which biodegrade within a much shorter time frame. They produce 70% less greenhouse emissions in landfills than traditional (petrochemical-based) plastics, making them well-suited to composting. However, they cannot be conventionally recycled because they can contaminate traditional plastics.
Biodegradable plastics: Traditional plastics which have been modified to break down faster through the presence of heat or light. Because they still contain petrochemicals, they can leave behind toxic residues which make them unsuited for composting.
Plant fibers: Jute and cotton make excellent packaging materials in the form of reusable bags to wrap your product in, and make a great gift with purchase to show your appreciation! It also encourages eco-friendly practices amongst your customer base.
Select a minimalist design
Here we can dispel the myth of eco-friendly packaging being ‘expensive’ or ‘inefficient.’ Often, the opposite is true! A packaging redesign can show businesses that they can achieve the same results at a much lower price. Channelling a more minimalist approach is therefore a fantastic way to lessen both your environmental impact and your expenses.
Deciding on inks
If you want to print branding elements onto your packaging, ink plays strongly into the overall sustainability of your design. Although often overlooked within eco-packaging, not all inks are created alike. Traditional inks are usually petroleum-based, which are harmful to the environment because they contain high levels of VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds). Soy-based inks are a much better option. Not only are they eco-friendly and produce more vibrant colors, they are also cheaper to produce!
Lightening the load
Before choosing your materials, consider whether they’re necessary or nice-to-haves. Some packaging elements are cosmetic in nature, or else provide little support within the overall design. The heavier your packaging is, the more it will cost you for shipping. Lightening the weight of your packaging is a win-win: it minimises both waste and cost!
For example, boxes are the largest and priciest element of packaging. Being able to eliminate these will dramatically reduce your environmental impact and expenses. If your goods are small, soft, or lightweight, consider whether boxes are necessary. Cheaper packaging materials, such as mailers and tissue wrap, might be enough to fulfil your needs.
Evaluating packaging size
If you need boxes, it’s important to check that you are using the correct size. In particular, you want to avoid the ‘Russian doll effect’ (packing boxes within boxes). This occurs when your main boxes are too large for the goods they are transporting. This can also force you to use filler materials for more fragile products, which are often difficult to recycle. It’s a good idea to review your product range to find the best box size for shipping your products.
Marketing your materials
Regardless of how eco-friendly your packaging is, you can’t maximize its impact if your customers don’t know about it! The fact remains that the supply chain effectively ends with the consumer. If you put resources into marketing the packaging’s benefits, you will have much more influence over the lifecycle of your product.
Whether you want your customer to recycle, reuse, or compost your packaging, make sure that the information to readily available for them. Consider adding (recyclable) packaging inserts to your boxes that frame the information in clear language.
Environmental considerations aside, sustainability is a great selling point for your brand. As climate change becomes a more prominent issue, it influences purchasing decisions. According a study by Cone Communications, 87% of consumers would buy from a brand which advocated for issue they cared about. With this in mind, why wouldn’t you want everyone to know?
Where to find eco-friendly packaging
As a ShipBob partner, noissue makes it easy to shift to eco-friendly packaging. With low minimum order quantities, noissue’s custom biodegradable tissue paper is a stress-free way to improve your business’s branding and sustainability. The tissue is acid-free and certified by the Forest Stewardship Council as sourced in an environmentally responsible manner.
Noissue also recently launched reusable eco-mailers made from corn starch that can be custom-branded for businesses. Best of all, noissue offers direct shipping to ShipBob fulfillment centers, as well as 10% off for all ShipBob customers.
“Having ShipBob as a partner has helped streamline our business to make it easy to get our natural deodorant out to our major distributors, boutique retailers, and our ecommerce customers.”
Sarah Ribner, Co-Founder of PiperWai
Natural deodorant brand PiperWai has reaped the benefits as a customer of both noissue and ShipBob. ShipBob handled their entire ecommerce fulfillment process as the business expanded. With a wide range of order types, PiperWai needed an advanced, customizable system that provided great customer service. ShipBob allowed PiperWai to scale their business efficiently, providing fast shipping and hands-on customer service.
As a ShipBob partner, noissue was the obvious choice when it came to packaging for PiperWai. Their dedicated ShipBob account manager ensures that all products are properly wrapped as requested. This creates consistency across channels, enabling them to offer custom packaging that is both sustainable and recognizable.
Going eco-friendly with your packaging can definitely feel intimidating, but engaging in more sustainable practices is of long-term benefit to your business. It can save you money, strengthen your relationship with your customer base, and keep you ahead of the curve in your marketing. Plus, let’s face it: going green is the least we can do for our planet.