The eco-friendly packaging movement is in full swing with increased awareness, changing consumer preferences, and ethical incentives across major industries.
Sustainable packaging, running the gamut from biodegradable packaging to compostable packaging options, has ecommerce brands trading plastic packaging for bioplastics and cardboard boxes for eco-friendly packaging options like compostable mailers.
The race is on for brands to meet sustainability demands, and that goes for every aspect of business operations.
Reducing carbon emissions is not only done in the production of your inventory but through implementing sustainable packaging solutions: how can you use sustainable packaging materials and limit post-consumer packaging waste?
However, consumer-facing brands have even more reason to implement eco-friendly solutions sooner than later, especially with competitive pressures mounting.
Customers have made their voices clear and vote with their wallets, so packaged goods manufacturers need to pursue eco-friendly packaging materials where possible.
Brand owners have choices, thankfully; plenty of eco-friendly packaging solutions to pick from as suppliers rise to the challenge.
Let’s examine some of the best eco-friendly materials brands use to package products while focusing on key sustainability metrics.
1. Cardboard and Paperboard
Even as innovative biodegradables and composted materials come to the forefront, there’s no beating old-fashioned cardboard and paperboard in terms of eco-friendliness.
These materials are minimally processed from organic wood matter, allowing for a reduced carbon footprint in the production process. Cardboard and paperboard solutions are highly versatile and can be sized to the manufacturer’s exact specifications.
Combined with cushioning materials and adhesives, brands can achieve stable, secure packaging solutions for the entirety of the supply chain.
The rise of corrugated cardboard has been a positive movement in sustainability, and it is recycled more than any material in the U.S.
Additionally, sustainable paper packaging products such as kraft paper are growing more prominent in packaging design for small businesses and corporations.
2. Aluminum Containers and Films
100% aluminum materials aren’t too common in the world of packaging, but many recyclable and reusable alloys have been great for sustainability progress.
These materials constitute many cans and containers for primary packaging, and films can offer extra layers of security and barrier properties.
We might think of aluminum cans as the primary format for this material, but it has many more compelling uses in modern recyclable packaging and reusable packaging.
Aluminum bags and pouches are more common, in addition to sealing films, bottles, and other sleek packaging formats, including features like child-resistant seals and reusable components. Aluminum is here to stay, even if traditional formats are on the way out.
3. Microfibrillated Cellulose
Not all polymers are created in labs, as evidenced by naturally occurring cellulose fibers found in plant matter. Microfibrilalted cellulose is solid and versatile, made from glucose, and formattable in crystalline structures.
The result is a lightweight, renewable material that effectively protects against many common hazards. MFC has impressive barrier properties and can preserve products of all kinds, even when tested with oxygen, light, and other atmospheric conditions.
Expect to see more MFC combined with paperboard and other renewable materials moving forward
4. Fully Recyclable Polyethylene
Plastic gets a bad rap in the sustainability sphere, but in its purest form, polyethylene is 100% recyclable when put through the right processes.
The challenge with polyethylene is creating new material from scratch, which requires more energy, oil, and other resources than more sustainable alternatives.
However, packaging like Dymapak’s Secure Sack Eco is designed to minimize environmental impact each step of the way, with fewer resources for production and full recyclable potential.
With solutions like the Secure Sack Eco, brands can still benefit from strong storage and barrier properties while customers can enjoy flexible packaging that keeps products fresh and accessible.
5. Seaweed Packaging Solutions
This innovative prototype material, made from various types of seaweed and algae, brings a new meaning to green packaging. Scientists have found a way to repurpose the material in a strong yet flexible format by extracting a substance called agar from these types of aquatic plant life.
Dehydrated agar can create stiff packaging formats similar to paperboard or layered in a corrugated arrangement to produce a cushion-like effect that helps support delicate product types in shipping and storage.
Best of all, seaweed is plant-based, highly renewable, and great for home composting. Its growing popularity functions as a sign of good things for many industries beyond packaging.
6. Corrugated Bubble Wrap
Of all the best-known packaging materials, bubble wrap tends to be on the receiving end of bad PR. This is due to the one-use-only nature of bubble wrap and its tendency to end up in landfills.
On the bright side, corrugated protective wraps are finally gaining traction, drawing from familiar wood pulp materials and delivering the same cushioning and protection for products on the move.
As more brands embrace corrugated bubble wrap and similar formats from recycled materials, we hope to see a reduction in single-use plastic wrap and the positive knock-on effects for sustainability.
7. Recycled Content Air Pillows
Low-density polyethylene is seeing higher utilization rates and more aggressive forms of upcycling in different packaging products.
Air pillows from recycled plastic are an excellent example of this trend, making the most of recycled plastic to protect products throughout shipping.
If these pillows continue to be recycled and leveraged in new formats, this can spark a positive change in the packaging industry and keep brands on the cutting edge with sustainable solutions.
8. Cornstarch Packaging Solutions
For decades polystyrene (styrofoam) has been the definitive material for formats like packaging peanuts and formed cushioning when shipping sensitive items.
However, in most cases, polystyrene does not tick the boxes for sustainability, making cornstarch and biodegradable packaging peanut alternatives a welcome change of pace.
These materials draw from organic corn matter, vegetable oils, recycled food waste, and other byproducts to create fitted solutions ranging from trays and bags to plates, containers, and lids.
As corn is a primary agricultural product in the U.S. and emerging economies, this renewable material may be a saving grace for the sustainability movement as petroleum becomes more scarce.
9. Composted Mushroom Packaging
Just when you thought seaweed and cornstarch were the next big thing in bio-based packaging, along comes mushroom compost materials with surprising strength and other benefits.
While mushroom packaging formats are still in development, they show promise as a polystyrene alternative with rapid biodegradable abilities and a fully renewable profile.
Imagine breaking open a box, crumbling the cushioning components into your compost bin, and seeing these materials integrated within a few weeks. That’s something old-school styrofoam could never do.
10. Glassine Wood Pulp Packaging
The name suggests a glass substrate, but the glassine is closer to wax paper and thin plastic films in its look and feel. This pulp-based material has a smooth, glossy exterior and is a great sustainable material option.
Not only does glassine have the appearance of a premium packaging film, but the performance is also up to par. Through the right recyclable processes, manufacturers can reuse glassine infinitely many times and reduce the demand for traditional plastic films.
We hope to see other paperboard and cardboard materials converted to glassine in the future, providing new avenues for sustainability to flourish.
11. Organic Ecological Textiles
Not all textiles are designed for use in clothing or upholstery. Many of these materials are being repurposed for reusable bags and totes, which is a fortunate turn of events in the world of packaging.
These materials are often strong and reliable and are produced more sustainably than the typical synthetic options. The potential to upcycle used fabrics is there — it’s time for the infrastructure and incentive to catch up and start moving the dial.
12. Edible Films
Willy Wonka would be proud of the push for edible films made from white rice paper or chitin. While some products are available for consumer purchase, the trend has not been adopted en masse quite yet.
Challenges with shipping and direct contact exposure are not insurmountable, but it may be time until we see edible films take the world by storm. In the meantime, brands can create some exciting prototypes for when the big edible packaging breakthrough takes place.
13. Reusable Tins, Bags, and Containers
While it’s often brushed aside in favor of discussing new biodegradable materials, the best form of eco-friendly packaging can be used repeatedly for months or years without replacement.
Suppliers like Dymapak offers premium packaging that lasts, such as SecuriTin cylinders that can be repurposed for ongoing use long after the contents are finished.
Brands should keep the long game in mind when crafting packaging solutions and encourage customers to reuse higher-quality materials when possible.
Certain brands have done a great job incentivizing customers to reuse containers by offering discounts and credits for products needing refills or subscription delivery services.
While customers may sacrifice a bit of convenience in this approach, many are willing to make that trade to save some money and do the right thing for the environment.
If your brand is in a position to coordinate this type of arrangement, consider adding it to your list of offerings and see if customers catch on.
Give Your Brand the Eco-Friendly Advantage With Packaging
The right eco-friendly packaging can help your brand make significant sustainability strides while improving your business’s reputation with retailers and individual shoppers.
Consumers aren’t asking brands to be perfect, but an effort must be made to move towards environmental consciousness and smarter packaging solutions.
Dymapak can help get your brand on track with packaging that pleases everyone and brings your brand closer to sustainability goals.
Cardboard | NYS Dept. of Environmental Conservation
Biodegradable Material Overview | ScienceDirect