Eco-Friendly Packaging for E-Commerce

October 06, 2020

Hana Drdla

Zero Waste Packaging

By 2050, it is predicted that plastic in oceans will outweigh fish. Now is the time for business owners to think about sustainability throughout the supply chain, including what waste is produced by shipping their products.

Business owners have the opportunity to reduce the amount of packaging waste that they hand off to consumers. This involves ensuring that packaging materials are responsibly sourced and that they can be diverted from a landfill following their use. In today’s post, I’ll talk about how business owners can think about reducing their carbon footprint and move towards zero-waste packaging. I’ll also point you to some suppliers that can help you get there.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.

Reduce.
The first step is to reduce packaging waste. I have certainly received an online order in a box that was 2x larger than necessary. That’s 2x the resources to produce the box, 50% less space in the truck that carries deliveries, and 2x the amount of waste. Do everything you can to use packaging that is appropriately sized for different order sizes. As a consumer, this could look like purchasing from companies that use less plastic in their packaging. More and more consumers care about the impact of their consumption and use their purchasing power to support the companies that show initiative in the area of sustainability.

Reuse.
From the producer side, this involves sourcing materials that have been recycled. Think post-consumer recycled paper for business cards and boxes. Reuse could also mean packaging your goods in materials that consumers can and likely will reuse. For example, using glass jars to package cream deodorants rather than plastic tubes. Go the extra step to educate consumers on how they can reuse your packaging at home.

I always like to think about the useful lifespan of an item. For instance, a disposable coffee cup has a useful lifespan of about an hour before it gets thrown out. Extending that lifespan reduces waste.

Recycle.
Have you given the consumer the opportunity to divert your packaging waste away from the landfill and towards the recycling bin? Think about labeling your packaging with a note that informs the consumer that the materials are recyclable. A friendly reminder can create a new habit.

Packaging Materials


Mailers

Plastic mailers are light, durable, flexible, and waterproof. All great for shipping clothes. Today you can get mailers that are remarkably similar but are 100% home compostable, meaning that they can break down in a home compost in 180 days or 90 days in a commercial composting environment.

For those shipping in bubble envelopes looking for a plastic-free alternative, you can buy compostable bubble mailers, corrugated paper lined envelopes, or honeycomb paper padded envelopes that provide cushioning.

This is the easiest area to tackle thanks to the many suppliers of compostable mailers.

Suppliers

  • Grounded Packaging: A HUGE variety of compostable packaging including coffee bags, snack wraps, pouches, zipper bags, and of course, mailers.
  • The Better Packaging Co.: Mailers, bubble packages, labels, gloves and hygiene liners.
  • Hero Packaging: Compostable, colorful mailers in different sizes.
  • Care Package: Pastel coloured compostable mailers.
  • Lumi: A large variety of paper and padded mailers, such as honeycomb paper padded envelopes.

Stickers & Address Labels

Having a compostable mailer but a plastic shipping label makes little sense as it's quite difficult to peel the label off the package, and many customers won't bother to do it.

Often overlooked, address labels are a mostly unavoidable element of shipping, and stickers, well… who doesn’t love stickers? Address labels and stickers can also be made from recycled materials. Look for 100% post-consumer waste material. The larger issue lies with the backing paper or release liner that the sticker sticks on before it is used. Backing paper is usually made from plastic or from paper with a light silicone film to help the sticker easily release from the backing. These are liners are usually unrecyclable and must go in the garbage. Luckly, there are a few companies manufacturing release liners that are curbside recyclable.

Suppliers

  • Pure Labels: This is the largest range of sizes for compostable and recyclable adhesive labels that I found. Unfortunately, their liner is not compostable or recyclable.
  • Label Craft: Enviroliners are 100% recycled and recyclable paper liners that make the entire labeling process waste-free.
  • Eco Enclose: 100% recycled shipping label sheets and rolls, and stickers with zero-waste liners.
  • The Better Packaging Co.: Compostable shipping labels that fit right into your label printer. It's not mentioned if the liner is also compostable on these so I would assume not.
  • Lumi: Plastic-free and biodegradable stickers available in rolls, sheets, or die cut.

Tape

Another necessity for securing packages and making sure they get to their destination safely. Instead of plastic tape, consider trying compostable paper tape. This tape is water-activated meaning that there is no wax or silicone used to allow the tape to peel off. Instead, you use a tape dispenser that wets the tape when you are ready to use it. Search for "paper gummed tape" or "water activated tape".

Suppliers

  • No Issue: Known for offering custom tissue paper, stickers, tape and mailers, No Issue is making eco-friendly packaging fun!
  • Lumi: Offering four different kinds of tape, Lumi has you covered with custom tape options.
  • EcoEnclose: They've got you covered for both paper tape and plastic-looking (although biodegradable) packing tape.

Dissolvable

Dissolvable packaging... say what!? Yup, just run the package under some warm water and watch it disappear. You've seen this already with dishwasher or laundry pods, so it isn't that strange to incorporate elsewhere, humidity permitting.

Suppliers

  • Smart Solve: Water soluble tape, threads, labels, paper, and pouches. Just... awesome.
  • Grounded Packaging Co.: Water soluble poly bags.
  • AliBaba: I haven't found many companies offering a wide range of dissolvable options, but AliBaba has you covered with tons of dissolvable packaging in different forms.
  • Notpla: Not really suitable for e-commerce, but I had to include Notpla because of how cool their product is. Their material is made from seaweed and plants and biodegrades in weeks. They are the ultimate zero-waste solution for events.

Conclusions

Consumers are demanding change, and supporting businesses that align with their own values. Consider if reducing your business's carbon footprint is important to your stakeholders, or yourself. Using eco-friendly packaging materials can also help your business stand out from its competitors, while giving your customers a great first impression of your product.

If the price of switching over to these more eco-friendly alternatives seems high to you, take some time to research. Many of the suppliers mentioned above are supplied by businesses on AliBaba. There, you can purchase at a discounted rate (about 30% of the cost depending on your minimum order quantity).

Is there something I missed? Let me know what you think about zero-waste e-commerce on Twitter!



Tags: shopify packaging

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