When it comes to customers interacting with ecommerce brands, packaging is one of the most frequently encountered elements. It’s a necessary part of getting your goods from Point A to Point B securely, but has much wider consequences than just your business.
Thanks to the growth of online shopping due to COVID-19, it’s predicted that global ecommerce sales will hit $5.4 trillion by 2022. This is great news for online businesses, but with all of this shopping comes at a cost: more packaging waste, and therefore a growing environmental impact.
Packaging constitutes a major portion of household waste and will continue 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.
Luckily, sustainable packaging options are readily available.
In honor of Earth Week (and Earth Day on April 22), it’s time to rethink your brand’s carbon footprint and the packaging products you use. Eco-friendly packaging is here to stay, and businesses must be quick to catch up with new sustainable solutions.
What is eco-friendly packaging?
Eco-friendly packaging refers to designs and materials chosen in boxes, mailers, and other packing supplies to minimize their 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 and biodegradable materials
- Maximizes the use of renewable energy during production
- Is safe for both consumers and the environment throughout its lifecycle
- Meets cost and performance requirements
Since there is no universal criteria for eco-friendly packaging, it can be difficult for many businesses to engage with eco-friendly products and alternative shipping supplies. Very often, articles on the topic require a science degree to simply understand them. Sustainability has never been a more important issue, so it’s time to start breaking down the jargon.
Why should you use eco-friendly packaging?
Plastic packaging like bubble wrap and plastic bags contribute greatly to retail packaging waste. When shipping large quantities of goods over long distances, the right product packaging can greatly increase speed and efficiency while arriving safely. Packaging itself is not always 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 1,000 years for plastic to biodegrade, making it crucial to reuse and recycle it as much as possible. Yet between 1950 and 2015, only 9% of the world’s plastic was recycled. The rest ends up in our landfills and oceans.
While eliminating packaging completely is not realistic, we can make smarter and more sustainable choices about packaging that is better for the future of our planet.
Types of eco-friendly shipping packaging
From cardboard to biodegradable materials, here is a breakdown of the different eco-friendly shipping packaging types to choose from.
Papers and cardboard
The most commonly used elements in packaging, paper and cardboard packaging can be easily reused and recycled by the consumer. Most importantly, they are also easy to source in quantities that suit the business.
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 plastic packaging
Biodegradable packaging is traditional plastics that 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.
Jute and cotton make excellent eco-friendly packaging materials in the form of reusable tote bags to wrap your product in, provide a great gift with purchase to show your appreciation, and encourage eco-friendly practices amongst your customer base.
Inflatable air pillows
Air pillows are inflatable plastic film bags that can be used to protect products. They are versatile and come in a variety of shapes and sizes, while not adding much extra weight to a package. Air pillows are often made from post-consumer recycled materials, but aren’t able to be composted since they are often made from a plastic-based material.
Corrugated bubble wrap
If you need to cushion a fragile item, an eco-friendly alternative to plastic bubble wrap or styrofoam packaging peanuts is corrugated bubble wrap. This is typically made out of 100% recycled cardboard that’s derived from post-consumer and post-industrial waste. Corrugated bubble wrap can be both recycled or composted.
5 tips for moving to eco-friendly packaging and shipping
Here are some best practices you can follow to ensure your products use eco-friendly packaging.
1. Choose materials that are recyclable and biodegradable
When deciding on packaging products, start by looking for options that are made out of recyclable or compostable materials. This helps keep single-use virgin materials like plastic out of circulation and prolongs the use of materials that are already in circulation.
2. Select a minimalist design
Eco-friendly packaging doesn’t have to be 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 a fantastic way to lessen both your environmental impact and your expenses.
3. Decide 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-friendly 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!
4. Lighten the load
Before choosing your materials, consider whether they’re necessary or nice-to-haves. Some packaging elements are cosmetic in nature and provide little support within the overall design. The more your packaging weighs, the more it will cost you as heavier packages are more expensive to ship.
Don’t go overboard on packaging design and customization, especially to start. You can still have a nice unboxing experience without a ton of fluff. Reducing the weight of your packaging is a win-win: it minimizes both waste and cost!
Custom boxes are the largest and priciest element of packaging. Being able to eliminate boxes will dramatically reduce your shipping costs and environmental impact. If your goods are small, soft, or lightweight, cheaper packaging materials such as poly mailers or tissue wrap might be enough to fulfill your needs.
5. Evaluate packaging size
If you need boxes, it’s important to check that you are using the correct box size. In particular, you want to avoid the ‘Russian nesting 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 items, 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.
You may even want to consider ships in own container packaging to reduce extra packaging waste entirely.
How can small businesses implement eco-friendly packaging?
The first step small businesses should take is to evaluate their existing designs and the performance standards that their new packaging should meet. Some of the questions entrepreneurs should ask when deciding on eco-friendly packaging include:
- Are you shipping internationally?
- What size(s) do you need?
- How durable should the packaging be?
Small businesses should also work with eco-friendly packaging suppliers that meet their budget. One of the best ways to do this is to choose vendors that don’t require high order quantities.
ShipBob’s partner noissue offers the lowest minimum order quantity (MOQ) in the market, with the MOQ for mailers at just 100 units and the MOQ for tissue and stickers at 250 units. These quantities allow small businesses to get their hands on sustainable packaging materials without overspending.
For example, eco-friendly pillow brand Doris Sleep partnered with both ShipBob and noissue:
“I added additional inclusions for my orders like stickers from noissue and got them implemented right away. With ShipBob, I can maintain my brand experience. It doesn’t end on my store — it lasts through that unboxing experience.”
Tracey Wallace, Founder of Doris Sleep
Popular brands that use eco-friendly packaging
Popular brands across multiple industries are increasingly going eco-friendly with their packaging. Personal care brand Boie, for example uses noissue’s 100% compostable mailers.
“We use noissue’s eco-friendly mailers that are 100% compostable, and ShipBob ships hundreds of orders out for us in our custom branded packaging each day. We rely on a great post-purchase experience for this, and ShipBob is a fulfillment partner that is truly an extension of our brand.”
Manuel de la Cruz, CEO at Boie
The same goes for Hello Cup, which sells the cutest menstrual cup on the planet. Many retailers and artists that are popular within their local markets are using sustainable, eco-friendly packaging. For example, Monday Haircare uses a customized branded tape which also happens to be compostable.
Marketing your eco-friendly packaging 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 retail supply chain effectively ends with the consumer, and eco-friendly packaging can be a real differentiator.
It’s no surprise that data from Traackr found from 2018 to 2019, there was a 100% increase in hashtag mentions, such as “#wastefulpackaging” and keyword phrases like “too much packaging.”
If you put resources into marketing your eco-friendly packaging’s benefits, you will have much more influence over the lifecycle of your product.
Whether you want your customers to recycle, reuse, or compost your packaging, make sure that the information is readily available to them. Consider adding recyclable, eco-friendly 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 that advocated for an 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 for businesses to make the switch to eco-friendly packaging. All of noissue’s packaging products are created with circularity in mind and fit into either a recyclable, reusable, or compostable framework.
Some of the alternatives options available for ecommerce businesses include water-activated packing tape, fully compostable mailers, and Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified recycled tissue paper.
Each packaging product can be completely customized online, with minimal design experience required. Noissue’s products are also printed using soy-based ink, which is a greener alternative to petroleum-based inks.
Additionally, every order placed with noissue helps to reforest the world. The company plants a tree for every order made by a customer that is part of its Ecoalliance loyalty program, ensuring paper and cardboard products that get used are replenished.
Low MOQs also help cut down on waste, as brands of any size can order as little or as much packaging as they need.
How ShipBob works with noissue for ecommerce packaging & shipping
ShipBob and noissue have teamed up to ensure access to sustainable, custom packaging is even easier. Through the partnership, noissue can ship custom products direct to ShipBob fulfillment centers around the world, and ShipBob will fulfill orders using the brand’s custom eco-friendly packaging.
ShipBob’s team is briefed on all noissue products, and can directly introduce interested parties to the noissue team for assistance. If you’re interested in using ShipBob and noissue together, please fill out this form.
Going eco-friendly with your packaging can definitely feel intimidating, but engaging in more sustainable practices is a long-term benefit to your business and the Earth. 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.
Need a 3PL to ship your branded eco-friendly packages?
ShipBob is an ecommerce fulfillment company that helps ecommerce brands store inventory, fulfill orders, and even ship out eco-friendly packages in a fast, affordable way. You can use your own custom branded packaging or our free plain brown boxes and recyclable dunnage.
Request a pricing quote below to see if we’d be a good fit for your business.
Eco-friendly packaging FAQs
Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about eco-friendly packaging:
What is the most environmentally-friendly packaging?
The best environmentally-friendly packaging solutions promote a circular economy. A circular economy can come in many forms, but the most common models are: composting, recycling, and reusing materials.
Compostable packaging is made up of materials that can be broken down and decomposed in compost. These eco-friendly packages don’t add to landfills and ocean pollution, and instead go back to the earth.
Recyclable packaging on the other hand, is made up of materials that can be recycled or have already been recycled. Think: corrugated cardboard or mailers that were created from used paper or plastic.
Reusable packaging — such as cloth pouches or glass jars — encourages people to keep packaging materials out of oceans and landfills by getting them to reuse them for other purposes.
Are there any extra costs for eco-friendly packaging?
Sustainable mailers, tissues, or boxes can function just as well as traditional packaging, so there shouldn’t be any “extra” costs associated with going the eco-friendly packaging route.
Is sustainable packaging more expensive? If you choose the right supplier, you should be able to purchase and implement eco-friendly packaging that’s within your budget.
It’s also important to note that the demand for sustainable packaging is increasing, and this will help drive down the costs even more.
What qualifies as biodegradable?
Any material that can be decomposed or broken down by bacteria and living organisms would qualify as biodegradable. It’s a very broad term, so it’s important to clarify that there are different levels of biodegradability.
Certain plastics, for example, are technically considered “biodegradable” but the time it takes for them to decompose is unclear and the circumstances to do so must be isolated.
Compostable packaging falls under the broad definition of biodegradable, but it goes a step further by also enriching the earth with nutrients once it’s been broken down.
Plus, certified compostable packaging has clear timelines for when they will decompose. To be certified home compostable, a product must break down in home compost within 180 days and 90 days in commercial composting conditions.
What are plant-based packaging solutions?
Plant-based packaging solutions are made up of bio-based sources. The common biological sources used for these packages include corn seaweed, wood pulp, among others.
A lot of the compostable packaging materials in the market are made from plants. Noissue’s mailers, for instance, are plant-based and made from a combination of corn-based biopolymers.
Do note that not all plant-based packaging solutions are compostable. Depending on the additives that the packaging contains, some materials won’t break down quickly or completely.
That’s why if you’re looking into plant-based packaging as an eco-friendly alternative, be sure to do research on whether or not it’s compostable.