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Sustainable Packaging In 2021 And Beyond [Examples & Ideas]

Phil Forbes
Phil Forbes | 7 min read

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Sustainable packaging is becoming a higher priority for both brands and consumers - more now than ever before.

McDonald's announced its packaging will be 100% renewable and recycled by 2025.

Millennials are pushing brands to be more socially and environmentally responsible.

British marketplaces are being built around eliminating single-use plastics.

It's clear that the term ‘eco-friendly packaging’ is clearly more than a buzzword. 

In fact, implementing eco packaging in your brand’s operations is no longer an option - it’s a necessity.

basic kraft mailing bundle

Click here to explore Packhelp's range of certified packaging

Need more proof that sustainable packaging is now the norm?

A recent study found that:

  • 37% of U.S. consumers prioritize sustainability when making buying decisions.
  • 51 % of supply chain professionals expect the circular economy to expand in popularity in the next two years, as a result of the pandemic
  • 30% of consumers are willing to pay a premium for products that deliver on sustainability claims

Many of us were brought up with the phrase 'reduce, reuse, recycle' in our vocabulary. Today, it's essential to your business that you reflect these same values. Not only to help the environment, but also to increase brand loyalty amongst eco-conscious consumers.

In this article, you’ll see:

  • What is packaging sustainability and sustainable design?
  • Examples of environmentally friendly packaging solutions
  • Material technology’s influence on sustainable packaging solutions

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Material science and packaging engineering developing at an incredible speed. As a result, more eco friendly packaging options are on the market that can take care of a wide range of products.

More brands are switching to eco-packaging - cosmetics marketing, ethical fashion and apparel, even cannabis branding works closely with packaging sustainability.

There have also been many breakthroughs in plant-based packaging and compostable packaging. This also means that it’s getting easier for your brand to reduce its carbon footprint.

Plus, with the public more and more aware of the waste caused by bad packaging, wasteful brands are being named and shamed.

Check out Packhelp's online store here!

So let’s dive into the world of green packaging, and see it’s benefits for your brand. But before we go too deep, what does packaging sustainability actually mean?

What is sustainable packaging?

Simply put, it is packaging that, over time, reduces its environmental footprint.

This can happen in a number of ways:

  • Ingredients: Using raw 100% recycled or raw materials
  • Production process: By minimising the production process, supply chain and carbon footprint
  • Reusability: Creating a circular economy around the packaging, extending its life cycle and usability.

It’s simple to say that eco packaging is entirely about the environment. It also should take into consideration economic and social factors.

For example, plant-based packaging may seem like a viable option. But quite often that means clearing endangered rainforests to grow crops.

Eco packaging needs to consider the economic factor. It needs to be priced competitively over traditional oil-based/single-use packaging options.

So yes, the definitions can get a bit messy at times!

A fancy label that says ‘eco-friendly’ doesn’t mean that it’s sustainable. Similarly, labelling something as sustainable doesn’t mean that it’s ethical.

But here's what's most important if your brand is considering a change:

Do your own research.

Definitions aren’t always black and white. It pays to ask your packaging manufacturer a number of questions

The Sustainable Packaging Coalition is a great resource. Here, you can see the certifications of certain brands and products. It's also a great way to further your knowledge of recyclable packaging in general.  

Want to know about what Packhelp's doing to further packaging sustainability? Click here to learn more

There are also other bodies, like the Forest Stewardship Council. They ensure that any wood-based products (like cardboard) are made from sustainably-sourced forests.

FSC certified cardboard

Sustainable product packaging, coupled with sustainable package design, is a potent combination. These characteristics can be a great way to set your brand above your competitors.

What is sustainable design in packaging?

Sustainable design is designing product packaging with the main purpose of doing as little harm to the environment as possible.

This can be achieved by using recycled material. You can also do this by designing your packaging with another purpose in mind.

For example, this shopping bag from H&M transforms into a clothes hanger.

H&M sustainable packaging design

Not only are these bags made from less material than H&M’s traditional plastic bag, but the paper is 80% recycled.

Need a paper bag for your brand made from 80% recycled cardboard? Start designing your own expandable kraft mailers now!

H&M knows its audience is people between 18 and 35. They know that these people care about the environment.

H&M know their customers appreciate brands with eco and reusable packaging solutions.

Therefore, sustainable design with reusability in mind increases brand loyalty amongst their audience.

Here's another example.

We've recently analyzed the supply chain of IKEA, and how the global leader started to invest in biodegradable types of packaging made from mycelium fungus. The change has been a pioneering example of leaving styrofoam behind - the common resource used to secure products in cardboard packaging.

Our Packaging engineer Artur Oboleński shared his thoughts on the cutting-edge technology. Read it here.

 

ikea image header

While it might seem like that, sustainablity in packaging isn't just about materials.

Simply using less material, regardless of what that material is, can work wonders, too.

Value engineering is the process of redesigning packaging from the ground up with the aim of saving money - and believe it or not, most money can be saved by using less packaging. That was the case of Raylo - a London-based start-up which optimized its packaging by using less materials.

The results?

Raylo achieved an 11% decrease in packaging costs, as well as a 25% reduction in weight.

See how Raylo lowered their packaging costs

Packhelp's team of packaging engineers scrutinise over your current packaging options and ensure that your solution is designed to use the least amount of material as possible.

Read below to see some examples of green packaging design.

Ad for sustainability in e-commerce

Environmentally friendly packaging examples

The switch to sustainability requires some research. You need to see how it can best complement your packaging design.

Look at the examples below to see several examples of brands that have done exactly that.

Hemp Juice

Hemp Juice is a Polish seller of CBD products. They needed environmentally friendly and custom CBD packaging to showcase their range of oils while creating a memorable and branded unboxing experience.

Hemp Juice Main

Using two packaging products and the use of colour to distinguish their products from each other, Hemp Juice have used recycled and recyclable cardboard to implement packaging that leaves the smallest carbon footprint as possible.

Featured product: Eco colour mailer boxes and custom pouch packaging.

Interested in custom packaging that meets Royal Mail's large letter and small package sizes? Click here to see the range of Royal Mail Packaging!

Sheyn

Sheyn is a Vienna-based jewellery studio that focuses on simple yet elegant design. The brand's founders were eager to explore the possibility of 3D printing, and that's how they arrived at their incredible range of jewellery. By using the innovative technology, their production is fully sustainable too.

sheyn sustainable packaging

Sheyn have used a kraft mailer box made of 80% recycled material. This takes their unique design onto their packaging. In turn, their customer has a memorable unboxing experience based around their packaging.

Featured product: Eco mailer box

Tip: Some of Packhelp's products can be instantly quoted. Even for wholesale quantities of packaging, you will immediately see the pricing of Eco Mailer Boxes, and other types of packaging. See the price for the quantity of Mailer Boxes you need here.

Origin x Performance

This UK-based brand incorporated sustainability in every aspect of its sportswear business - down to the last thread in their clothing.

sustainable mailing bag by origin x performance

Each garment is shipped in a branded mailing bag or custom jiffy bag. Unlike most bags used by a vast majority of e-commerce brands, Origin X Performance's packaging is fully sustainable. These bags are made from natural, biodegradable ingredients, and are just as durable as recyclable plastics and plastic alternatives.

Featured product: Bio Poly Mailers

Monday’s Child

Monday’s Child is a British company, selling young girl's clothing for special occasions.

monday's child sustainable packaging

The packaging that Monday’s Child uses tackles sustainability from the other side. The box doubles as a doll’s house for its young users.

By adding extra value to the packaging, a customer gets more value for money. Reusing the box also extends the life of the packaging.

Featured product: Full-colour mailer box

Biotika

Biotika is a Polish manufacturer of soy candles and scented waxes. The brand stems from the love of nature and goes above and beyond to leave a smaller footprint as possible.

ecommerce boxes

Plain textured cardboard boxes with a minimalist design. Simplicity lets the products do the talking. Neutral and organic colours add to the brand’s image, plus the recycled cardboard packaging itself!

Featured product: Eco mailer box and two-piece product boxes

READ MORE: Biotika, now a growing D2C brand, has recently collaborated with Packhelp on a project of packaging portfolio optimization. Take a look at the story here.

UAU Project

UAU Project is an art installation showing off the delicacies and beauty of 3D printed art.

UAU Project sustainable packaging

The installation tackled sustainability in a unique way. The boxes used to send the exhibition all over Europe doubled as the stage to show off the art itself.
 
Large shipping boxes designed with the dual-purpose in mind. The transport of the art, as well as displaying it. One product, two problems solved.

Featured product: Eco shipping boxes and packing tapes

Why packaging sustainability is important

There’s no need to go into detail about why sustainability in packaging is important. If you’re reading this article, you know it’s crucial. 

If you still need convincing, take a look at these tweet directed at Amazon's packaging:

amazon frustration free packaging

But the push toward packaging sustainability isn’t just from the end consumer.

Large corporations like Unilever Australia have recently put pressure on the Australian government. Unilever has demanded the government do more in the plastic pollution battle.

And if corporations of this size can put the heat on governments, it means:

  • Consumers want to associate with brands that are environmentally focused
  • Large corporations are spearheading the initiative to help their public image
  • Smaller and medium brands will be forced to implement sustainability in their packaging
But packaging sustainability doesn’t mean you have to invest a load of money. Nor does it mean a compromise on form or function.
 
Read below to see the best packaging materials on the market.

Eco-friendly packaging materials

Many people consider humble cardboard as an environmentally friendly material.
 
That’s because it is.
 
It's organic, ethical and sustainable and reusable packaging solutions out there.
 
Corrugated cardboard is the go-to solutions for packaging sustainability because they're organic.

sustainable cardboard packaging

Cardboard boxes come in many shapes and sizes. But another one of cardboard’s strengths is...well, its strength.
 
Double and triple-walled cardboard boxes can hold an incredible amount of weight. It's also highly resistant to blunt and piercing forces. So cardboard can keep your product secure throughout the shipping process.
 
A simple cardboard box is also over 80% biodegradable.
 
If it isn’t segregated when your customer throws it in the bin, it easily breaks down in landfill.
 
And if the material that cardboard is made from (paper pulp) isn’t already recycled, the raw materials used to make cardboard (trees) is managed incredibly well.
 
But there’s more to packaging than cardboard.
 
What happens when you need sustainable food packaging?
 
Well, take a look at Snact fruit bars.

snact biodegradable packaging

As a company, Snact is all about the reduction of waste. For starters, the product that they sell is made from banana peel - the perfectly edible part of the food that’s nearly always thrown out.

Secondly, Snact worked with Tipa to create packaging that’s 100% compostable.

Throw your wrapper into the garden and watch it decompose.

It worth noting, that single-use packaging isn’t the bad guy here. Single-use packaging that’s oil-based and ends up in landfill is the culprit.

Single-use plastics like algae-based Agar, are made from red algae. This is a naturally occurring substance that’s available in abundance. This packaging is suited to pasta, cereals and other dry foods.

agar sustainable packaging

With a little more refinement, materials like this can also battle single-use products. Straws and spoons (perhaps even reusable packaging) may soon be made from organic matter.
 
The term ‘single use’ isn’t always bad. There are though, some phrases that have negative connotations.

Plant-based packaging solutions

Sometimes called bio-based plastics or corn plastic, these packaging solutions are made from an organic compound. This compound will, over time, decompose in about any environment that it’s put in.
 
Polylactic acid (PLA) is a plastic substitute that’s made from fermented plant starch. More and more countries banning plastic bags at grocery stores. As a result, PLA looks set to become the next-best option to single-use plastic bags.
 
PLA can also be shaped into a more durable form of plastic packaging, used in Packhelp’s Bio polymailers.

bio polymail bag

These mailing bags can be used to send items that don’t need the protection of a box. For example, a simple t-shirt or other clothing that’s durable.
 
A Bio poly mailer can be used to send products where the box itself is an asset - a pair of shoes, for example.
 
Design features like a resealable flap mean that a Bio polymailer can be used again if need be. This increases its versatility and lifespan, keeping it out of landfill for longer. All in all, bio poly mailers are a fine alternative to traditional packaging for clothing and apparel.

TIP: Interested in designing your own Bio PolyMailer? Check them out here.

Consumer behaviour & packaging sustainabilty

Consumer trends are arguably one of the reasons many more brands are using environmentally friendly packaging.
 
With more being done to battle climate change, taking care of the earth has never been more important.
 
For many larger brands, going ‘environmentally friendly’ is nothing more than a PR stunt. We consume with our eyes and a simple recycling logo doesn’t always carry a lot of weight.
 
Sustainability and environmentalism aren’t at the forefront of your brand’s defining features.
But eco-conscious packaging can give you an edge over your competition.
 
Consider this situation for a moment:
 
Your brand on a shelf in a retail store.
 
Your product is placed directly next to the competition.
 
A buyer has your product in one hand, and your competitors in the other.
 
This customer is trying to figure out which product to purchase. They’re in ‘buying mode’ and just need one little thing to push them over the edge.
 
On your packaging, this customer reads:
 
‘This packaging is made from 100% recycled material and will break down into non-toxic organic matter in 15 years’.
 
Sold.
 
If eco packaging isn’t part of your branding, it’s still important in the mind of the buyer, even if it’s not the most important thing to them.
 
A well-placed statement may be all that’s needed to make a buyer commit to your product and not a competitor.
 
But how can a brand that’s never been eco-minded make the change and implement eco-conscious packaging?

8 tips to move to environmentally friendly packaging

If you’re a brand that’s considering a switch to eco packaging, here are a few tips to make sure you get the most from the process.

1- Don’t change everything at once

Whether you’re selling 1 product or several thousand, it’s best not to commit totally to packaging sustainability before you’ve tested the concept. You can do that by sampling packaging options. 

2 - Order product samples

As just mentioned, it’s risky to commit to a new packaging solution before testing it. Consider ordering a sample pack to inspect the quality of the packaging for yourself. Once you’re convinced that this is a practical option, then order in bigger quantities.

3 - Consider a redesign

Implementing new packaging can be a double-edged sword if done at the same time as launching a new redesign of the brand.

rebranding

Image source

A new logo, a new colour pallet and design assets can truly be complemented by sustainable product packaging.

4 - Adjust your pricing

Price is obviously a factor that needs to be considered. You may be surprised to know that packaging made from 80% recycled material can be had for as little as €0.26 per piece.

Once you’ve settled on a packaging option, it’s important to calculate if you can absorb the cost of packaging or whether you need to increase prices accordingly.

5 - Order small volumes

Part of testing how your brand (and customer) takes to your new packaging, is to do so in small volumes. Order as little as 30 pieces and judge the reaction of your team and customers. When everything is assured, scale up your order size!

6 - FIFO

FIFO stands for ‘First in, first out’ and it’s a method you might like to apply to your packaging. Before using your new packaging design, make sure that you’ve used up all your old packaging first.

7 - Consider eco-ing your product

Once your customers have taken well to your new packaging solution, consider bringing the concept of sustainability to your product itself. An eco-friendly product in an environmentally friendly box is a double-edged marketing sword!

8 - Flaunt your eco packaging

A brand that aligns itself for the good of the environment is something that the world wants to hear about. It’s a moral that can make your brand stand out and be seen over your competition.

Work your sustainability into your marketing campaigns and make sure that people know that you’re out there to help the environment.  

Sustainable packaging companies

As a young packaging company, Packhelp knows only sustainability and working alongside the environment.

We have a responsibility to care for the environment and help our customers do the same.

minimalist sustainable packaging

Being a fresh and disruptive brand to the stagnant and old-fashioned packaging industry, we’ve learnt many things.

None more important than this:

Most small to medium brands want to sell their product in packaging that doesn’t damage the environment.

That’s why every single cardboard product in our range is made from a minimum of 80% recycled cardboard. This means that when you order custom packaging from us, you’re getting a material that was a book, cereal box or a bank statement in another life.

Sliding Boxes

If you’re looking to get started with sustainably made packaging, check out Packhelp’s range of customised packaging options, or contact us so we can help create your unique packaging idea.

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Conclusion

In this article, you saw the current state of environmentally friendly packaging and how your small brand can start using it. You can now see how a brand can use eco-conscious packaging to build a better relationship with eco-minded customers.

With a global shift toward fighting climate change, the way we approach packaging is set to grow and change. Rather than being an alternative option, environmentally friendly packaging is only going to become more important.

Start designing now!

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