With society becoming accustomed to throwing things away, we don’t often stop to think about where they are going. We live in a fast paced world which requires the products we use and their packaging to follow suit, but that doesn’t mean it has to be at the expense of the environment.
Annie Leonard, the Executive Director of Greenpeace USA, said “there is no such thing as “away”, when we throw something away it must go somewhere.” Let’s face it – it doesn’t matter what you sell, at least some part of it will be thrown away. Every piece of single use plastic ever created still exists on earth, which means that plastic packaging will last longer than you and I. It’s time to step back and look at how we can reduce our impact and the amount of waste that is created in the world.
An Australian company called The Daily Bar has done just that. They create superfood snack bars, yet they have stepped away from the norm of plastic packaging to using a more sustainable wrapping alternative made from plant fibre that is fully compostable. They use plant based inks for their printing and minimise the packaging when they send their products, so that they reduce their carbon footprint and waste at every turn. While there are mindful companies out there changing the game such as The Daily Bar, they are few and far between.
Navigating this minefield can be tough. Even researching for this piece made me realise that there is so little out there for businesses to find easily, and often with small business owners spread thin, sustainable packaging is at the bottom of the priority list.
So that’s where I come in, below are four key areas that you can look at implementing into your own business to tread lighter on the environment and reuse the materials we already have available.
1. Make your packaging fit your product
We all love getting a package in the mail. It feels like Christmas has come early every.single.time. What’s not ideal is all the extra packaging that’s often left with the product when we receive it.
A few weeks back I was amazed when my new keyboard arrived in a cardboard box nearly the size of a monitor so it needs to be said. The better your product fits within the box or package it’s being sent in, the less materials are needed to pad it. It’s an extra cost to the business, and it’s an extra hassle to the consumer working out what they can recycle.
2. Use Recyclable materials
Roughly one-third of an average rubbish dump is made up of packaging material. It’s important to look at using packaging options that are able to be recycled, or using what you currently have rather than adding to the waste problem. For every one tonne of paper that is recycled, it saves 12 trees from being cut down. If you are looking for a company that can provide recycled paper and cardboard boxes, as well as custom printing options then Brown Paper Packaging could be the perfect place to begin your search.
3. Sustainable filler options
Think first, do you need filler options after completing tip 1? Will the product be damaged if it doesn’t have them? If the answer is yes, then consider using sustainable filler options. There are some epic innovations taking place to reduce the use of plastic based packaging fillers such as polystyrene, plastic peanuts and bubble wrap. Here’s some alternatives that are readily accessible in Australia:
A replacement for standard bubble wrap: These cardboard shredders turn pieces of scrap cardboard into a replacement for bubble wrap that can be used as a filler or as protective packaging and are easily recycled. Cardboard shredders are currently being sold by FPmail and Ranpak in Australia.
A replacement for plastic peanuts: Cornstarch peanuts have become a go-to replacement for plastic peanuts due to the fact that they break down with water as opposed to the plastic version that will still exist in 500 years time.
There’s also a company in the US called Ecovative who have created a completely compostable alternative to polystyrene. They use corn husks from local farm waste, and mix it with the millennium tissue from mushrooms. Larger companies like Dell computers are using this mushroom packaging already in an effort to deliver zero-waste packaging to its customers. When big companies come onboard, it allows products to become more readily available and then therefore cost less. So this is one innovation to definitely keep an eye out for.
4. Use plant based inks
The printing process is one that’s often skipped over, however it’s definitely one to pay attention to. Traditional inks are made from minerals or oils and contain hazardous substances such as petroleum hydrocarbons. When these inks dry, it releases volatile organic compounds that cause air pollution.
On the contrary, vegetable inks are manufactured from renewable sources such as soy and linseed’s. Vegetable inks don’t contain the hazardous substances that traditional inks do, and they provide more ink per pound and print better than the traditional inks.
In terms of finding a printer near you that places a key focus on being as sustainable as possible, check out Earth Greetings’ directory here.
While the cost of using sustainable alternatives to current packaging can be a barrier to entry, in reality it’s namely due to the fact that these technologies are new and only used on a small scale. However, as consumers it’s through our dollar that we are able to vote for the world we want to live in, where we influence the marketplace to create sustainable packaging solutions.
When consumers change their mindset and request change, it extends further into creating more affordable options within the sustainable packaging realm. Finding sustainable alternatives to packaging isn’t an easy feat. If you focus on one key point at a time, and aim to achieve that before moving onto the next then that’s the best way to create change without the overwhelm.
Spend five minutes reviewing your current packaging and shipping methods and look at ways in which you can reduce the amount of fillers needed, reuse what you have, and use recycled materials in the process. Every small individual step helps move us from a society based on wastefulness, to one that is mindful of the environment.