What Makes Sustainable Packaging, Sustainable?

Sustainable Packaging

You've probably heard the term "sustainable packaging" thrown around a lot, but have you ever stopped to wonder what makes it, well, sustainable?

Sustainable packaging is not just about packing products in a brown, recycled box. It's a whole lot more than what meets the eye. This phrase is popping up everywhere, but can often be a bit foggy to understand.

Well, today we're exploring this very topic. We're stripping away the eco-friendly buzzwords and getting down to the nitty-gritty of what constitutes sustainable packaging. Let’s cut through the green wash and explore the real essence of sustainable packaging. 

Sustainable packaging is achieved through the use of renewable and recycled materials as well as promoting biodegradability and compostability to minimize environmental impact. It also involves adopting minimal or recyclable packaging practices, prioritizing energy efficiency in production, and reducing the use of harmful chemicals and toxins. A comprehensive understanding of the packaging's life cycle through assessments is crucial for making informed decisions, and sustainability is an ongoing journey towards a greener future.

Section 1: Renewable and Recycled Materials

recycling glass

The heart of sustainable packaging lies in its materials. Here's where we introduce two key words — renewable and recycled. 

Renewable materials are materials that come from resources that can be naturally replenished. This means they aren't finite or limited, but rather, can grow back over time. Think along the lines of bamboo, cornstarch or mushroom packaging, plant-based plastics, and biodegradable polymers. They come from nature and return back to it with minimal impact. Choosing renewable materials reduces the strain on our planet's resources, and that's an absolute win!

With recycled materials, the story is slightly different but just as green. These materials come from previously used items that have been processed and transformed into something new. When we recycle, we're giving a second life to materials that would otherwise end up in landfill sites. Recycled materials in packaging, such as recycled paper or plastic, can save considerable amounts of energy and raw resources.

Renewable and recycled materials form the foundation of sustainable packaging. They help us tread lighter on the earth, reduce waste and conserve resources. 

Section 2: Biodegradability and Compostability

The next aspect that makes packaging truly sustainable is what happens at the end of its life. This is where the terms biodegradability and compostability come in.

Biodegradable packaging decomposes naturally over time and much more quickly than traditional packaging materials. This means it can safely break down and return to nature, which reduces its impact on the environment. 

However, it's important to remember that not all biodegradable materials break down at the same rate; some might take a few weeks, while others might take years. Nonetheless, they're still a better choice over conventional plastic packaging, which can take hundreds of years to degrade!

Compostable packaging goes a step further. Not only does it break down, but it also substantially benefits the environment by adding valuable nutrients back into the soil as it decomposes. These packaging options can typically be composted at home or via local composting facilities.

The main takeaway here is that sustainable packaging considers its lifecycle from beginning to end. It's about materials that do no harm as they return to the earth, making it a truly circular process. 

Section 3: Minimal or Recyclable Packaging

recycle

Creating sustainable packaging isn't just about choosing the right materials. It's also about how we use those materials. Single-use packaging waste is a significant issue that we all face. It's not uncommon to find products over-packaged with layers of material that serve little purpose other than to end up in the trash.

The good thing is that sustainability and packaging converge beautifully in the principle of "less is more". Choosing to go minimal or recyclable with your packaging can drastically cut down on waste, conserve resources and leave a smaller footprint. But it is not just about being kind to the environment; it's a smart business move, too.

Embracing minimal packaging involves streamlining the packaging design and using only what’s necessary. This could mean eliminating needless wrappers or designing product packaging that uses less material overall. If done right, minimal packaging can protect your products while reducing material usage and waste.

But sometimes, packaging is unavoidable. That's where recyclable packaging, such as cardboard, paper, or certain types of plastics, comes in. Recyclable packaging can be processed and used again to reduce the need for new raw materials. It's a great way to ensure that packaging doesn't just end up in the landfill after a single use. 

As a small shop owner, it's essential to question each packaging element's necessity. Could you reduce the amount of packaging without compromising the product's safety or quality? How about switching to reusable packaging options to minimize waste? Incentivizing customers to return packaging for a discount on their next purchase could also be a great way to reduce waste and encourage repeat business.

Mindfully considering both the material and its usage helps effectively address the single-use packaging problem and contribute to a more sustainable packaging system. 

Section 4: Energy Efficiency in Production

The process of producing packaging can have a significant impact on the sustainability of the end product. And that's where energy efficiency comes into play.

Energy-efficient production practices aim to minimize the amount of energy used in creating the packaging. This not only reduces carbon emissions and environmental impact, but it can also lead to cost savings – a win-win situation!

So, what can you, as a small shop owner, do? 

  • Choose suppliers who prioritize energy efficiency. Ask about their production process, whether they use renewable energy sources, and how they manage waste. Many suppliers are proud of their eco-friendly practices and will be happy to share this information.
  • Consider the location of your suppliers. A supplier who produces sustainable packaging but is located halfway around the world might not be the most sustainable option overall. Shipping products long distances requires energy and contributes to carbon emissions. Local or regional suppliers could be a greener choice.
  • Think about the production scale. Do you need a huge quantity of packaging, or can you work with smaller, more frequent orders? Producing and storing large amounts of packaging can be energy-intensive and may lead to waste if you overestimate your needs.

Section 5: Reduction of Chemicals and Toxins

plastic waste

Now, let's talk about chemicals and toxins. Their reduction is a crucial element that contributes to the sustainability of packaging, and it's an area where small shops can make a big difference. 

Traditional packaging materials are often processed with chemicals that can harm our health and the environment, both in their creation and disposal. Sustainable packaging, on the other hand, aims to minimize or eliminate these harmful substances.

As a small shop owner, what steps can you take to reduce chemicals and toxins?

  • Go for natural inks and dyes. Regular inks and dyes can contain toxic chemicals, so choosing packaging materials that use plant-based or water-based alternatives can be a safer and more sustainable option for everyone involved.
  • Choose packaging without harmful coatings. Some packaging materials are coated with plastic or other chemicals to make them more durable or water-resistant. These coatings can be toxic and make the packaging non-recyclable. Look for alternatives that achieve the same result without harmful additives.
  • Use adhesives with low VOC content. Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are chemicals that evaporate easily at room temperature and can contribute to air pollution and health problems. When selecting adhesives for packaging, opt for those with low or no VOC content.

For instance, our premium water-activated packing tapes at Impack are designed to provide a secure seal for all your shipments. These tapes are non-reinforced and made of paper. They use starch as adhesive, which makes them a sustainable option.

  • Ask about certifications. Certifications like the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Safer Choice label or the European Union’s Ecolabel can guide you to products that are safer for the environment and human health. They can take the guesswork out of shopping for sustainable packaging.

Reducing chemicals and toxins is not just about protecting the environment, it's also about offering a safer choice for your employees and customers. Every conscious choice in our packaging decisions pushes us closer to a more sustainable world. And that's the real essence of sustainable packaging!

Section 6: Life Cycle Assessments and Environmental Impact

The final piece of the sustainable packaging puzzle is understanding a product's entire life cycle, and it's something that every small shop owner can take into account. 

A life cycle assessment (LCA) is a technique to assess environmental impacts associated with all the stages of a product's life, from raw material extraction (cradle) to disposal (grave). It gives you an accurate picture of how eco-friendly your packaging truly is, as it examines factors like resource consumption, energy usage, greenhouse gas emissions, and waste generation.

So, how can you utilize this approach and consider environmental impact in your business?

  • Understand the full life cycle of your packaging. Learn about where your packaging materials come from, how they’re produced, and what happens to them after they're discarded. This can help you identify areas where you can make more sustainable choices.
  • Choose suppliers who conduct LCAs. If your supplier conducts LCAs of their products, it indicates a commitment to sustainability. It also provides you with valuable data to make informed decisions.
  • Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. This golden rule isn't just for consumers, it's for businesses too. Can you reduce the amount of packaging you use? Can it be re-used? If not, can it be recycled? These questions can guide you towards more sustainable packaging choices.
  • Consider the end-of-life of your packaging. Is your packaging recyclable, biodegradable, or compostable at its end-of-life? Can it be returned to the earth without harm? If the answer is no, it might be time to consider alternatives.

Wrapping It Up: The Journey Towards Sustainability 

Sustainability is a journey, not a destination. Even small changes can have a big impact. And we can all play a part in caring for our planet — it starts with the small, everyday choices we make for our businesses.

Going green isn't a mere trend, but a necessity, and sustainable packaging is an essential part of that movement. Whether it's choosing renewable materials, ensuring energy efficiency in production, or considering the full life cycle of our packaging, each step we take brings us closer to a sustainable future.

At Impack, we believe in championing sustainable practices, and our eco-friendly packaging options are just one step towards a greener future. Crafted with care and beautifully designed, our biodegradable mailer bags are made using the innovative D2W material, ensuring they naturally break down into harmless elements like water, biomass, and carbon dioxide. 

In addition, our water-activated tapes guarantee a strong and durable hold, even in challenging shipping conditions. Plus, they're incredibly easy to use, which makes the packaging process a breeze for you and your team.

Remember, sustainability isn't about perfection. It's about making better choices, one step at a time. Together, let's embrace sustainability and create a better world for future generations. Join us on this journey towards a more eco-conscious tomorrow.

 

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