If you've made sustainability a core initiative to tackle this year, we encourage you to green your packaging as a first step. Why? On average, packaging represents 5-10% of a product’s carbon emissions. This is significant enough that improvements have a real impact on the planet. And, unlike other eco changes you may be prioritizing, ecommerce packaging is relatively straightforward to address and improve.
Here we share twelve tips to make your packaging more eco-friendly, so you can kick off 2020 with an ecological win.
Click here to read our full blog post
1. Go 100% recycled, with as much post-consumer waste as possible: Whether you're using a shipping box, paper-based mailer or a poly mailer, transition to a solution that is made with as much recycled content (and as much post-consumer waste) as possible. 100% recycled paper saves 38-50% of the emissions and 100% recycled poly mailers save 40% of emissions associated with their virgin counterparts. Using recycled content also helps strengthen this nation's overall recycling infrastructure, which is essential after China's 2018 recycling ban. Read more about why Recycled Content is Critical and is a more eco-friendly choice for ecommerce packaging than current compostable plastic solutions.
2. Switch from a box to a mailer: For many businesses, a shipping box is the best and most functional packaging solution, but some companies could move from a shipping box to a mailer, saving money, resources and emissions. For example, moving from a shipping box to a similarly sized Apparel Mailer can save 66% of carbon emissions associated with your packaging (and 35% of the cost).
3. Stop shipping excess air: Analyze your outbound shipments to see if you are shipping excess air. If so, resize your box or mailer to cut this down. Distribution accounts for about 15% of a product’s emissions. Resizing will immediately reduce these emissions...and your packaging costs.
4. Reduce the amount of packaging materials: Remember that reduce comes before reusing and recycling! Audit your entire outbound package to see if there are components you can cut back on or eliminate - extra notecards, stickers, void fill and tape are often easy wins.
5. Save packaging you receive for inbound shipments and use them for your customer shipments. This doesn't work for all brands, especially larger ones, but for some companies, this strategy can actually enhance customers' loyalty (and fully eliminate the resources and emissions associated with a shipping package).
6. Improve your void fill and dunnage: If you use void fill in your packaging, focus on (1) matching the end of life of the void fill with the end of life of the outer package, (2) minimizing the amount of void fill you need by tightening up the dimensions of your box and being smart with how you use your void fill, and (3) using 100% recycled void fill.
7. Get sustainable shipping labels and release liners: Shipping 1000 packages a week leads to about 400 pounds of landfill bound garbage annually with traditional silicone-coated release liners. Switching to Zero Waste Liners, which are 100% post consumer waste and curbside recyclable, eliminates all of that waste, reduces water usage by 60%, and emissions by 50%.
8. Choose the right tape and stickers that align with your primary packaging: Don't make the mistake of treating tape or stickers as standalone decisions. Choose packaging tape and stickers whose optimal end of life scenario matches whatever material you are putting it on. Corrugated boxes or paper mailers? Use tape or stickers with a paper facestock (ideally 100% recycled). Using poly mailers? We recommend a BOPP or plastic tape. Learn more here. Learn more about our different tape and sticker options to find the right one for your shipping strategy.
9. Move to water-based or soy-based inks. Then make the switch to algae! Printing inks are admittedly a small aspect of an overall package’s carbon footprint but they can be dirty, emitting VOCs and creating air pollution in production. Water-based or soy-based are good first steps, but algae ink is the cleanest, most sustainable option available today. And algae ink is actually a carbon negative solution, sequesters more carbon than is used to produce it! Finally, using algae ink is a great way to showcase your company's commitment to eco innovation. Algae ink is available for all boxes printed in black (at no additional cost to you!).
10. Green your inner clear poly bags: If you use clear virgin poly bags to protect, store and sort your apparel / products, make this the year you change your strategy. You can look into paper-based alternatives or 100% recycled plastic bags. Even more important, make sure your customers recycle these bags in thin film bins. Check out our guide to Finding an Alternative to Clear Poly Bags for more ideas. Clear bags are often the hardest part of your packaging strategy to change (as it may be so intertwined in your sourcing and supply chain), so be patient as you work with your manufacturing and fulfillment partners to implement improvements.
11. Make your hang tags and identifiers more sustainable: Move to 100% recycled paper tags with a natural fiber cord (make sure your hang tags are at least 2x2" so they can be curbside recycled), 100% recycled polyester woven labels, or even tags and labels that dissolve in water. Those plastic fasteners and tiny virgin paper hang tags are so last decade!
12. Make your packaging returnable (and make returns easy): An estimated 30-35% of ecommerce purchases are returned. If distribution and packaging accounts for about 20% of your products' emissions, returns end up doubling this pretty significant impact. Make your packaging easy to use for returns, and make it clear to customers (ideally before they begin opening their package - on the package itself or in an email message!) that the package can and should be used for any returns.
A Bonus Tip! Tell your customers how to dispose of their packaging.
It is not enough for packaging to just be recyclable. Customers have to know how to recycle their packaging.
Give customers clear instructions - what is curbside recyclable, what needs to be dropped off in thin film bins, what needs to be composted instead of recycled, what needs to be landfilled, whether or not tape and stickers need to be removed before disposal, and more.
Want to go further in ensuring your packaging is disposed of responsibly? Consider incentives. Ask customers to post about their actions on social media in exchange for discounts on future orders!