How To Choose The BEST Eco Friendly Packaging Materials

Eco friendly packaging materials are certainly having their moment in the spotlight. And if you ask me, it’s about time! We all know the struggle of receiving a package on your doorstep and having to sort through heaps and heaps of bubble wrap, air pocket packs, and paperboard just to reach a single item! Is this not a bit much?

This post is generously sponsored by noissue.

Excessive packaging (as mentioned above) has detrimental effects on the environment, is confusing for consumers to dispose of properly, and burdens municipalities with the cost of sorting contaminated items from high-value items.

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What are eco-friendly packaging materials?
What is sustainable design in packaging?
Why choosing eco-friendly packaging materials is important
Examples of sustainable packaging materials
Sustainable packaging companies

So, where do we start? Today we are going to explore eco friendly packaging materials! Why is choosing sustainable packaging materials so important? What are some eco-friendly packaging examples? And finally, what companies are leading the way in eco-friendly packaging supplies and are changing the industry for the better?

What are eco-friendly packaging materials?

One of the first things a brand can do to integrate more sustainable packaging into their business practices is to choose better materials.

Eco friendly packaging materials are packaging items that have been designed, produced, transported, and/or disposed of with sustainability in mind. noissue explains it best when breaking down the three main types of sustainable packaging materials:

  1. Compostable packaging is made from renewable plant-based materials and/or biopolymers and must break down within 90-180 days in commercial composting conditions.
  2. Reusable packaging can be used multiple times and intertwines with sustainable packaging design.
  3. Recycled packaging is usually sourced from plastics that have been reprocessed at a recycling facility and given a second life.
A eco friendly packaging material from Noissue. Pin
Image: noissue

If you’re unsure if the materials that go into your eco-friendly packaging are truly sustainable, you can look for certifications that ensure the packaging has come from responsibly managed forests (if the packaging is paper or cardboard-based, which is a better alternative to plastic). These types of certifications include the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), Sustainable Forest Initiative (SFI), or Program for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC).

The Sustainable Packaging Coalition also has tons of great resources and certifications to look for (like the How2Recycle label or Extended Producer Responsibility in packaging).

Some other great certifications to look for with eco friendly packaging materials include:

  • Cradle to Cradle Gold Certified
  • Biodegradable Product Institute Certified
  • USDA Biobased Preferred

What is sustainable design in packaging?

While the materials that go into packaging play a huge role in the sustainability of that product, how it’s designed does too! As a rule of thumb, eco friendly packaging should:

  1. Be designed using the least amount of materials possible (this is the right size packaging principle I was mentioning earlier). Fewer materials also mean less wasted space during shipping!
  2.  Be easily repurposed, refillable, and/or returnable. This also means the product should be designed in a way it can store multiple different kinds of items and is durable enough to last for multiple uses.
  3.  Properly protect the item inside. This one seems obvious, but this will reduce the need for it to be shipped back if damaged (did you know the average box is dropped 17 times?!). Think of it this way, if your shipping box isn’t properly protecting your cosmetics (and you receive a box with fragments of glitter eyeshadow everywhere) your cosmetic item – and everything that went into producing it - has now also gone to waste.  

The overall goal of sustainable packaging design is to maintain functionality while also keeping the number of materials used to a minimum.

Why choosing eco-friendly packaging materials is important

So much of our conventional packaging is plastic-based, not recyclable, and usually not reusable. The result is huge amounts of virgin plastic being produced from fossil fuels (oil and petroleum products) and a hefty carbon footprint!  The Center for International Environmental Law estimates that to manufacture a kilogram of plastic, 3.5kg of CO2 is emitted into the atmosphere.

Once we throw the packaging in the garbage, it ends up in a landfill to sit for years. Or even worse, ends up in ecologically fragile habitats. Plastic bags are awful for this; every year we use (and dispose of) 500 billion plastic bags worldwide. They often end up floating in our rivers, lakes, and oceans. In fact, 90% of all trash floating in aquatic environments comes from plastic products like plastic bags.

While cardboard and paper products are generally better compared to plastic packaging, it also has their issues. Paper and cardboard-based packaging contribute to deforestation (making 1 ton of virgin carbon requires 3 tons of trees!) and is water-intensive to process.

By opting for more sustainable packaging materials, companies are moving away from petrochemical-based plastics toward more sustainable, renewable sources.  

Examples of sustainable packaging materials 

From sugarcane to mushrooms, to other types of biodegradable packaging, sustainable materials for packaging come with options! Here are some popular, and up-and-coming, eco friendly packaging examples to be on the lookout for…

Mushrooms 

Mushroom packaging is made from hemp hurds and mycelium (mushroom filament roots), and best of all, it's fully compostable!

Recycled Paper

100% recycled paper is a common and cost-effective eco-friendly packaging option.

Recycled Plastic

While yes, plastic sucks, giving plastic already in circulation a second life is better than nothing, right? I like these Recycled Mailers and eco friendly packaging tape from noissue (both with five stars on Google!).

2 gifts wrapped with eco friendly packaging tape. Pin
Image: noissue

Bamboo

Bamboo makes a great sustainable packaging alternative to wood products because it's super durable and strong. Bamboo is 100% biodegradable and compostable within 2-6 months.  

Hemp

Hemp is still a fairly new trend in eco-friendly packaging and can be found throughout the industry in a variety of different forms.

Reused Cardboard

I try to reuse cardboard boxes as many times as I can before I recycle them. They are easy to store around your home folded up and can be handy when moving or just for extra storage. If you are reusing old cardboard you have around your home, remember you can only recycle cardboard if it's clean and dry.

Cellulose 

Microfibrillated cellulose (MFC) is made of plant waste and can be added to an existing substrate making it a more eco-friendly packaging option. 

Compostable Bags

I love compostable bags like the BioBag, which is made from GMO - free crops! Even better, they are made in Canada. With headquarters and production based in Toronto, you won’t have to feel guilty about a heavy transportation carbon footprint with this one. 

Sugarcane Board

Sugarcane fiber packaging is from bagasse, a raw material by-product once considered waste by farmers. It has a similar chemical composition to wood, is completely biodegradable, and is a great eco-friendly packaging material for food (I like these bagasse-based food containers).

Sustainable packaging companies

Choosing eco-friendly packaging companies can be tricky. Packaging is often an afterthought for so many companies and while they could be making strides towards integrating more sustainable packaging materials into their shipping and product design, they could also be contributing to environmental degradation in other ways. As mentioned earlier, eco-friendly packaging materials are packaging items that have been produced and designed, transported, and/or disposed of with sustainability in mind. And a company might not check every box!

Some companies might also be overexaggerating the true sustainability of their packaging products, this is also known as greenwashing. Bioplastics are a good example of this when it comes to sustainable materials for packaging. Some bioplastics only biodegrade under specific conditions that don’t occur naturally in most landfills and can only be composted at special facilities. 

Many companies have taken more accountability and have made shifts along their supply chain to incorporate eco-friendly packaging options. The online shopping giant, Amazon, launched a ‘frustration-free packaging’ program back in 2008. The goal of the program was to eliminate the need for unnecessary packaging material and extra cardboard shipping boxes.

While this is a step in the right direction, we still have a long way to go. Here are a few of my favorite companies that I think are leading the way in environmentally friendly packaging materials.

noissue

A eco friendly packaging materials from Noissue.Pin
Image: noissue

I am personally a big fan of noissue and its eco friendly packaging options. Their brand, which started in 2017, is focused on making sustainable packaging options chic and affordable. 

Their co-founder, Josh, said in an interview with OurGoodBrands, “Our goal is to make sustainable packaging accessible for businesses of all sizes. If we can make eco-friendly packaging the norm, that’ll push the conversation surrounding sustainability towards where it needs to be”. 

They originally focussed on creating more eco-friendly tissue paper, but have now expanded to offer all different kinds of products (compostable mailers made from corn starch, compostable paper stickers, and water-activated tape). Their website even allows for e-commerce small businesses to create their own eco-friendly customized tissue paper and packaging. 

They recently launched a ton of new products, their belly bands are a great way to jazz up the packaging and take the unboxing experience to a whole new level.

If you've invested in an ethical wardrobe you want to make sure you can protect those items and noissue's compostable garment bags are a must, especially if you are traveling.

One of the most impressive options they offer is their noissue Product Boxes (also known as product folding cartons), they are made from FSC-certified materials and are a great way for brands to take their eco packaging to a whole new level.

Along with offering sustainable packaging options, noissue has an Eco-Alliance program where they plant a tree in areas in need of reforestation for every order placed. At the time of writing this, they have already planted 2,800 trees which are super impressive considering their company is only a few years old!

I recommend you read their ‘Sustainable Packaging in eCommerce: How To Maximize Efficiency’ guide if you want to learn more about sustainable packaging. 

Eco Enclose

Eco Enclose has a variety of different packaging options to choose from. They have poly mailers, paper mailers, shipping boxes, void fill, and more. Recycled, recyclable, and biodegradable! They also have shipping accessories like renewable carton sealing tape and 100% recycled shipping labels.

Mushroom Packaging 

Mushroom Packaging started to combat Styrofoam waste and their products are fully compostable within 45 days of disposal. Unlike some bioplastics, their products don’t need ‘industry-like conditions’ (heat and processing) to break down properly. This company is also C2C Gold Certified, which is the highest certification for sustainable goods!

A product wrapped in mushroom packaging. Pin
Image: Mushroom Packaging

Tipa Packaging

Founded in 2010, Tipa Packaging is leading the way for eco-friendly packaging for clothing. Their compostable bags are made from a blend of compostable polymers that are both bio-based (20 – 80%) and fossil fuel-based. Their bags mimic the positive qualities of conventional plastic (like durability, flexibility, barrier properties, and shelf stability).

WAVE Plastic Bags

Similar to Tipa Packaging, WAVE plastic bags are compostable and made out of natural cassava starch. They are also 100% sourced from bio-based compounds.

There are so many other awesome companies leading the way in eco friendly packaging materials!

Final Thoughts on eco friendly packaging materials

Sustainable packaging is a broad topic that has a role to play from product design to disposal. 

There are other ways companies could be integrating sustainability into packaging that we haven't covered today. Embracing sustainable packaging can also include companies that are utilizing local supply chains to source their packaging items. Or maybe they are implementing programs like at Amazon where they are trying to limit the number of materials they are using in the first place by abiding by the right size packaging principles.

Try and look for companies that offer products that are compostable, reusable, or recyclable. And if you are still unsure, look for certifications that verify the company you are considering buying from is not greenwashing and misleading consumers. 

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