When you are trying to choose the right kind of packaging for your product, there are many things to consider. Luckily, most of these matters are not difficult because product packaging is a simple thing that serves a simple purpose. However, many people hit a roadblock when it comes to the subject of environmentally friendly packaging. In this article, we will attempt to help you find the best eco-friendly package solution for your business.
How Do The Common Materials Stack Up?
Most of the properties of packaging come from its materials. So, let’s look at some of the common materials and see how environmentally sustainable they really are. We will do this by comparing their ability to biodegrade. Biodegradable materials are meant to break down and return to the earth, but there is a question of how long it will take.
Styrofoam is easily the worst choice of all, at least when it comes to sustainability. While this material is handy, it is not biodegradable. Styrofoam will eventually break down and return to the environment, but it takes so long that people can’t even agree on how long (because no one has ever seen it happen). The best estimate we could find says that it might take as long as one million years for styrofoam to decompose.
In terms of eco-friendliness, plastic is almost as bad as styrofoam. The least damaging plastic would be the thin grocery bags that we all know. These take ten to twenty years to break down in landfills, while some plastics might take as long as a thousand years to go away.
In recent years, science has invented new “biodegradable” plastics, but these have proven to be even worse than the others. The problem is that, when this kind of plastic breaks down, it leaves behind microscopic particles that are usually referred to as “microplastics.” These can wreak havoc on every aspect of the environment, even threatening the agriculture that keeps all of us alive.
Cardboard is definitely the best choice we have discussed so far. Cardboard is usually made from multiple layers of Kraft paper, and this type of paper is easy to manufacture from waste paper. Most cardboard boxes that you will find today have been made from recycled materials, and are themselves recyclable.
If you go with cardboard, and you want to be totally eco-responsible, make sure you use cardboard made from unbleached Kraft paper. You also want to avoid Kraft paper that has been impregnated with resin. The resin most commonly used is called urea-formaldehyde. To give you an idea of how bad that is: urea is manufactured from stale urine, while formaldehyde is commonly used to embalm dead bodies.
As long as you avoid the treated varieties, cardboard is one of the most eco-friendly choices that you have. Apart from its easy recyclability, it only takes two or three months to break down in a landfill, and the process is even faster in wet conditions.
Because paper is the basis of cardboard, its sustainability profile is very similar to that of cardboard. In the past, the use of paper was misconstrued as a liability to the environment because (obviously) you have to cut down trees. However, advances in recycling have allowed us to get a lot more use from a single tree. According to most sources, paper waste will take two to six weeks to decompose and disappear.
As with cardboard, you want to avoid anything that has been treated with toxic or nonbiodegradable substances. Waxed paper options may seem alright, but they aren’t. While it was formerly made of beeswax, modern wax is actually a petroleum product. As you surely know, petroleum products are some of the most non-sustainable of them all.
To make sure that your paper has been sourced in an environmentally responsible way, you should check with the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). They run a certification program that allows manufacturers to certify their paper as “eco-friendly,” so look for this certification, especially when making bulk purchases.
Protip: Don’t Be Excessive
If you want to be known as an eco-friendly company, you should try not to use any more packaging than necessary. Excess packaging is a major problem today, as you may have noticed. For instance, some companies try to make packages that will deter shoplifters, but this usually doesn’t work. Unless you make the package from some kind of metal, a thief with a blade will be able to gain access. That means a lot of extra packaging for nothing!
A Word About Sale Minimums
Companies that sell packaging supplies will often have a minimum quantity. It isn’t cost-effective for them to make or ship a tiny order, so these minimums are somewhat necessary. However, they can make it very hard for small companies to buy sustainable packaging. While you can certainly go ahead and buy more than is immediately needed, sustainable packaging tends to have a shorter shelf life. This can lead to a situation in which your packages are degrading before they can be used. Thus, we strongly recommend that you look for a company with a minimum that suits your business.
Shape Doesn’t Matter
You might have noticed that we didn’t say anything about the shapes or forms of sustainable packaging. We omitted that part because it doesn’t have much impact on the environmental viability of a package. Just choose something that fits your product without leaving too much space, and that should be good enough. Your choice of material is far more important than anything else in this regard.
With a little research and a little care, sustainable packaging does not have to be a headache. By following the information outlined in this guide, you should now be able to select a type of packaging that suits your products and your way of doing business.
You might have noticed that we didn’t say anything about the shapes or forms of sustainable packaging. We omitted that part because it doesn’t have much impact on the environmental viability of a package. Just choose something that fits your product without leaving too much space, and that should be good enough. If you have found our work to be helpful, please fill out the contact form below to receive more of our expert advice.