Small business owners today have many opportunities to engage in sustainable practices at the workplace and throughout the lifecycle of their products and services, and sustainable packaging is an excellent way to being a journey toward an eco-friendly business model.
The Sustainable Packaging Coalition offers a wealth of resources and information on creating sustainable packaging like compostable packaging, recyclable packaging, and packaging the follows the guidelines for post-consumer recycled content.
Here are a few of the options you may wish to consider in taking steps toward sustainable packaging for your business.
1. Understand Common Sustainable Packaging Terms
Sustainable packaging efforts may start with an effort to use recyclable packaging, but there are many additional concepts that you may wish to learn about that can help you create the most sustainable packaging possible.
Entrepreneur reveals an interesting facet of sustainable packaging:
"People often think that because paper is more natural and biodegradable than plastic, it is a better choice when trying to develop sustainable packaging. But that may not be so. Sustainability takes into account not just how natural a product is, but also how much energy and other resources are required to make it."
It's not just the materials that you use to make your packaging that matters when creating your packaging. You must also consider whether certain packaging might cost more in fossil fuels when it comes to logistics. Will the recyclable or compostable cardboard packaging cost so much more to ship that using lightweight plastic wrapping might be a better idea?
While plastic might not be considered as eco-friendly as cardboard (it can only be "down-cycled" after all, rather than truly recycled), shipping a product across the country in a heavy cardboard box could end up releasing more overall CO2 into the atmosphere due to transportation costs.
Here are some of the questions you may wish to ask about your packaging that may help you decide on a particular material, weight, design, and type.
- Is the material fully recyclable or can it only be down-cycled into something less useful?
- Can you reduce the amount of material used by utilizing a thinner packaging product?
- Are there any opportunities for reusable packaging that can boost incidental marketing?
- Is the packaging available in a biodegradable or compostable version?
2. Investigate Compostable Packaging
Compostable packaging is a fascinating type of sustainable packaging that feeds the earth as the materials in the packaging are broken down. One example of compostable packaging is packing peanuts made of starch, which break down easily in water and can be disposed of in compost piles.
Composting used packaging does require special conditions to facilitate the breakdown of materials, but it's not a particularly difficult process, and it's one that can be accomplished on a local level. Packaging Digest offers a fascinating article on sustainable packaging and choosing compostable packaging. On organic waste, they reveal:
"Waste is managed at the local level, and it has been said that organic waste could be managed at even a "hyper local" level. Organics can be composted in a traditional commercial infrastructure, including windrows that are turned with mechanical blades. Or, it could be processed using an anaerobic digester. It could even be done in a backyard, or using worms and a bin (known as vermiculture)."
Imagine if pizza delivery companies began using truly compostable cardboard instead of the traditional cardboard boxes they currently use (which aren't recyclable due to the leftover pizza that gets stuck to the surface of the boxes). Currently, pizza boxes can only be composted on a commercial level, and the majority of the 3 billion pizza boxes used in the United States each year are simply thrown away.
Consider This: If you place labels on your packages for shipment or your products feature labels, don't forget to ensure these packaging features are compostable or recyclable, too! Don't risk impacting the sustainability of your packaging by including features that aren't sustainable on your products.
3. Reduce the Amount of Packaging You Use
A bottled water company that uses a compostable bottle that mimics the look and functionality of plastic has taken a great step toward sustainable operations. However, there are a variety of considerations beyond the materials used for the packaging of a company's products that can impact the overall sustainability of the business.
For example, what material does the bottled water company use to secure its bottles together for transport and/or sale? Are the bottles put together using those terrible plastic rings that invariably end up in the ocean and around the necks of unfortunate sea life? Or, does the company use recyclable, biodegradable, or compostable packaging to secure the bottles?
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) provides some excellent research and suggestions on reducing packaging. Their article on reducing food packaging offers sage advice for a variety of manufacturers and small businesses:
- Save money by reducing over-purchasing and disposal costs
- Reduce environmental impacts
- Support efforts to eliminate hunger
- Reduce health and odor concerns with food disposal
- Support community waste reduction efforts
- Increase tax benefits by donating food
Excessive packaging has long been a source of amusement and dismay for environmentally conscious consumers, and using environmentally friendly packaging has helped some businesses increase their reputation and status with customers.
According to an article from The Guardian, packaging can greatly influence a customer's decision to make a purchase:
"Even though it makes up a small part of a product’s environmental impact, packaging is the first thing that consumers see, and it can heavily influence their buying decisions."
The best part about packaging is that no decision is permanent, and your business can experiment or find new opportunities to become more sustainable with each new packaging design.
Design Your Sustainable Packaging with Howard Packaging
Are you interested in introducing sustainable packaging to your small business? Would you like to know more about the innovative packaging solutions from Howard Packaging? We'd love to speak with you about how our sustainable packaging can help your business save money, enhance reputation, and become eco-friendly. Contact us today for a consultation, or to request a Free Catalog and Sample Kit.