Here, with the ongoing march of eCommerce and online shopping, we explore some of the choices you have available as a store owner to purchase eco-friendly packaging. Or, for that matter, if you're simply looking to post a parcel to a loved one while avoiding plastic waste or reducing your environmental footprint. Either way, across some of the best sustainable packaging options below, we've got you covered.
While so many businesses and workers endured cutbacks and job losses due to the Coronavirus pandemic, sectors of the economy grew. Notable among these were the eCommerce, home delivery, and the supporting packaging industry.
Across the world, we could not get to the grocery store, the restaurant, the department store, or the hardware store, so those stores came to us—or rather, shipping companies delivered goods that we purchased online.
We also confronted anew a burgeoning issue that has been brewing for decades: unsustainable packaging. Americans who had everything from pizza to exercise equipment to work desks shipped to them suddenly found their homes inundated with corrugated cardboard, styrofoam blocks, and mountains of air-filled plastic bubble wrap.
Many will have noted the excess packaging, a small item wrapped in a large box and plastic inside. Furthermore, whereas much of the packaging may have made the recycling bin, the problem is quite how much fossil fuel resources, land for trees, waste and energy for production, and so on it all requires in the first place.
You can read up a bit more in our article How Can We Reduce Packaging Waste which looks a bit deeper into the environmental harms of our packaging consumption. We also provide practical tips to reduce and even avoid packaging waste altogether.
Further, we explore if online shopping is environmentally sustainable, covering the pros and cons in detail.
Meanwhile, the good news is that our society is beginning a swing away from unsustainable packaging from non-renewable sources.
The better news is that you can play a leading role in instigating these new eco-friendly packaging practices. First, you can do this by making ecologically friendly packing choices.
If you are a private individual and, even more, a businessperson, you can choose to receive shipments from suppliers certified as eco-friendly. When you are the one doing the shipping, you can choose to use sustainable, reusable, recyclable, and compostable packaging materials yourself. We'll help with this process momentarily by supplying a list of the 12 best eco-friendly packaging choices.
If you are a small business owner, you may struggle with the cost differential between traditional, non-eco-friendly forms of shipping against sustainable packaging options.
By committing to using sustainable, eco-friendly packaging, you can attain an Eco Label, which will boost your business because others like you want to engage with a sustainable business invested in saving our planet.
We've selected four eco-friendly packaging solution categories in which you can find multiple good options using sustainable materials for storing, shipping, or carrying. With each category, we've listed our top three choices.
Related: Check out our list of eco-friendly business cards to accompany your shipping.
Click to Jump to the Eco-Friendly Packaging Solutions We've Featured:
Designed for two-way mailing shipments, these mailers have a functional opening of 11.5 x 15.5 and double self-sealing closures. These work for sample shipments, replacement parts, exchanges, document signatures, and so forth. Shipped 25 to a pack, they construct them from water-resistant oil-kraft paper. Individual items weigh eight ounces and have a footprint of 16 x 12.5 x 0.5 inches.
These paper envelopes make for a brilliant packaging option for business owners replacing traditional packaging in a plastic sleeve and are 100% recyclable.
These 12 x 15.5-inch shipping bags come in lots of 50. They are 100% compostable and eco-friendly. The bags are made of PBAT and modified corn starch such that during decomposition, they emit less CO2 than traditional plastics.
Typical uses for these packaging bags include shipping soft goods such as T-shirts, blankets, scarves, and other non-breakable items. They have a self-adhesive sticking strip. The manufacturer makes these environmentally friendly bags in various sizes, perfect for the eco-friendly packaging needs of most small, flat product lines.
Shipped in a 100-count package, these mailing envelopes are 6.1 x 8.46 inches. They make them from 98lb, 145GSM bamboo paper that does not contain plastic, wood, pulp, or any tree byproducts.
These product mailers are reusable, biodegradable, and recyclable. They are unbleached, non-toxic, and acid-free, with no plastics or microplastics. These completely compostable mailers will break down in a green trash bin or compost heap within 45-90 days. A tree-free answer to your packaging strategy, bamboo is a sustainable crop, making it an excellent choice for eco-friendly businesses as a fast-growing sustainable raw material.
An ideal substitute for bubble wrap, air pillows, and peanuts, HexcelWrap is an outstanding cushioning substance for shipping fragile, breakable product items. It is a sustainable, biodegradable, compostable, recyclable, eco-friendly packaging choice. They construct it to fit closely around oddly shaped items to protect them during shipping.
This patent-pending environmentally friendly eco-product comes in a roll-out sheet and is easily hand-torn, so no cutting instrument is necessary.
This multifunctional, jumbo roll of natural paper is uncoated on both sides. Besides serving as cushioning paper, you can use it for banners, mailing, wrapping, and butcher paper. Or any number of other uses. At 30 inches wide and 1200 inches long, it is ample for any project and suits wrapping most product lines.
Made entirely from recycled paper, it is 100% biodegradable. As such, making it a good choice in your search for more sustainable custom packaging. If left uncontaminated, you can recycle it again.
Clean, unprinted newspaper-size sheets of paper, 125 sheets to a package. These are ideal for wrapping fragile items for storage or shipping. The sheet size is 31 x 21.5 inches.
Multifunctional, you can also use these sheets for craft projects. And you can print on them with an adequately sized printer or copy machine. They are recyclable and compostable. These sheets are lint-free and have also been used in place of paper towels to clean glass and mirrors.
This paper package sealing tape is the cream of the crop. Not least, because it not only does the job as advertised but carries the environmental message on its label. The single roll is 450 feet long and three inches wide.
Given the roll's length, it compares well in price to regular plastic packing tape, and it fastens perfectly. Both the tape and the adhesive are renewable, biodegradable, and plant-derived. All designed for sealing product packaging in an eco-friendly way.
Another kraft paper packing tape, this option has over 3500 5-star reviews from happy customers. Available in various widths to suit your product packaging's different demands. Its eco-creds establish this packaging tape is both biodegradable and recyclable. Far better than those plastic tape products all too familiar with less environmentally friendly packaging.
The Tesa brand proudly displays the EcoLogo and purports its environmentally friendly and sustainable manufacturing approach. And they make this all-purpose brown packing tape from bio-based materials. Further, materials used in manufacturing are 60% solvent-free.
Even better, they make the roll itself from 100% recycled cardboard. Perfect for taping up any range of eco-friendly packaging design options. Grab this one for cardboard boxes through mailers to help reduce waste at the source.
Save all those labels when you're consumers order their coveted items. This rubber stamp comes in various sizes, and you can customize it with your own text and logo. Also available in different ink colors. For every stamped parcel, that's one less plastic label attached to your packaging and less waste. Naturally, this is better for the environment.
When packaging up something breakable, that nasty styrofoam packing peanuts won't do. This packing peanut product from a UK-based family-run business is made from recycled materials.
The packaging bubble provides packaging made from starch rather than plastic. As a result, you'll find your breakable products safely wrapped in eco-green packaging—an excellent plastic bubble wrap replacement and biodegradable and compostable.
Whereas this seller ships to the US, it's a long way for a bulk item to ship. US readers can search what amazon has on its virtual shelves looking for biodegradable packaging peanuts. At the time of writing, there were a good few stateside options:
Search Biodegradable Packaging on Amazon
Once again, easily recyclable and biodegradable packaging makes excellent choices for the eco-minded company. If you regularly ship round products such as zero-waste makeup or cosmetics, you can help reduce excess packaging waste with these made-to-fit cardboard tubes. And less packaging aids in reducing your carbon footprint too.
This imported bag comes in three sizes, the largest being 22 x 22 inches. It is handmade of raw, organic linen and flax. Stronger than raw cotton and naturally glossier, it is naturally hypoallergenic. Lithuanian linen is an ancient, valued crop with sacred, cultural value. The bag ships within one to two weeks of being ordered. This item has 44 5-star reviews on Etsy.
With its "Be Kind to Every Kind" logo, this 100% organic cotton bag is 13.5 x 15.5 x 3.5 inches. The handle is 25.5 inches, which can easily slide over a shoulder for carrying. They've designed this product for carrying groceries and store-bought items in place of single-use plastic bags.
Better than recyclable plastics, it is 100% biodegradable. Also, since you'll use these frequently, they've designed them to be machine washable and dryable on a low setting. However, you should not bleach or dry clean this product. It arrives in the US within one week from Charlotte, North Carolina.
This brand makes a three-pack of heavy-duty cotton shopping bags with double built-in bottle sleeves. These are meant to replace shopping bags and, in particular, plastic grocery bags once and for all. The bags come in five colors: blue, green, black, red, and natural cotton.
Further, they are Global Organic Textile Standards (GOTS) certified for construction from cotton muslin with ecology and social responsibility. The bags are 15 x 12 x 7.
In reality, unsustainable packaging is not one problem but at least four:
We want the items we buy to arrive without damage. Still, there's no denying the mountain of cushioning material that comes out of the box is excessive before we can even take hold of our new video console. Whereas consumer demand has driven improvements, receiving small items surrounded by unnecessary plastic wrap and a further layer of oversized cardboard housing remains common.
Needless to say, this extra packaging is far from environmentally friendly. Furthermore, you might have seen pictures on social media of bananas wrapped in plastic or a few small fruits carefully wrapped in a plastic tray.
Do we have to ask if they even needed this food packaging at all? Producers often use plastic throughout the shipping process to retain freshness and extend the shelf life of organic matter we might find on our dining tables later.
Overall the best eco-friendly alternative is to go without packaging where we can and use only the minimal amount where we do. In turn, choosing eco-friendly packaging reduces the raw materials required to ship our goods.
The mounds of excess packaging material would not be such a troubling burden if we knew that they could simply be reused or reconfigured for another purpose. Yet any household only needs so many spare boxes.
We'd have more peace of mind when all that plastic wrap is suited to biodegrade into harmless organic composts. Plastics, however, are forever. How long will those Styrofoam blocks and peanuts last—the best guess is it will take 500 years for them to decompose.
Other plastics made from fossil fuels decompose at various rates, although none of them fully break down in the span of an average human lifetime.
Seeking out eco-friendly packaging that genuinely delivers sustainability when making buying decisions is undoubtedly part of the solution. And, of course, the more of us who champion the benefits of a circular economy, seeking out the best eco-friendly alternative, whereby materials are reused and recycled, can only promote the requirement for change.
Related: For disposal tips and info on two of the most common non-biodegradable packing materials, check our guides to:
Printing "eco-friendly" or "biodegradable" on the side of a container is much cheaper and easier than actually utilizing eco materials that can be recycled or composted. Greenwashing is a thing when it comes to environmentally friendly packaging.
Fortunately, you'll now find more organizations putting in the effort to source green packaging solutions. And more consumers are choosing to shop for eco-friendly products complete with eco-friendly packaging. The more consumers demand sustainable packaging, the more eco-friendly options will become mainstream and accepted as standard practice.
Do you know what chemical compounds suppliers used to manufacture the items that end up on your doorstep? You may have heard that they use many toxic chemicals in the packaging used to transport our groceries: BPA, phthalates, PFCs, perchlorate, and so forth.
What about the plastics in the puffy packages and boxes you received? You may know that the Food and Drug Administration banned three types of perfluoroalkyl ethyl compounds from pizza boxes in 2016. To further the case for eco-friendly packaging, those same chemicals weren't banned from all consumer-bound cardboard.
Of course, suppliers deliver lots of packages in plastic mailers, and you're bound to find some plastics once you open that outer cardboard delivery box.
How many compounds do American manufacturers use in making plastics for packaging? The current best estimate is they use 906 different chemical compounds to make plastic packaging. Of those compounds, 63 rank highest for human health hazards and 68 for environmental hazards. By the way, how long did those opened packaging boxes lay around on the living room floor? Do you know how kids and pets love to play in boxes?
The idea of breaking away from traditional forms of shipping and packaging is still relatively new. It is heartening to see how many possibilities there are to utilize reusable, sustainable products for shipping. On the horizon, we can see some fascinating new possibilities for further eco-friendly packaging strategy possibilities.
For instance, what if we could get rid of those clinging, annoying, environmentally unfriendly Styrofoam peanuts once and for all? Some of the cushioning materials listed above will do the trick nicely. At the same time, others are looking to recycle plastics and paper to at least reduce the drawdown on non-renewable resources.
Also, in a remarkably innovative way, some environmentally conscious companies are developing cushioning out of processed mushroom roots, and others are using processed seaweed. Mushroom packaging may become the go-to as technology improves. Another possible Styrofoam replacement is corn foam.
Even the "safest" plastics we use around our groceries have the potential to leach chemicals into the environment, compounds that end up inside each one of us. To overcome this, companies are developing biodegradable plastic from organics like cornstarch and hemp plastics will hopefully soon replace Styro peanuts and other commonly used polystyrenes. One excellent thing about these new organic plastics is that, should they end up in oceans and other waterways, they quickly disintegrate.
Related: Innovations in Sustainable Food Packaging
For all the ongoing negatives surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, it has at least taught us some important lessons. One of the most important is that we must take much better care of our environment by reducing our carbon footprint, developing sustainable living practices, and permanently doing away with toxic plastics.
Compostable, sustainably sourced, and durable eco-friendly packaging products now make for an entirely viable option. We have no doubt there'll come a time when shipping sustainably will prove the only way for brands to retain eco-friendly and environmentally-minded customers.
An essential first step in this direction is changing our shipping habits. It's time for us to abandon our traditional shipping methods in favor of procedures and products that are eco-friendly and sustainable.
And whereas arguably the best step for the environment is not to buy new at all, people will inevitably continue to do so. This way, if the goods we receive come in sustainable packaging that is better for the environment, we're taking steps in the right direction.