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Sustainable packaging options for your small business and how to choose them

Styrofoam takes anywhere from 500 to one million years to decompose in a landfill. Let’s put that into perspective: One million years ago, our hominid ancestors could have thrown a styrofoam cup in a landfill while hunting a wooly mammoth or steering clear of a 23-foot-long venomous lizard…and that cup might still be there today. You know, if styrofoam existed back then.

Because of this, several major metropolitan areas, including Orange County, Portland, and New York City, have banned the use of styrofoam. In your quest to become a sustainable business, eliminating styrofoam from your packaging is an easy and impactful step to take. But switching to truly sustainable packaging is a bit more complex.

The  Sustainable Packaging Coalition , a membership-based collaborative on a mission to improve packaging systems, defines sustainable packaging as beneficial, safe, and healthy for individuals and communities throughout its life cycle. Sustainable packaging optimizes the use of renewable or recycled source materials. And it is physically designed to optimize materials and energy.

With that in mind, here are a few sustainable packaging options you can consider for your small business.

Smart and sustainable packaging options for your business

Today’s business owners know how important it is to reduce our impact on the environment. Part of  building a sustainable supply chain  is choosing eco-friendly packaging that won’t end up in a landfill for millions of years. Let’s start with the easiest option:

1. Recycled cardboard and packing paper

Cardboard is the industry standard for packaging and among the most recyclable materials. But if sourced unsustainably, cardboard and packing paper can still harm the environment. Look for post-consumer or post-industrial recycled cardboard or materials marked as FSC-certified, sourced from sustainably managed forests.

2. Biodegradable packing peanuts

These loose-fill packing peanuts are made from eco-friendly recycled materials that can be broken down quickly after being discarded. Beyond that, they’re an adequate replacement for harmful styrofoam, they’re non-toxic and safe to handle, and they’re affordable for businesses on a budget.

3. Biodegradable air pillows

As an alternative to packing peanuts, air pillows are made with recyclable HDPE film or biodegradable materials that break down quickly. Manufacturing air pillows requires less energy than manufacturing packing peanuts, creating fewer greenhouse gas emissions. And because air pillows weigh virtually nothing, they won’t add to your shipping costs.

4. Corrugated bubble wrap

This shock-absorbing wrap is made from corrugated cardboard instead of plastic. Additionally, most corrugated bubble wrap is made from the unusable portion of corrugated cardboard sheets after they’ve been cut into shape for shipping boxes. While it’s not as fun to play with as standard bubble wrap, it does a good job of cushioning products in transit without adding extra weight or bulk

5. Organic matter

Go beyond the realms of cardboard and plastic with truly organic packaging made from biodegradable plant matter. Today, business owners have their pick of cornstarch packaging, seaweed packaging, plantable packaging infused with seeds, or even mushroom packaging. In 2020, IKEA committed to further its sustainable innovation by using mushroom-based packaging for its shipments. There are a number of companies producing these organic packaging options at a range of price points.

Sustainable packaging options

Five things to consider as you make the switch to sustainability

As you start to think about sustainable packaging options for your business, there are a few things to keep in mind.

Size matters. Choose the right size packaging for your products.

Packages that are too big for the products they carry require more filler materials and often come with higher shipping costs. In this case, you’re paying extra to ship empty space. Plus, these packages take up excess space in delivery vehicles and shipping containers. Use smaller packaging that fits your products and requires less packing material. You’ll save on shipping costs, and your products are less likely to be damaged in transit.

The “right” packaging material might be plastic.

Hear us out. If your products are large, heavy, or fragile, plastic might be the right choice. A more eco-friendly packing material like cardboard or corrugated bubble wrap might not support and protect your products in transit like plastic can. This results in damaged products, additional packaging materials, excess shipping costs, and even more waste. When using plastic packaging, look for 100% recycled plastic or eco-friendly plastic options.

You may have to raise your prices to invest in truly sustainable packaging.

Going green isn’t always the cheapest option. Sustainable packaging options simply aren’t as cost-effective as their environmentally harmful counterparts—and you may have to raise your prices to accommodate the additional costs. But here’s the good news: Recent studies show that many consumers are willing to pay a premium for greener products. And the majority of them (57%) are willing to change their buying habits to support businesses committed to improving the environment, according to an IBM Research Insights report.

Educate your customers on how to recycle or reuse your packaging.

Recycling can be confusing. Plastic alone has seven different recycling instructions depending on the type of plastic in question. So make it easy on your customers: Print recycling or reuse instructions in big, obvious letters right on the package. And use your social platforms to show your customers how you’re investing in sustainable packaging.

Dip your toe in before you take the leap.

We get it. You’re excited to go green! And we’re excited for you. But before you order pallets of mushroom packaging, order a few samples to test it out first. You need to make sure your sustainable packaging choices work for your business. Is it compatible with your products? Is it durable enough to withstand shipping? Will it cost you an arm and a leg? These are all critical questions to ask before you make a big investment and risk wasting materials. Order product samples or place small orders so you can evaluate the packaging before you go all in.

Considerations when going green

Good for the world, good for your business

Choosing to invest in sustainable packaging not only benefits the environment by reducing the amount of plastic and styrofoam in our landfills, but it also benefits your business.

Today’s consumers favor brands and businesses that support sustainability and make greener choices. Using eco-friendly packaging to package and ship your products increases your credibility within your industry and among your customer base—and their brand loyalty along with it.

Plus, you’ll be taking important steps toward building a better world for future generations. After all, according to the United Nations, our world will see irreversible damage within the next 10 years if we don’t make changes right now. Take action today to fight climate change and save the earth.

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