When it comes to choosing a sustainable form of packing for your products, today we're somewhat spoilt for choice. But with so many options on the market, many retailers find themselves feeling a bit overwhelmed, and delaying the research required to make an informed decision.
How can you be sure that the packaging you're selecting really is the best choice – for your brand, and for the planet? What's "right" for your brand will be a deeply personal decision, and a number of factors such as cost and availability will need to be factored in.
But as the need to package our goods isn't going away anytime soon, it's something that's worth dedicating a good amount of brainpower to thinking through and getting right, as the cumulative impact of implementing a truly planet-friendly option could be considerable!
MindfulCommerce went on a quick mission to explore some of the more popular (and most innovative!) options out there today...
Truly trippy and wonderfully off the wall – Mushroom Packaging combines high tech CAD design and CNC milling with organic mycelium growth to create high performing, custom-fit packaging.
We love everything about this. For a start, the medium is entirely bio-based. The only ingredients and hemp hurds and mycelium. It's also home compostable, just add the packaging to the soil and it will have completely decomposed within 45 days.
From a practical viewpoint, mushroom packaging is highly functional, being both water-resistant and thermally insulating.
Beyond this – what a wonderful talking point for your customers! Custom-grown packaging offers a brilliant point of differentiation when it comes to your unboxing experience, and will provide a memorable
In order to make their product more widely available, the creators license their technology, enabling brands all around the world to benefit from the use of this amazing packaging product.
Awareness around the rise of microplastics in our seas has, rightly, risen to prominence in recent years – but we still have a long way to go. As retailers, it's important that we do our best not to contribute to the issue.
Enter Aquapak – plastic packaging that is fully water soluble, breaking down not into harmful microplastics, but water, carbon dioxide and mineralised natural biomass.
What sets Aquapak apart is it innovative technology Hydropol™ . This is non-toxic, both in a marine environment and on land, meaning no damage is done as the product breaks down.
This has many benefits, but one that we particularly love is the ability to combine with paper-based materials to produce multi-laminates which are much easier to recycle (typically adding a plastic coating to cardboard products made it very difficult to separate and recover.) This means you get all of the protective benefits, without having to sacrifice sustainability.
Eco-retail champions, Finisterre, make fantastic use of Aquapak and have been big supporters of the technology since its early days. Their leverage of messaging across the packaging they produce using Aquapak is a great example of how brands can use packing materials as a way of highlighting their environmental efforts.
Sticking with the sea, seaweed is also starting to make a name for itself within the world of sustainable packaging. Many different businesses have been focused on producing fantastic new applications for this fast growing, low impact plant.
Agar bioplastic offers a great solution for the packaging of dry goods, and in summer temperatures, will decompose in around two months (with cooler temperates doubling this time period.)
Notpla is a leader in this space, offering a range of seaweed-based bio-plastic products that are always biodegradable – and edible too! Their hero product, Ooho, biodegrades in four to six. Or you can just eat it!
A great example of this technology in action were the seaweed-based sports pods developed in collaboration with Lucozade. Runners were handed small capsules of drink which they could simply pop into their mouths and bite to burst. The capsule could then be eaten or thrown to the ground where it would safely biodegrade. A fantastic way of reducing the need for single-use plastics at a mass sporting event!
Beyond seaweed, bioplastics more broadly offer a great range of functionality for retailers who may have more specialistic requirements of the packaging that they use.
TIPA® are one brand who've made it their mission to fully match more traditional oil-based plastics in terms of functionality. From shelf-life and durability through to sealing strength and the ability to custom print designs, they go toe to toe with their more polluting counterparts.
For sheer variety, the offer from Earth Packaging is hard to beat. Within their range of bioplastic products you'll find compostable self-serve bags, water-retaining pouches, cling film and so much more.
The lesson to learn here is to remember that no matter how unique and exact your requirements for packaging might be, the chances are that with the advance of modern technology and materials, there will be a green solution out there that fits the bill!
Time to get corny. Corn starch polymers are used to produce bioplastics, and what's even better is the fact that they can be obtained from agricultural byproducts. This means repurposing a resource that would otherwise go to waste – a double win, as the resultant packaging is itself fully compostable.
We really like ethical cosmetics company Lush's approach to use of cornstarch packaging. Although they've always tried to use eco-friendly packing materials (at first using popcorn!) they switched to EcoFlo (a potato starch-based product) before realising that in order to reduce their impact in the most effective way possible, they needed to find a way to reduce emissions caused by the lorries keeping their factories supplied.
The answer was to bring production in house! Now Lush create their own "Eco Pops" packing peanuts out of cornstarch. Switching from externally sourcing product to producing the materials themselves has eliminated 24,000 kilometres of lorry miles each year. It translated to 19 tonnes of C02 emissions being saved, every year!
We hope the examples above have given you a little inspiration when it comes to your own sustainable packaging journeys.
With so many options available, and increasing demand meaning that products are becoming ever more accessible and affordable, there really is a solution to fit every requirement within the world of modern sustainable packaging.
By using a more unusual method to wrap and pack your products you're not only helping reduce your business's impact on the planet – you're also raising awareness in your customer base, and encouraging other brands to up their game in a similar fashion.
If you'd like to learn more about ways to reduce the impact of your packaging and shipping practices, MindfulCommerce teamed up with some of our most trusted experts to create a free ebook, outlining some of the best practices that online retailers looking to make a difference in this area can adopt.