Updated: Oct 20, 2021
In recent years, sustainability has become a fast-growing trend and for good reason. With the increase in online shopping, eCommerce sales are predicted to reach $5.4 trillion by 2022, which is great news for online businesses but bad news for the environment.
eCommerce packaging constitutes a majority of household waste and will only continue to increase along with eCommerce fulfillment and sales. While we can’t eliminate packaging waste completely, we can try to reverse this trend by selecting packaging that’s just as beneficial for Mother Nature as it is for business.
Luckily, eco-friendly packaging options are readily available in many forms.
What is eco-friendly packaging?
Eco-friendly packaging has many names including sustainable packaging, green packaging, and environmentally-friendly packaging. Eco-friendly packaging involves the use of materials that are biodegradable, compostable, recyclable, reusable, non-toxic, and/or made from recycled or renewed products.
The types of materials used may depend on the industry, but generally sustainable options will account for:
Maximizing use of recyclable and biodegradable materials
Maximizing use of renewable energy during production
Consumer and environmental safety
Types of eco-friendly packaging and shipping
Papers and cardboard
The most commonly used elements in packaging are paper and cardboard, which can be easily reused and recycled by the consumer. Most importantly, they are also readily and easily accessible no matter the demand or size of the business.
Bioplastics are usually derived from plant-based materials such as corn starch and wheat straw, which biodegrade within a much shorter time frame. They produce 70% less greenhouse emissions in landfills than traditional (petrochemical-based) plastics, making them well-suited to composting. However, they cannot be conventionally recycled because they can contaminate traditional plastics.
Biodegradable packaging includes any material that have been modified to decompose or break down faster through the presence of heat or light. There are different levels of biodegradability.
Certain biodegradable plastics, for example, may take longer to decompose. One downside is that because they still contain petrochemicals, they can leave behind toxic residues which make them unsuitable for composting.
Compostable packaging also loosely falls under "biodegradable" by definition, but goes a step further by returning nutrients back to the earth once broken down. Certified compostable packaging have clearer timelines for when they decompose and thus make it a more favored option for sustainable packaging.
Plant-based packaging solutions are made up of bio-based sources. Jute, cotton, and wood pulp are some examples of eco-friendly packaging materials in the form of reusable tote bags or compostable mailers.