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Steven Maxim

Steven Maxim
17 July 2022

Complete Guide to Eco-Friendly Packaging for Your Business

The packaging you use can say a lot about your business. Many customers expect companies to use premium materials to package their goods, as well as keep the products they buy safe in transit. In recent years, another factor has come into play – the need for environmentally-friendly packaging.

Customers are looking to become more sustainable in their day-to-day lives. They are recycling more, increasing their consumption of plant-based food, and considering eco-friendly travel alternatives to reduce their carbon footprint.

According to McKinsey, 43% of consumers believe the environmental impact of packaging is extremely or very important, and it’s likely this figure will increase further over time. Government legislation also plays a part in businesses’ need to adopt sustainable packaging. The UK Government introduced a plastic tax in April 2022. This means companies that manufacture or import plastic packaging components into the UK must pay £200 per tonne of plastic packaging introduced into the market.

You can read more about the plastic packaging tax and our commitment to it here.

If your business is new to sustainable packaging, you may have many questions that need answering. Here we explain what sustainable packaging is and how it can help benefit your organisation.

Complete Guide to Eco-Friendly Packaging for Your Business - Maxpack
Complete Guide to Eco-Friendly Packaging for Your Business

What is sustainable packaging?

Sustainable packaging, sometimes called eco-friendly packaging or environmentally-friendly packaging, is packaging that has been designed and produced to have a minimal impact on the environment.

Eco-friendly packaging can be.

Recyclable – where it is turned into another product
Reusable – where it can be repurposed and used again
Compostable – where it can be broken down in certain conditions
Biodegradable – where it breaks down naturally. It’s important to take this definition with a pinch of salt, as most products are technically biodegradable. For example, a plastic carrier bag is biodegradable, even though it takes between 500 and 1,000 years to decompose!

 

Why is sustainable packaging so important?

Sustainable packaging is important because as a global community, we need to take steps to protect the earth. In the past, businesses relied on non-sustainable forms of packaging like polystyrene (Styrofoam), plastic bubblewrap, and single-use plastics. However, these products are not biodegradable and can cause harm to our ecosystem.

Take single use-plastics, for example. These not only stay in landfill but can break down into harmful microplastics that can pollute our water sources and make their way into our food chain. In fact, it’s estimated that there are microplastics present in every UK waterway.

91% of packaging waste is currently sent to landfill. This makes reviewing how we package products one of the most effective ways to improve sustainability and reverse the damage that has been done.

Cardboard
108cm Benchtop Bubble Wrap Cutter
Cornstarch
Cellulose
Ranpak Trident Paper Packaging Systems
Recycled Material
P.C. Net™

What are eco-packaging materials?

There are a lot of different types of eco-friendly packaging materials available, and the right one for your business needs will depend on what you want to achieve, as well as your budget.

Some of the most commonly found ones include.

 

Cardboard

One of the most frequently found types of packaging materials, the advantage of cardboard is that it’s cost-effective and breaks down quickly. Cardboard boxes can also be reused, for example, for storage and moving house.

Most cardboard comes from sustainably managed forests, containing trees like birch and pine. As these trees are fast-growing, they are quickly replenished.
However, poor quality cardboard can be weak and may tear easily, particularly if exposed to wet weather. Choosing high quality cardboard packaging with a suitable thickness to bear the load of your packages is essential.

Find out more about our cardboard boxes and sheets

 

Kraft paper

Kraft paper is recycled paper that is used to wrap around irregularly shaped products. Like cardboard, it’s cost-effective and can easily be recycled or composted. While kraft paper is great for wrapping around delicate or flimsy items, it does not hold its shape when wet and can easily tear.

Find out more about our crepe Kraft paper

 

Cornstarch packaging

Cornstarch packaging is a biodegradable plastic made of cornstarch, a commercially available and renewable sugar. This packaging can be used as an alternative to single-use plastic and polystyrene, and takes 65% less energy to create.

The advantage of this type of packaging is unlike single-use plastic, it naturally degrades into carbon dioxide and water. The disadvantage is that cornstarch packaging can contaminate regular recycling, so it’s crucial to advise consumers to dispose of it accordingly.

 

Cellulose

Cellulose is similar to cornstarch packaging in that it is a bioplastic, a plastic material made from natural materials. Cellulose comes from a fibrous substance located in the cell walls of plants, which is converted into a clear thin biodegradable plastic.

Cellulose is currently used as a substitute for cellophane and plastic wrap. However, scientists at the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland are developing a transparent cellulose film that can be used to replace plastic in food packaging. If the research goes well, it’s expected that this cellulose film could be used by food manufacturers in the next five to seven years.

Similar to cornstarch packaging, cellulose packaging can’t be recycled alongside regular recycling.

 

Recycled materials

Recycled materials are made from products that have previously been used and turned into something new. For example, our kraft paper rolls are made from 100% recycled paper and our pallet boxes are made from recycled plastic.

Recycled material is ideal for packaging as it reduces the need for new materials to be created. However, some recycled materials may come at a cost premium, and may have a look and texture that some customers aren’t keen on.

 

Reusable plastics

Single-use plastics are designed to be used once and thrown away, and are one of the most significant threats to our ecosystem. In 2019, China generated a staggering 25.4 million tonnes of single-use plastics alone.

Reusable plastics are ones that are designed to be used multiple times, reducing the energy needed to create new resources and saving packaging from landfill. However, reusable plastics still give off dangerous emissions like volatile organic compounds when created, so they aren’t ideal for use in every situation.

Our PC Net pallet nets remove the need for single-use plastic pallet wrap and can be reused again and again.

 

Hemp

Hemp is a plant of the Cannabaceae family, cultivated for its fibre which can be used to create bioplastics. In turn, these bioplastics can be used to create sustainable packaging.

Hemp is easy to grow, grows quickly and doesn’t require much water, making it a very sustainable crop. It also completely biodegrades in six months. However, it is expensive to produce.

 

Mushroom

Mushroom-based packaging is made by combining mycelium (mushroom roots and spores) with agricultural waste. Over a short amount of time, the mushroom combines with the waste, creating a solid packaging similar to polystyrene.

Mushroom packaging has become extremely popular recently, with IKEA using it as an alternative to Styrofoam. It’s 100% biodegradable and uses materials that would otherwise go to waste. The disadvantage of mushroom-based packaging is that there isn’t a great range of products available at the moment.

 

Seaweed

Seaweed can be used to create biodegradable plastic packaging that can be composted and disappear in a few weeks. It’s also completely edible and has been used at the London Marathon as an alternative to single-use plastic water bottles.

The disadvantage of seaweed packaging is that it has to be manually processed; so it’s very expensive to make. However, it’s expected that as production improves, costs will reduce.

 

The future of eco-friendly packaging

The good news is that more research is being carried out into identifying and developing new sustainable packaging materials.

For example, research is being carried out into Chitosan, a sugar made from crab, lobster and shrimp shells. It’s believed this can be used to create a biodegradable, edible film for food.

Benefits of sustainable packaging

Sustainable packaging has many benefits over the non-sustainable alternatives that are still available. These include.

A reduction in carbon footprint. Creating new packaging products releases excessive amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Using recycled and sustainable products helps to lower a business’s carbon footprint. For example, Princes reduced its carbon emissions by 1,100 tonnes a year by making changes to its packaging

Less toxic emissions. Sustainable packaging doesn’t use harmful ingredients, limiting damage to people and the environment. About 12% of plastic is burnt, which releases halogens and mercury into the air

Easier to dispose of. Most environmentally-friendly packaging can be recycled. Alternatively, it can be composted or will biodegrade in the space of a few months

More likely to be reused. Most eco-friendly packaging can be used again, helping to contribute to the circular economy and keep waste to a minimum

 

How can this positively impact your business

As well as helping the environment, eco-friendly packaging can help positively impact your business too.

Sustainable packaging can:

Help improve your brand image
Introduce your brand to new customers and grow your sales – 65% of people say they want to buy from brands that advocate sustainability
Save money – high-quality or reusable packaging may mean you need to use less of it.
Make existing customers happier.
Help you win tenders – many tendering organisations place significant emphasis on corporate social responsibility.

Gummed Paper Tape - Eco-friendly alternative to plastic wrapping tape
Biodegradable & Compostable
12mmx2000m Paper Strap
Recyclable Packaging
PalletPAL - Reusable Pallet Strap
Reusable Packaging
Corrugated Packaging
Paper bubble wrap
Paper Bubblewrap
Cushioning & Voidfill

Eco-friendly packing solutions

So which eco-friendly packaging solution is right for your business? It ultimately depends on the product you sell, the industry you are in and the size of your business. For example, if you work in the food industry, it’s important to follow health and safety guidelines to ensure any packaging does not contaminate the food you sell.

The chances are that you currently use a product that can be replaced with an environmentally-friendly alternative. For example, the plastic bubblewrap you use can be replaced with a paper equivalent or a bubblewrap with a higher percentage of recycled content.

Think outside the box and consider the other elements you use to package your products too. Perhaps the plastic tape you use to seal your packaging can be replaced with brown paper tape or gummed paper tape?

 

Types of environmentally-friendly packaging

At Maxpack, we specialise in providing a wide range of eco-friendly packaging that is sustainable, high-quality, and cost-effective. The products we sell include.

 

Biodegradable/compostable packaging

Products like our crepe kraft paper rolls and paper strapping will biodegrade over time. Alternatively, they can be added to a compost bin where they can be used to create soil for the garden.

 

Recyclable packaging

Over 70% of paper is recycled each year, making paper the ideal choice if you want to ensure customers recycle your packaging. The majority of paper packaging we sell, including our recycled kraft paper rolls, are made from recycled materials and can easily be recycled.

 

Reusable packaging

Our plastic pallet boxes, like our HogBox Half Pallet container, are heavy-duty and can be reused. This means you not only get your money’s worth out of your purchase, but you’re helping the environment too.

 

Corrugated packaging

If you’re looking to start your sustainability journey, corrugated cardboard is a great place to start as it’s strong, sturdy, and affordable. We sell a wide range of eco-friendly cardboard boxes, including these self-seal boxes.

 

Paper bubble wrap

Traditional bubble wrap is made from non-biodegradable, non-recyclable plastic, which means it’s not a sustainable wrapping solution. However, there are eco-friendly alternatives.

 

If you want bubble wrap on-demand, the Geami Wrap Box can provide a unique and sustainable wrapping solution that will keep the products you pack safe.

 

Cushion and void packaging

When people think of cushioning and protecting packed items, they typically think of polystyrene packing peanuts, which can’t be recycled.
However, many sustainable cushioning and void packaging solutions are available, including shredded timber, compostable loosefill and air pouches.

 

What types of packaging are the most environmentally friendly?

While there are several different types of eco-friendly packaging on the market, some packaging is more sustainable than others. As a rule of thumb, packaging that can be recycled, reused, or biodegrades quickly is the most environmentally friendly.

Corrugated cardboard is a prime example of sustainable packaging. It can be widely recycled, as long as it’s clean and uncontaminated, and it only takes around 12 months to biodegrade and can even be added to a composting pile!

 

What is the cheapest/most affordable eco-friendly packaging?

Sustainable packaging is typically more expensive than non-sustainable packaging. This is because most sustainable packaging is not yet produced at the same scale.

However, as environmentally-friendly packaging becomes more commonplace, prices are dropping. On the other side, government legislation like the plastic tax pushes the price of unsustainable packaging choices. The current rise in inflation and the cost of living isn’t helping either!

There are already some areas you could save money with eco-friendly packaging alternatives, though:

 

Traditional PackagingTraditional CostEco-Friendly AlternativeEco-Friendly Alternative Cost
Packaging TapePlastic tape1.6p per metreGummed paper tape1.5p per metre
Cushioning padsStratocell foam pads£2.60 per metrePaper pads£0.31 per metre

 

 

In addition to this, 72 percent of consumers are willing to pay more for eco-friendly packaging, meaning you can consider passing some of the costs of packaging onto the customer if you need to.

Sometimes eco-friendly packaging can be a by-product of a business that can help cut costs. We love this case study by Etsy, where a company that makes wooden cooking utensils uses wood shavings to pack out their products. Customers loved the wood shavings so much that the business now sells them online!

The good news is three out of four consumers are willing to pay more for eco-friendly packaging, 72% of consumers around the world are willing to pay more for products with packaging that brings sustainable benefits. The research was conducted by BillerudKorsnäs, a leading developer of sustainable packaging for the global consumer goods market.

At Maxpack we’re dedicated to helping businesses find the right environmentally-friendly packaging for their needs, product, and budget. Find out more about our sustainable range on our website or contact our specialists for support and advice.

Stock and Supply
Maxpack-Delivery

Companies that have adopted environmentally friendly packaging into their business

Businesses across the world are now making a move towards sustainable packaging options. Here are some of the packaging options that have caught our attention over the past few years.

 

Samsung

Samsung’s television packaging is made from corrugated cardboard, meaning it can be easily recycled or biodegraded in landfills. However, the electronics company has introduced ‘eco-packaging‘ to encourage customers to reuse cardboard in their homes.

The packaging can be turned into seven sturdy cardboard items, from a TV console or a magazine rack to a cat house!

 

Carlsberg and Saltwater Brewing

Plastic rings that hold beer and soft drink cans together are not only hard to recycle but can cause harm to wildlife. It’s estimated that in the 1980s, these rings killed up to one million seabirds a year.

In 2018, Carlsberg introduced a glue that holds cans together without the need for packaging, reducing the amount of plastic used by up to 76%.

Similarly, Saltwater Brewing introduced edible six-pack rings. As these rings are made from barley and wheat from the brewing process, they are fully compostable and can be eaten by wildlife.

 

ASOS

More and more people are buying via eCommerce, with online clothing sales expected to overtake in-store purchases this year. While buying online is a simple and convenient option for shoppers, it has led to an increase in packaging to ensure products arrive at their destinations safely.

Popular online retailer ASOS has taken steps to make its packaging more sustainable as a result. They’ve done this by removing over 40% of existing packaging and taking steps to ensure delivery boxes are made of 100% recycled materials.

 

How Maxpack is helping businesses become sustainable

At Maxpack, we’re proud to play our part in helping businesses make a move towards eco-friendly packaging.

We helped Holland & Barrett switch to gummed paper tape, an environmentally-friendly alternative to self-adhesive polypropylene tape. Our team of specialists replaced the company’s tape dispensers and trained them to use the new tape, helping minimise waste and reduce costs.

We also worked with Simmonsigns, one of the most high-profile suppliers of Belisha Beacons in the UK. Simmonsigns wanted help to minimise packaging and become more eco-friendly. Our team designed, tested, and implemented a solution that ensured products arrived at their destination safely, all while helping Simmonsigns fulfil its obligations towards corporate social responsibility. Simmonsigns now saves an incredible 3,500m of single-use plastic every year.

Tips & advice to transition toward eco-friendly packaging

If you’ve decided to transition towards sustainable packaging, there’s a lot to think about.

Here are our top tips for making a move towards environmentally-friendly packaging. If you need a little extra help and support, this article contains lots of helpful additional information about which products might be right for you.

Review your current packaging. What materials are you currently using? Are they recycled, reusable or biodegradable?

Do your research before you make the change. Looking at what other companies in your industry are doing, as well as your competitors, can help.

Have a goal in place. This will help you identify timescales and move to sustainable packaging sooner rather than later. For example, ASOS has pledged to eliminate unnecessary packaging by 2025.

Inform your customers. Don’t forget to tell your customers that your packaging can be recycled or reused, so they don’t throw it away by default. The average person generates about 180kg of packaging waste every year, so the more you can do to help, the better!

To summarise

Sustainable packaging can feel like it’s a challenge to implement, especially if you’ve not paid much attention to the packaging you use before.

But environmentally-friendly packaging has come a long way over the past few years, making it easier than ever to make the right choice for your business.
The world is moving to a more sustainable future, and sustainability is becoming a growing factor in consumer purchasing decisions – meaning that, despite potentially higher costs initially, switching to sustainable packaging could help your company financially too.

If you need extra support to introduce sustainable packaging, Maxpack can help. We have a sustainable range of packaging products, from corrugated cardboard to paper bubblewrap. Our team of experts will work with you to propose a comprehensive packaging solution that’s not only eco-friendly, but affordable too.

Want to know more about how we can help your business take the first step towards sustainability?

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