What is sustainable packaging?

The pressure on businesses to reduce their environmental impact has grown exponentially in recent years. With so much plastic entering the environment due to it being ‘single-use’—designed to merely be thrown away after a short amount of time—sustainable alternatives need to take priority.

What is sustainable packaging?

Can you design something to be thrown away yet have a low impact on the environment? Let’s take a closer look.

What defines sustainable packaging?

When we talk about sustainability in packaging, we mean packaging that’s made from renewable sources of material and can either be recycled or disposed of in an eco-friendly way.

Sustainable packaging is essentially any packaging that is eco-friendly as a core tenet of its design and material usage. ‘Sustainability’ in the context of business can technically mean economical sustainability rather than the environmental kind, but given the direct issues of waste connected with product packaging, the latter is what most people mean when talking about sustainable packaging.

This, coupled with the importance of reducing environmental impact, means businesses that adopt sustainable packaging practices are likely to attract praise from customers.

How do you know if packaging is sustainable?

The sustainability of packaging can largely be inferred by understanding the materials used to make it. Packaging using recycled (or recyclable) material can be said to be sustainable, as can packaging that’s biodegradable or compostable.

Conversely, it might be the practices used before turning the material into packaging that make it sustainable. A forest takes many resources to grow, but if managed sustainably then packaging made from that forest’s paper is, by extension, sustainable. Once the wood cannot be used in paper any longer, it can instead be used as biomass, feeding it even further into a circular economy.

What are some examples of sustainable packaging?

Packaging made from bamboo is highly sustainable. Bamboo itself grows fast, uses little water, and needs no fertiliser. Though technically a type of grass, bamboo is hard like wood and can therefore be pulped and turned into paper.

Since a bamboo crop regenerates from its own root systems and doesn’t need replanting, paper packaging made from bamboo can be considered highly sustainable.

That having been said, packaging made from regular paper can also be sustainable if managed in the right way and with a circular economy in mind. Paper is typically recyclable and reusable, though plasticated paper, which is commonly used in food and drink, is not so easily reused.

How do you make packaging sustainable?

Sustainable packaging is about considering the processes and impacts of the packaging as it is sent out into the world, as well as the materials used to make it. While using materials that can be recycled or composted goes a long way, so too does using intelligent packaging design and encouraging good eco practices on the part of consumers.

This may mean designing your packaging in a way that it takes up less space and therefore uses fewer materials. Additionally, you may want the copy of your packaging to explain your use of recycled material, encouraging the customer to recycle it again once it’s no longer needed.

You can also consider the ‘layers’ of your packaging and to what degree the product needs to be packaged. Perhaps a layer of tissue could do just as good a job as plastic shrink wrapping?

What is the most sustainable type of packaging?

Given the ease and accessibility of recycling paper, coupled with the positive environmental benefits of planting more trees from which to source the wood, packaging made from paper and card is arguably among the most sustainable there is.

The most sustainable type of packaging, from a design point of view, is that which doesn’t use more space than necessary and can be either recycled or disposed of in a way that doesn’t mean going straight to landfill.

For eco-friendly packaging designers, these aspects are business as usual.

Sustainable product packaging

Birch works to create custom product packaging that satisfies both you and your customers while also meeting eco-friendly best practice. Our solutions have delighted and inspired many businesses, and we can incorporate your ideas into a wide range of printed packaging solutions.

To find out more about our bespoke product packaging, contact us today.


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