Packaging waste is a big problem in the U.S. According to recent EPA statistics, it’s an 80.1 million-ton-per-year problem. That’s how much packaging waste made it into landfills in this country in 2017, the most recent year with published data available. In fact, packaging waste accounted for nearly a third of all solid waste dumped into landfills that year.
This level of wastefulness has caught the public’s attention. The recent emphasis on the importance of environmental sustainability has resulted in a tangible shift in consumer preference. To illustrate, a research done by Accenture in 2019 found that 72% of those surveyed reporting buying more environmentally-friendly products today compared to five years ago, with 81% reporting that they expect to focus even more on environmentally-friendly products over the coming five years.
This data has significant implications for product packaging. Companies that make the shift to more sustainable, eco-friendly packaging options will position their brands to rise with the tide of consumer sentiment. In this resource, we share four actionable ways to package your products in a more eco-friendly manner, with compelling examples of companies that are using these strategies effectively.
Think Beyond Plastic
When it comes to packaging liquid products, the default choice is plastic. For a quick anecdotal fact-check on this, just open up your fridge and take a look. This easy-to-produce, inexpensive material has been villainized in recent years, especially for its impact on marine life. And to make matters worse, this petroleum-based packaging has a lifespan many times longer than our own. Eco-conscious alternatives have come a long way in recent years, with many brands coming up with creative solutions to pivot away from plastic as default. As you consider your own product packaging don’t just settle for plastic. Instead, explore the more creative sustainable packaging ideas first. And swapping out plastic doesn’t have to stop at the containers you use — options like TerraSkin are durable yet sustainable.
Example: Seventh Generation
This profusion of plastic is apparent when you hit the detergent aisle in the grocery store. What lies before you is an ocean of plastic bottles. But a recycled cardboard container stands out — Seventh Generation’s concentrated laundry detergent. Seventh Generation has been a market leader in sustainable products for decades. Over time, that eco-friendly focus has transformed their product packaging. Their laundry detergent container has an outer shell made of 70% recycled cardboard / 30% recycled newspaper blend with a recyclable plastic pouch inside. Now that’s some environmentally friendly packaging!
Sometimes Less Is More
In the past, product packaging wasn’t always created with efficiency in mind. Oversized packaging was the norm. After all, bigger is better, right? Now that mindset has fallen out of fashion. Not only is it more expensive to produce and ship product containers that are larger than they need to be, consumers now tend to gravitate toward smaller, more eco-friendly packaging. As you evaluate your current packaging, consider if there are ways to make those containers smaller or your packaging more streamlined. One of the easiest and cheapest ways to create more environmentally friendly packaging is to use less of it.
Puma decided to tackle one of the largest issues in packaging head-on. Each year, millions of tons of cardboard boxes are thrown out. In theory, these could be recycled, but in practice that isn’t happening on a large scale. If you’ve purchased a pair of Puma shoes in the last few years, you may have had a chance to experience their innovative packaging first-hand. Instead of using a standard shoebox, Puma wraps their shoes in a stylish, fabric bag complete with a handle, using just enough cardboard to support the bottom of the package. The fabric bag does triple duty as the top part of the shoebox, a bag to carry the shoes home in, and a small gym or tote bag to use later on.
Use Materials That Don’t Last Lifetimes
1000 years is a very long time — 30 generations. Many consumers are concerned that their grandchild to the twenty-ninth power will still be living with the plastic waste from their latest chocolate wrapper. Another way to meet the desires of eco-conscious consumers is to consider using one of the many biodegradable alternatives to traditional materials. With recent advances in the area of materials science, plastic-like substances like TerraSkin can now be produced from vegetable starches or wood cellulose. These materials degrade quickly and won’t harm the environment while they’re returning to dust.
Example: Alter Eco Chocolates
Alter Eco Chocolates uses biodegradable wrappers to delicious effect. They wrap each of their chocolates in NatureFlex, a cellulose film made from wood shavings collected from managed timber plantations. These wrappers degrade in a hurry, saving valuable space in landfills. Doing right for the planet never tasted so delicious!
Trade Plastic Labels for Paper Labels
Many consumer products today use plastic labels. These labels last just as long in a landfill as plastic packaging. For nearly all products labeled using plastic film, a paper-based alternative exists. Colored paper, kraft paper, or recycled paper labels come in a wide variety of styles and textures.
Example: LeLabo Fragrances
LeLabo is an artisan fragrance producer based in New York City. All of their labels are made from paper. The look and feel of the paper labels complements the earthy, sustainable feel their brand has cultivated.
Best Label Materials for Eco-Conscious Products
Eco-friendly labels come in a wide range of materials. For products that may get wet during use, TerraSkin is an ideal choice. This naturally-derived labeling material is made from a blend of calcium carbonate and polyethylene resin. It’s overlaid with plastic for a finish that’s more durable than kraft paper labels.
If you’re committed to using a 100% recycled label, Kraft paper labels are an ideal choice. As long as they aren’t exposed to significant amounts of water, Kraft labels are durable and designed to stand up to extreme temperature environments like the fridge or freezer, ensuring products stay looking their best under a variety of conditions.
Eco-Friendly Packaging is Sustainable and Smart
The eco-conscious packaging and label design industries have grown substantially in just a few years. With many new innovative and environmentally-friendly solutions, brands have plenty of options for more sustainable packaging and labels. Many consumers now expect that brands they love will make environmentally-friendly choices in how they produce, package, and label their products. Brands that tap into this trend and adapt accordingly position themselves for strong future growth while creating a more livable planet for generations to come.
5 of the Best Eco-Friendly Packaging Companies
- Ecologic: Putting recycled paper and plastic to good use, Ecologic was able to create paper bottles from recycled materials. Ecologic emphasizes reducing plastic material at the source, and is committed to creating a more sustainable world through eco-friendly packaging solutions.
- Sustainable Packaging: An eco-friendly packaging provider that offers stock and customizable options for a variety of product types. Using sophisticated molded pulp packaging techniques and materials, Sustainable Packaging offers aesthetically pleasing and environmentally solutions to meet their customers’ needs.
- Elk Packaging: Supplying packaging options for top-shelf brands for over 30 years, Elk Packaging is committed to providing sustainable packaging for a variety of industries. From compostable stand-up pouches to folding cartons, they offer a wide selection of sustainable packaging materials for your brand.
- Eco Enclose: A company passionate about sustainable products and their impact on the environment. Eco Enclose specializes in eco-friendly shipping products, paper options, shopping bags, and more. Their high standards and commitment to transparency makes them a great partner for your shipping needs.
- Green Packaging Group: A collection of companies dedicated to supplying sustainable packaging solutions, from outer product packaging to mailers, filler, and tape. Green Packaging Group also regularly updates their blog with educational and informative content on sustainable packaging.
We’d love to help you find the perfect eco-friendly label for your product packaging. Connect with one of our product experts at 877-277-4682.