A Small Business Guide to Sustainable Packaging: 5 Items You Can Swap Out With Ease
As an ecommerce business starting out, it can be difficult to know where to begin in calculating your environmental impact.
Search for Sustainability Leads to New Opportunities in Ecommerce
When you’re a purpose-driven brand, you want to do good in the world, but sometimes the solutions aren’t obvious or even available to a business of your size.
noissue co-founders Augie Gruar and Josh Bowden were in the middle of founding a sustainable eyewear business that made frames from waste materials when they realized this insight.
“When it came to do the packaging design, it obviously had to be sustainable as well to be on-brand. After a bit of research, we realised there were very few places small businesses could go to get sustainable packaging that showcased their brand,” Josh says.
“We ended up [sourcing it] ourselves and it turned out our eyewear stockists, who were small retailers, were just as interested in the packaging as they were the eyewear!”
This pivot proved to be the right move. Sustainable packaging alternatives were a very real need many smaller businesses wanted to solve, but high minimum order quantities (MOQs) meant they couldn’t afford custom options on the market.
The idea for noissue was born, combining customizable designs, low MOQs and green packaging options for businesses of any size.
“I think being very clear about our brand values and sticking to them has helped us resonate with a community that cares about the environment and wants to make a difference with us,” Josh says.
No matter if your business is big or small, the packaging materials you use to ship products is an integral part of any ecommerce brand’s supply chain and carbon footprint. So if you’re starting your sustainability journey, we’d suggest starting here: assessing the layers of your packaging and the packaging waste that’s created from it.
Eco friendly Packaging Alternatives for Sustainable Business
If you’re not sure where to begin, here are five packaging items you can swap out for a more eco-friendly alternative.
1. Swap out poly mailers for compostable mailers
If you want to make a significant change to your packaging supply chain, a great place to start is with your mailer bags. As a high-volume shipping product, using them as an alternative to poly (plastic) mailers is where your brand can have the biggest impact.
Poly mailers are one of the most commonly used bags in ecommerce, but long-term, they take hundreds of years to biodegrade in a landfill and leach out harmful chemicals into the atmosphere during this process.
Switching to one made of a recyclable material or regenerative material, such as a compostable mailer, is a far greener option. They are made from plant-based materials like corn or wheat and bio-polymers. Once placed in a compost heap, they’re so natural that worms can eat them, leaving no traces behind.
In order for a mailer bag to be certified home compostable, the packaging must break down within 180 days at home.
2. Swap out plastic tape for water-activated tape
Custom tape is an excellent packaging asset for brands because it can add an injection of brand personality to any packaging, be it tissue paper, mailers or cardboard boxes. However, standard glossy or wax-coated tape isn’t biodegradable because it doesn’t break down in composting.
Luckily, there’s an alternative that’s much friendlier for the environment. Water-activated tape is biodegradable because a dispenser or sponge activates the stickiness of the tape using water.
This means there’s no harmful sticky residue left behind on the layers of packaging it’s used on, and it also means customers don’t have to worry about removing the sticky bits before recycling or composting. A win for customer experience and sustainability!
3. Swap out regular shipping labels for compostable shipping labels
Smaller details like shipping labels are easy to overlook as a packaging layer that can be improved on. However, the simple act of adding a regular label to packaging made of sustainable materials can undo all your hard work as they’re not typically made to be compostable or recyclable.
Instead, you have to rely on customers remembering to remove labels before disposing of a recycled or compostable mailer. If they forget, this renders a packaging product’s sustainability value useless if they aren’t removed correctly.
Compostable shipping labels are a clever alternative. Made from 100% FSC-certified recycled thermal paper, the sticky adhesive is non-toxic and compostable, which means it’s absolutely fine to be left on a package when your customers dispose of it. Just like the mailers, they break down in home composting environments within 180 days.
4. Swap out wrapping paper or cellophane for FSC-certified tissue paper
If you’re using a paper-based packaging product, it’s easy to treat that material as eco-friendly. After all, trees are constantly being planted, right? While trees are a renewable source, you can choose to use an ethical option in terms of the way the paper is produced.
FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certified paper products are made from 30 percent recycled materials and the remainder from new wood pulp. The certification means that the wood pulp has been harvested in a socially responsible way, from the forest all the way to the supply chain. An option like FSC-certified tissue paper is a great option because it has all of the advantages mentioned above. This recyclable packaging is also home compostable and free from acid, sulfur, and lignin, which means there are no chemicals being left behind as it breaks down.
5. Swap out custom card inserts for recycled custom cards
As another paper product, custom packaging inserts may seem harmless, but there are more environmentally responsible options than others, like opting for a recycled paper option over bringing virgin paper materials into use.
Cards with a glossy coating also prove more difficult to break down as it’s harder for the paper to dissolve during a recycling or composting process. Some coatings wind up as a residual waste product.
A solution to this is choosing custom card inserts that are made from 100% recycled materials, or a recycled and FSC-certified mix. They are compostable and without a coating, they return to the earth with ease.
Modern customers are more value-conscious than ever before and are increasingly aware of the pressure being put on the environment by ecommerce. A study from Traackr found that from 2018 to 2019, there was a 100% increase in hashtag mentions such as “#wastefulpackaging” and keyword phrases like “too much packaging”.
By making a few small changes and switching out packaging options for greener alternatives, you can show your customers that your brand is part of the solution, not part of the problem.
Elly Strang is digital editor at noissue. Want to find sustainable, customizable options for your ecommerce business? noissue lets you design your own branded eco-friendly tissue paper, stickers, tape and more. Simply upload your design, logo, or illustration, and we’ll do the rest. Learn more about our packaging options here.