Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, online shopping has become more popular than ever. Consumers nationwide are buying online, and U.S. businesses are shipping billions of tons of goods each year.
Now more than ever, it’s critical to find eco-friendly shipping and packaging methods, especially if automation can be incorporated for increased efficiency. Fortunately, sustainable packaging materials are more widely available today.
What is Sustainable Packaging?
Sustainable packaging represents the development and use of packaging materials having a minimal environmental footprint. The Sustainable Packaging Coalition (SPC) lists eight big-picture goals for sustainable packaging and asserts that it should strive to be:
- Safe and healthy for people and the environment throughout its life cycle.
- Able to meet market criteria for performance and cost.
- Sourced, manufactured, transported, and recycled using renewable energy.
- Optimized for the use of renewable or recycled source materials.
- Manufactured using clean production technologies.
- Made from materials healthy throughout the life cycle.
- Designed to optimize materials and energy.
- Recovered and utilized in biological and industrial closed-loop cycles.
Why use Sustainable Packaging Materials?
Sustainable materials are either recyclable or biodegradable—sometimes both. Why does this matter? Because all that non-recyclable waste from billions of packages adds up to massive amounts of trash. For example, according to Forbes, Amazon ships 2.5 billion packages, FedEx delivers 3 billion, and the postal service adds another 4.7 billion each year.
From an ecological standpoint, non-recyclable packaging materials have harmed the environment. Packaging makes up over 23 percent of waste in landfills each year, and that doesn’t include the amount that ends up in oceans, rivers, and roadways.
From a business perspective, sustainable packaging can attract a demographic of environmentally conscious consumers to your product. This fast-growing demographic supports the eco-friendly movement, and if your brand isn’t part of that, you could be left behind your competitors in the marketplace.
What are Some Examples of Sustainable Packaging Materials?
- Recycled cardboard and paper, including molded paper pulp, have been an eco-friendly packaging option for many years. Many companies continue to use recycled cardboard boxes as a primary source of packaging. A safe and inexpensive material for inside packing material is old or recycled paper. Unless the paper has heavy inks on it, it should be completely biodegradable.
- Biodegradable packing peanuts are another way to keep package content safe during transit. Unlike the polystyrene peanuts that are not biodegradable and are difficult to recycle, peanuts made from cornstarch dissolve quickly and will not pollute waterways or ecosystems. And as a bonus, they are cheaper!
- Cornstarch-based packaging is an eco-friendly alternative to plastic. For example, manufacturers are using it in bottling and also as loose packing material.
- Mushroom-based packaging is made from non-toxic, durable, and completely biodegradable materials. It consists of a mixture of agricultural waste and mycelium (a fast-growing fungus material) that can be formed into many shapes, not unlike polystyrene.
- Post-consumer recycled plastics are not biodegradable, but they can help the environment by reducing the need to produce new plastics from petroleum. When biomaterial packaging is not available, post-consumer recycled plastics provide an environmentally friendly alternative.
Because of the numerous benefits of sustainable packaging—including cost savings and environmental advantages—businesses are starting to incorporate sustainability into their packaging line and design.
Which Sustainable Materials Work Best with Your End-of-Line Packaging?
With the wide variety to choose from, picking the right material that fits your needs is incredibly important. More and more, consumers are looking for and wanting to support companies that employ sustainable initiatives - and packaging is one of the most visible ways to communicate your commitment. Especially now that ordering online has substantially increased since the pandemic.
When you determine what material is best for your packaging, take a look at your packaging process to see if there are opportunities to automate it. Connect with us and let us know what you need - we'd love to help you determine the best solution for your next automated end-of-line packaging project.