While the Covid-19 pandemic continues to disrupt bricks-and-mortar retail worldwide, it’s predicted ecommerce businesses will have another blockbuster year in sales.
According to Statista, ecommerce revenue globally is predicted to reach $5.4 trillion in 2022. There’s no signs of this trend slowing down, either: Nasdaq predicts 95% of purchases will be online by 2040.
While this growth is great for brands operating online, this unfortunately also means an uptick in ecommerce packaging waste. In particular, plastic ecommerce packaging waste is estimated to reach 4.5 billion pounds by 2025. Commonly used products like plastic poly shipping mailers are often single-use and will be sent to landfill after use, taking hundreds of years to break down.
As an ecommerce business, the choices you make in your packaging should always consider the environment. Not only is it the right thing to do for the planet, but it’s also what consumers care about.
Nielsen has found 66% of global consumers and 73% of millennials are willing to spend more for sustainable goods, while 48% of consumers are willing to change their consumption habits to lower their environmental impact.
The best place to start with sustainable packaging is using circular packaging materials, so waste is being diverted from landfill and disposed of responsibly at its end-of-life or even kept in use for additional purposes.
What are circular packaging materials?
Circular packaging materials are sustainable materials that follow the principles of the circular economy. Instead of the traditional ‘take-make-waste’ linear model in commerce, circular packaging materials are regenerative and are designed to be either reused, repurposed or disposed of in a responsible way that has lower impact on the planet. This designs out waste and keeps packaging materials in use in a circular cycle, rather than using single-use packaging that’s sent to landfill after use.
What kinds of circular packaging materials are available?
Most circular packaging materials fit into one of three buckets: they’re made from either compostable, recyclable or reusable materials.
- Is made from plant-based materials like corn or wheat and bio-polymers.
- These materials help the packaging break down naturally in a compost, returning to earth and leaving no traces behind.
- In order to be certified compostable, compostable packaging must break down within 180 days in a home compost and 90 days in a commercial compost.
- Common compostable packaging items include mailer bags, stickers, cards, and shipping labels.
- Out of all the circular packaging materials, compostable packaging requires the biggest lift on the customer’s end because it must be disposed of in a home or commercial compost, or it will lose its sustainable value.
- Is made from previously used single-use plastic bags, bottles, and paper.
- These materials are processed at recycling facilities and put back into circulation, doubling their lifespan.
- While recyclable packaging is often made of materials viewed as bad, like plastic, it is a sustainable option because it uses already existing materials, conserves natural resources, prevents pollution, and reduces the collection of new raw materials.
- Common packaging examples include recycled plastic mailers, boxes, tissue paper, and tape.
- Recyclable packaging is a great option for customers because it is a straightforward process; there are good curbside recycling facilities worldwide, which makes it easy for the customer to do the right thing.
- Is designed to be used more than once and has a built-in secondary (or ongoing) use.
- On top of being reusable, it’s also often made from ethically and responsibly sourced materials.
- It’s also designed to be durable and easily cleaned to promote reuse, like a tote bag made from Organic Cotton, which can be washed and reused.
- Commonly used examples include reusable mailer bags, garment bags or tote bags.
- Reusable packaging is popular with shoppers due to its perceived value because they can reuse in other aspects of their life, such as to go shopping at the grocery store.
How to select the right circular packaging for your brand
When it comes to the effectiveness of different packaging materials, the truth is there is no right or wrong answer. Instead, there are benefits and disadvantages to every circular packaging material your brand should weigh up.
Consider your own values as a business and where you’d like to make an impact: is it through reusing previously unsustainable materials already in circulation, like recycled plastic? Or is it through packaging that is made from virgin materials that can be fully broken down after use, like compostable packaging?
We know that 48% of consumers are willing to change their consumption habits to lower their environmental impact, but it also pays to ask your customers what is easiest for them in their day-to-day life as they are the ones responsible for the packaging’s end-of-life.
One way to gauge your customers’ sustainability knowledge and willingness to compost or recycle packaging materials is to conduct a customer survey through an email or on an active social channel – it can be as simple as using the yes/no vote feature on Instagram stories and asking questions like, ‘Do you use a compost at home or use compost facilities available to you?’
As a business, you can also help your customers on this journey through education. Share end-of-life best practices for your packaging in your email communications, or on a custom insert card that’s sent out with each order. They’ll appreciate any knowledge you pass along!
How to find the right packaging provider and manage costs
Sustainable packaging will be more of an investment for your brand than going down the unsustainable route. However, there are some easy ways to mitigate costs – and ways to offset it with the value it adds to your business, too.
Tip #1: Find a sustainable packaging provider that offers low Minimum Order Quantities (MOQs) for their products. This means you can do a packaging order tailored to the size of your business, and you won’t get stuck with an expensive order and lots of stock you can’t move.
Tip #2: Stock (non-custom) sustainable packaging providers are always going to be more affordable to order in bulk than customized options. One way to keep costs down is to choose a stock mailer bag or box to ship orders out in, and then liven up the outside with your branding through custom stickers, stamps or tape.
Tip #3: Doing a packaging audit and selecting a circular packaging material to switch to can actually sometimes reduce expenses. This is because you can always move to a more lightweight material, eliminate any unnecessary layers and assess how much void space is really needed for the product, which can lead to reduced weight and cheaper shipping costs.
It’s important to remember your ecommerce packaging is an extension of your brand and the values you uphold, too.
74% of consumers aged 18 to 34 are likely to purchase a product if it and its packaging go beyond single-use or are sustainable by design and disposal.
Ecommerce packaging is the first physical experience your customer has with your brand in person, so you don’t want to make the wrong first impression through wasteful packaging.
How to turn your sustainable packaging into a branded experience
Once you’ve chosen your circular packaging materials, it’s time to go one step further and make sure your brand is recognized in the design of your packaging. 30% of businesses report an increase in revenue after improving product packaging, so the importance of branding can’t be underestimated.
There’s a lot you can feature, visually, from your business logo or icon, your brand name, your brand story, your brand colors, direct communication with the customer like a call-to-action, or a custom illustration.
Some other tips for creating a packaging design is choose a clear color palette (like your brand colors) and use it consistently, harness the power of typography (or text) for bold messaging and don’t make the design extremely busy – less is often more!
If your design skills could use some help, choose a packaging provider that takes the stress out of design and offers assistance from their team or easily customizable templates.
noissue offers Community Design templates for our Custom, Recycled Boxes and Custom Recycled Kraft Mailers where brands can browse a range of customizable templates, provide us with a design brief (such as logos or brand colors to include) and our team of designers will organize the rest.
We hope this article has helped you start your sustainable packaging journey!
Choosing circular packaging materials ensures your brand isn’t contributing to the waste going to landfill by keeping your packaging in use, or ensuring it’s disposed of responsibly at its end-of-life.
For even greater success, make sure your products and your brand are memorable from the first physical touchpoint with your customer through powerful packaging design.
Want to find compostable, reusable or recycled options for your packaging? noissue lets you design your own branded sustainable tissue paper, boxes, mailers and more. Simply upload your design, logo, or illustration, and we’ll do the rest! Learn more about our branded packaging options here.