As the effects of climate change become more prevalent, consumers are expecting brands to be more socially and environmentally friendly. For many manufacturers and retailers, that means adopting sustainable packaging. Luckily, there are more ecofriendly options on the market than ever before. Sustainable packaging has as negligible impact on the environment as possible, while remaining effective through its life cycle.

Figure 1: Plastic packaging is one of the biggest contributors to waste. Figure 1: Plastic packaging is one of the biggest contributors to waste. One common type of sustainable packaging is plant-based packaging. This packaging is made of 100% raw materials, including mushrooms, seaweed or corn. For example, mushroom mycelium is completely compostable and is an alternative to foam packaging, and seaweed can be formed into a plastic-like product for food containers.

Or instead of a plant being turned into a packaging material, the material can turn into a plant. This type of plantable packaging is embedded with seeds. It is commonly used as filler or product wrap and works best for lightweight or fragile items. Once the material serves this purpose, it can be planted in a garden or pot, and it will turn into beautiful plants, rather than another piece of trash in a landfill.

Compostable plastics are plant-based polymers that break down when composted commercially or at home. It is not the same as biodegradable plastics. Compostable plastics are made of polylactic acid - dextrose produced by plants. Depending on the quality of the polymers, these plastics breakdown in 90 days in commercial composting and 180 days in domestic. The material does not otherwise degrade until the composting process. This kind of packaging is great for food products.

FCS certified paper is always a good packaging option because it is renewable, recyclable and naturally biodegradable. FCS certification means that the paper was sourced from a forest in an environmentally friendly, socially responsible and economically viable manner. It is versatile and is ideal for a product documentation and labeling.

Simplicity is key. An easy way to integrate more sustainable practices into packaging is by minimizing how much is used. For example, condense boxes for related products when possible, or add an incentive system for customers to return packaging for recycling or reuse. Finding ways to limit or reuse the amount of packaging can also improve profit margins.

While sustainability is important, it is equally important to note that companies cannot change everything at once. A complete overhaul of packaging practices for the sake of sustainability can produce more waste. It is important to take time to research what is best for the product type, manufacturing facility and consumer base. A phased roll-out of sustainable packing can be a viable strategy as well. Lastly, packaging suppliers will often provide samples or can custom engineer new solutions.

The goal of sustainability is to create methods that allow nature and humans to work symbiotically. Packaging is often one of the most wasteful elements of manufacturing. And rethinking packaging strategies can decrease an organization’s environmental footprint, while potentially lowering expenses and shaping an environmentally-friendly company image.