The growth that the e-commerce industry has seen in the last few years is unprecedented in any other industry. Seeing as how the internet is pushing forward the evolution of communication to new boundaries, the progress was expected. The industry is seeing an average growth of over 16%, while its retail counterpart is stuck at below 4%. There are some geographic locations that are seeing more growth than others; Latin America is almost hitting a whopping 20% per year.

While this is definitely a good sign pointing to the shifting of a whole dynamic for the better, a little aspect can disrupt the great boom of online businesses. The more people buy, the more shipping is done. The scale of shipping over various phases is simply immense. The average physical retail shop has its items handled by five different entities before it is bought by the end-consumer. The average online items are actually handled by around 20 varying entities.

Did You Know?

In the US alone, the average number of packages sent per year can reach 165 billion, requiring the utilization and cutting down of around 1 billion trees every year just for the cardboard in the packages alone. Removing packaging completely is almost impossible due to the mass-scale shipments that need adequate protection. Fortunately, consumers are much more aware than they used to be, which can still be credited to digital movement. In this guide, we’ll be providing you with alternative solutions that can ensure your packaging is eco-friendly and within budget.

Harmful Packaging Practices

Unfortunately, environmental sustainability and business can easily clash. What’s good for business can more often than not be bad for the environment. Even the average potato chip bag contains at least 6 or 7 layers of plastics and foil. If you think about it from the perspective of the manufacturer or distributor, these bags are perfect because they are light, cheap, and don’t a lot of space. The problem is that it’s not easy to get rid of these bags as you may think. Single-serving foods are also one of the most common environmentally damaging packages because they are technically made to be disposed of, but they most probably lack the recyclability the makes them a viable packaging option. When you take into account the number of big corporations that mass-produce this type of food, you’ll find yourself against a huge problem that requires complex resolutions.

Recycling of packages is definitely gaining traction amongst many corporate lobbies, but the power of changing the whole packaging industry is not really an easily available asset. Even when companies take it upon themselves to provide eco-friendly packaging, online retailers or shops would most probably opt for the more available and convenient option, which is usually harmful to the environment. A very oddly wasteful practice that’s commonly referred to as the “Russian doll packaging” involves using multiple layers of Styrofoam and cardboard boxes, even when the item is far from being delicate or fragile. It became a standardized practice in many online businesses to streamline the distribution process, but its harmful effects are far from being worth it.

The Recycling of Packaging Materials

Using materials that were used in packaging before is a sure-fire way to keep things green and environmentally sustainable. The materials that were going to be thrown away can be used more than once, such as boxes, containers, and other recyclable materials. You should take the time to find a recycled material alternative instead of going with conventional packaging options if you want to save costs while saving the environment. For an environmentally friendly packaging option, Tony Davis from Thegaylordboxexchange.com says that Gaylord boxes are made from recycled materials. There are now 100% recyclable plastics and biodegradability, which means that you’ll be able to find almost any kind of packaging in the form of recycled materials.

Defining Eco-Friendly Packaging

It’s important to understand the metrics that make certain materials and packaging practices safer for the environment than others to be able to formulate a proper standard. The concept of over-packaging is seemingly rampant with many online retailers, even ones worth billions of dollars. The alternative solution to traditional and harmful packaging is replacing them with greener solutions that give us the opportunity to reuse them more than once. Sadly, around half of the plastics produced on a global level are used only once before being disposed of completely. Green packagings are biodegradable, which means that they can safely decompose in a short time limit, in addition to being recyclable and available for use many times.

Biodegradable Peanuts

A few states in the US have banned the use of Styrofoam in the packaging industry. This is definitely a good step towards the right direction since expanded polystyrene foam doesn’t decompose nor is it viable for recycling for other purposes. Styrofoam wastes can often be found invading waterways and causing a lot of problems with the water and its organisms. Replacing Styrofoam with biodegradable sealed air peanuts is becoming the new safe and cost-effective alternative to Styrofoam. They will provide any fragile items you ship with the protection it needs during the transportation process while being completely made out of recyclable materials that allow reusing it again easily.

Corrugated Bubble Wrap

Even though popping bubble wrap can be a fun experience, it’s not really the ideal packaging for the environment. It’s used to protect fragile items from getting damaged during transportation, where the air inside the plastic bubbles cushions it from outside factors. Since it’s made out of non-biodegradable plastic, its wide usage is causing a lot more harm than we’re benefitting from. Fortunately, there is an alternative that can provide the same utility while being more cost-effective. Recycled corrugated cardboard is used instead of bubble wrap to reduce the wasted cardboard, while effectively doing a good job at protecting fragile materials. A few small corrugated cuts are made into the cardboard to help improve its shock-absorbing features.

Cornstarch Packaging

Cornstarch is an essential item in many industries, most commonly the food industry. This organic material is making strides in the packaging industry thanks to its newly discovered features allow it to have properties similar to plastics. The best thing about cornstarch packaging is its flexibility; similar to plastics, cornstarch can be easily molded into containers like bottles and loose-fill packages. The environmental sustainability of cornstarch is definitely higher than its plastic counterpart because of how safe it is, seeing as it’s already derived from corn and is abundant in the food supply of both animals and humans. Even though using it on a different industrial level may increase its price over time, it’s still a much more valid option compared to plastic packaging.

Mushroom Packaging

One of the latest trends in the online business packaging and distribution sectors is using mushroom packaging. The very same organic material that we all know can actually be used to provide support and protection for small items. The mushrooms that are used are the by-product of the combination and fusion of agricultural waste and excess. The resulting product of such fusion is a network composed of mushroom roots called mycelium. The mushrooms used in this process don’t introduce competition to the edible mushrooms in the food industry since they are recycled waste. The biodegradability of mushrooms is quite high, which means that it won’t pollute any environment that it reaches by mistake. It can be molded and dried into almost any shape, in addition to utilizing it as organic compost.

Seaweed Packaging

Agar, a material extracted from algae and seaweed, has already found its way into a myriad of applications, from the medical industry to consumable food. This gelatinous material is often used to provide food with a thickening layer that’s healthier than gelatin. Some research went into the development of a seaweed packaging prototype that utilizes the numerous benefits of agar. The sustainability of seaweed and its low cost makes it one of the best materials with recycling potential in the eco-friendly packaging industry.

Using Smaller Packages

The ecological footprint is directly related to the size of the packaging materials you use. Instead of only replacing harmful materials with better ones, you can also use smaller packages to significantly decrease your waste. Filler materials can be reduced as well if you find a way to properly position and prepare your products to fit into smaller packages. This will not only improve the environmental sustainability of your business but also it will help you budget the costs of packaging and reduce it.

Using Cartons for Water

Every minute on this planet, 1 million plastic water bottles are purchased. This number is quite huge, and even if we assume that a little percentage is recyclable, the vast majority of these bottles are thrown as waste, affecting marine life. Companies that ship out huge quantities of water have an opportunity to completely switch the dynamic and start using eco-friendlier packaging to redefine a green eco-friendly brand image. Paper water bottles are becoming more common in online shops that are concerned with their environmental sustainability and their role in reducing the impact of plastic waste. The water bottles are made out of recycled cardboard, with a thin plastic lining layer that protects the cardboard from getting affected by the water.

Leaf Plates

If you’re in the business of tableware or serving food, online or offline, biodegradable leaf plates are one of the best alternatives that can provide you with toxin-free and durable materials, which are also great for your brand image. Palm plates have no plastic synthetics in them at all; since they are completely natural, they have no negative impact on the environment. This kind of packaging can be used in various packaging strategies while still being quite cost-effective.

Fabric Bags

Plastic bags are so ingrained in the packaging of products that it’s hard to expect to remove it from the industry easily. These plastic bags take up a lot of sizes and they end up mass-polluting landfills and marine areas, in addition to being immune to decomposition, so they can be harmful to animals as well. Organic fabrics like hemp and cotton can be recycled multiple times, in addition to other popular fabrics like palm leaves and tapioca. Even if these fabrics are thrown in an area they should not be thrown in, they’ll decompose in about 3 months, unlike conventional plastics that will take thousands of years. Shipping your products in fabric bags will also help your online brand because it will allow you to get as creative as you’d like with the bags.

Planting Packages

This is one of the most innovative ideas that were introduced to the packaging industry a few years ago. Plantable packages can be planted after they serve their users. This means that you can send items in creative packages that contain seeds in them, so once they’re planted in fertile ground, plants of your choice will start growing. This is a creative marketing strategy that gives your brand a green outlook, in addition to useful and cheap eco-friendly packaging materials for small to medium items. The bigger your brand grows, the more trees or plants will be planted, which will be credited to your environmentally sustainable methods of packaging.

Order Product Samples

If you’re planning to switch to eco-friendly packaging materials, it’s best not to rush into choosing the materials. Most packaging companies can provide you with samples to help you decide on a favorite method or material. You should also take into consideration your online target audience, which can help you determine a material that will resonate well with them. Take the time to evaluate the products and think about it from the customer’s perspective to truly assess the quality and style of your packaging.

You don’t have to be a mathematical whiz to guess that the packaging used in all these phases can pile up to a dangerous extent. From bubble wrap and Styrofoam to classic cardboard boxes, all these materials end up in the closest trash. Using eco-friendly packaging alternatives today may seem like a choice or luxury, but at some point in the future, switching over will be done in a more negative context, so try to stay ahead of the curve.