Green packaging in e-commerce. Eco-friendly packaging materials

 

“Information about the package is as important as the package itself”.
Frederick W. Smith

 

We all live in a consumer society and make purchases on a daily basis. Every hour we bring home tons of accurately packaged products from supermarkets or receive them via delivery services.

Starting from ginger snaps and ending with slipper-socks, almost all goods we buy are supplied in some form of packaging, that not only keeps the contents in a good condition but defines brands and provides necessary product info.

However, nowadays one can hardly ignore the threat plastic packaging poses to the environment. Scientists have already denounced plastic as a long-term pollutant that doesn’t fully biodegrade.

According to a recent research conducted by CSIRO (the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation) every 10 years world production of plastic doubles.

If we are doubling what we are putting into the ocean on a ten-year basis, there’s no way to keep up.

Just imagine! More than 50 percent of all plastic items we buy are used just once. In Los Angeles alone, about 10 tons of plastic packaging fragments are thrown into the Pacific Ocean daily.

Luckily, today more and more huge industries like Adidas or BMW as well as small companies come to the ‘green side’. And, of course, the tendency to use biodegradable materials couldn’t pass by manufacturers who keep up with eco-friendly trends. Therefore, sustainability has become a number one priority to many companies which are somehow connected with packaging.

The sales numbers show that customers willingly vote for sustainable packaging. So, why not make your own contribution to the environment protection and revamp your business through an eco-friendly transformation?

In this article, we will tell you about different green packaging types and show the way you can use its growing popularity for your e-commerce business.

What is green packaging?

Historical Reference: According to PackagingDigest.com, the first prerequisites for sustainable packaging development appeared during the environmental movement in the 1970s when Americans started celebrating the Earth Day. One of the most emotional messages of that time came from the anti-litter commercial with Crying Indian.

The official definition says that green packaging (aka sustainable packaging) is the use of materials and manufacturing methods that have a minimal impact on energy consumption and the environment. The main goals of sustainable packaging are to:

  • Reduce the overall amount of packaging;
  • Increase the use of renewable or reusable materials;
  • Minimize packaging associated costs;
  • Exclude harmful (toxic) materials;
  • Ensure packaging is easy to recycle.

But in fact, eco-friendly packaging is not just about minimizing the amount of wrapping, it also includes package design, processing as well as the entire product lifecycle.

Download an official document created by the Sustainable Packaging Coalition to learn about green packaging requirements in detail.

Sustainable packaging types

Now let’s dig into details and find out what materials are used for biodegradable and recyclable packaging production. Luckily, there are many alternatives available.

Paper and cardboard – paper and cardboard are reusable, easily recyclable and biodegradable materials. Thereby, they enjoy a great popularity among package manufacturers.

Corn starch – package made from corn starch is biodegradable and has a minimal negative impact on the environment. This is an ideal choice for products with a limited use, such as takeaway food as well as for items sent through the post.

Bubble wrap – this is one of the most widely used wrapping materials. Eco-friendly alternatives include bubble wrap made from recycled polyethylene and a fully degradable bubble wrap.

Two engineers Alfred Fielding and Marc Chavannes invented bubble wrap while working on a new type of textured wallpapers in 1957.

Biodegradable plastic – nowadays this material type is used for plastic bags, bulk mailing envelopes etc. It starts decomposing once it is exposed to sunlight which makes it a good alternative to traditional plastics.

Bagasse paper– is a sugarcane fiber pulp left after juice extraction. This is a comparably new eco-material as historically bagasse waste has been destroyed right in the fields, thus creating pollution. Now it’s steadily replacing traditional paper when it comes to food services.

Bagasse products normally decompose within 90 days, while plastic needs about 400 years to degrade.

Mycelium – is a compostable packaging produced from mushrooms. It can be easily grown over a short time period in special containers. The material is safe to eat and is absolutely biodegradable.

Here we’ve listed only the most popular compostable packaging materials, and of course, you are welcome to select any green wrapping that meets your business needs.

Why go green?

While no one denies a positive impact of eco-friendly packaging on the environment, the question of commercial benefits is still disputable.

However, numbers speak louder than words. A survey conducted by the Recycled Paperboard Alliance found that about 6o% of customers are more likely to buy products from a company that uses recycled packaging.

The research also found that along with reduced packaging customers vote for bio packaging materials and willingly support companies that bring sustainability to the production.

More than 6o% of customers are more likely to buy products from a company that uses recycled packaging.

Benefits of using biodegradable or recyclable materials:

  • First of all, by using sustainable packaging for your products you make your contribution to the environment protection and become a great example to follow. Now, due to your eco-friendly activities, our planet will become a little greener.
  • A wise usage of green packaging allows you to significantly reduce shipping costs. Did you know that the average package contains about 40 percent of empty space? Larger-than-required boxes occupy more space in the carrier, eventually increasing carbon emissions and fuel usage. Therefore, by using more compact packaging you cut down shipping expenses and make your products more attractive to customers.
  • It increases brand awareness, builds positive eco-friendly image and offers fantastic PR opportunities associated with minimal environmental impact.
The latest research of customer preferences conducted by PPMI found that 1 of 5 household care consumers place environmentally friendly packaging among their top purchasing criteria.
  • Finally, it makes your company ready to meet all possible legal requirements depending on the destination country. For example, France has already banned plastic plates, glasses and cutlery, passing a new law which comes into force in 2020.

How to make your business greener right now?

The 10 simple tips below will help you wisely optimize website spendings and make your business more attractive to eco-conscious consumers. No matter which of these steps you will take, remember to inform customers about all green activities you are involved in. Equip your website with a green mission statement or add any badges you earn to your site as well.

Reduce packaging

Although from the eco-friendly perspective, the best packaging is no packaging, it’s hardly possible to refuse wrapping at all. However, as we’ve already mentioned, reduced packaging will significantly decrease your material and transportation costs.

According to EPA report ‘Containers and packaging alone contribute over 23% of the material reaching landfills in the U.S. Additionally, packaging makes up a majority of the litter that ends up on beaches and other waterways.’

Use Biodegradable materials

Many marketers avoid using compostable packaging because it’s more expensive and looks less appealing. But all they need to do is to find a green material that suits their specific business needs. E.g. Soy-based ink is a sustainable option that offers a rich set of colors, spicing up plain boxes. Plastic packaging is another option, as it can be recycled or reused.

Don’t mix items incompatible for recycling

Two or more polymers used together may prevent packaging of recycling. Therefore, while choosing plastic materials for your package stick to one single plastic type.

Make your package design functional

A food container shaped as a teddy bear or a puzzle box will ensure that packaging gets a second life and won’t end up in landfills.

Promote your products using long-life items

Select substantial items like pencils, bags, t-shirts, mugs etc. for your marketing campaigns. These promo materials can be used for a long time and will definitely increase your brand awareness.

Offer related eco-friendly services

Refilling printer ink or reusing any kinds of package materials will not only cut down on customer spendings but it will attract them to you as a green business.

Instruct customers

Properly mark recycled/recyclabe packaging and give instructions on their possible reuse or recycling. For example, Dell has a bunch of corporate website pages explaining how the company strives to be more eco-friendly in design, production, and packaging as well, also giving information on recycling possibilities in different world regions.

Be reasonable

Don’t make your services or products less quality or convenient just for the sake of looking ecologically aware.

Become an example to follow

  • Utilize green hosting. Green web hosts companies participate in a great number of activities, such as forest planting, using renewable energy sources and many others. Apart from that, most green companies cost less than their non-eco-friendly rivals.
  • Properly recycle your own garbage.
  • Make your business paperless by shifting to electronic workflow if possible.
  • Motivate and engage your employees by rewarding them for new eco-friendly ideas and positive changes.

Find ways to scale ‘global’ ideas for your small business

We do understand that you’ll hardly make your company green within a day. However, there are dozens of ways how to scale down green activities of huge companies. By making baby steps in the right direction you’ll definitely find the ones that work for you.

  • Stock up with recycled paper for your packaging.
  • Find local paper suppliers (paper recycling plants or centers) to reduce spends on an eco-friendly packaging. This way you can support local recycling activities and encourage
  • Think out of the box! For example, offer your employees to take a couple of cardboard boxes or a bag of plastic glasses and bottles home to include them into their municipal recycling programs at a zero cost to your company.
  • Consider installation of motion detector light switches in less ‘inhabited’ rooms or offices.
  • Even a small company can reduce printed output by using a slide projector for its presentations instead of printing out the slides.

Green Packaging Trends

The majority of latest innovations in package design reflect a shift away from the artificial eye-catching packaging that was associated with premium products in the past, and a move to natural-looking materials. However, this tendency doesn’t limit package designers and manufacturers when it comes to a variety of shapes, surfaces, and package usage scenarios.
The future of sustainable packaging will not just be in material usage, lightweighting and recycling – it will be about empowering consumers with the ability to lead their lives in a more environmentally positive way. In what ways can your branded packaging enable people to use your product more responsibly and efficiently?

Edible packaging

Why throw the package away when you can simply eat it? Following this idea, more and more startups focus on edible food package development trying to minimize packaging waste. Edible food packaging is basically ‘food wrapped in food’. Sounds tempting?

Tactile or multi-sensory packaging

Tactile packaging has been developed to make products ‘speak’ with customers. Due to up-to-date advanced technologies tactility can be implemented in embossing, raised-letter inks, laser-etching, molded patterns etc. For instance, the package designer Solveiga Pakstaite invented the Bump Mark – a tactile expiry date. It clearly informs consumers about the state of their food through a simple touch.

Multifunctional and zero waste packaging

As soon as Americans alone annually throw away about 140 billion lbs of packaging, manufacturers constantly look for effective methods to reduce theses numbers. A new trend gaining popularity over recent years is a package that can be given a new life after its content usage.

One of the most bright examples of a multi-functional eco-packaging is a read Puma bag designed by Yves Béhar which not only requires fewer production resources but can be re-used. According to Puma, the bags save about 60 percent of water and energy compared to old-line manufacturing.

Sustainable packaging in Google Trends

As you’ve learned from the article, the sustainable packaging development has a long history full of amazing inventions. Since the 70-s the popularity of eco-friendly products including green packaging has been constantly growing. But let’s have a look at eco-friendly packaging in different countries through the prism of Google Trends. We’ve taken a 5-year period for comparison.

  • World Overview –  the popularity of sustainable packaging stays at a high level. To be more precise, the ‘Green packaging’ term has become more common.

google-world

  • The United States for the USA region the numbers don’t much differ from the world’s data, indicating that USA has been staying one of the largest consumers and  powerful trend setters in the eco-production sphere.

google-usa

 

  • The Uited Kingdom – unlike in the USA, in the United Kingdom the popularity of sustainable and green packaging seems to have decreased during last years, but still stays at a relatively high level. At the same time the number of search requests for both terms has a slighter discrepancy.

google-united-kingdom

 

  • Australia – below the equator things seem to be absolutely different. The ‘green packaging’ search term shows zero results while ‘sustainable packaging’ has been stably keeping up to a high level.

google-australia

  • India – unexpectedly, in India the popularity of eco-friendly packaging has been climbing down during last years. It seems that Indian companies hold off to adopting green packaging. Why does it happen? One of the reasons is that Indian manufacturers don’t consider the switch to sustainable packaging to be financially beneficial. Therefore, at the moment imin India ‘green packaging’ sounds more like a tribute to fashion rather than a real necessity.

google-india

 

Despite a bit contradictory results, determined geographically and economically, the green packaging is still highly popular with manufacturers all over the world. And according to future forecasts, the sustainable packaging market will continue to grow reaching the $240 billion by 2018.

Although not all manufacturers and retailers can afford a quick  switch to eco-friendly wrapping right now, the mass transition to the ‘green side’  seems to be just a question of time.

Summing up

go-green

The up-to-date packaging market calls for products that are recycled and recyclable. More and more companies starting from huge industrial giants like Dell or Coca-Cola and ending with small retailers tend to achieve an ideal balance between environmental impact and customer experience. Apart from that, modern manufacturers not only follow eco-requirements themselves but spread the word about green activities one can be involved in.

As you can see today even a small business can take a number of easy steps to become more environmentally friendly.