Sustainable Packaging Design: How to Keep the Awesome Packaging Aesthetic You Desire While Prioritizing Sustainability

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Sustainable Packaging
Sustainable Packaging

Every time we receive a new order we get excited. Something we ordered weeks ago (or a few days ago if you have express shipping) and it’s finally here… it’s a top tier feeling. Likewise, there are brands and businesses who care a lot about how they present their products to their audience, even when thinking of deliveries and orders. Sustainable packaging design can help take these efforts further.

Much of the effort for packaging products is based on aesthetics. We appreciate a great aesthetic, but we also care for the planet. Once people unbox their packages, they throw it away almost immediately (except for those of us that may reuse materials). What does it look like to include packaging as another part of the life cycle of your products?

Types of Sustainable Packaging Design for Your Brand

Viewing something as “trash” doesn’t mean we need to let the materials go to waste. Instead of having landfills crowded with leftovers from the gifts we order for ourselves and others, we can still be mindful of the environment.

You choose your packaging based on a few factors: product shape/ weight, atmosphere conditions needed to transport the product, your end user, the transportation options, your branding, the experience you want your customers to have when opening your product. Let’s go over different eco-friendly packaging types you can experiment with to keep the awesome aesthetic you desire while also prioritizing sustainability.

Compostable mailers

Mailers that are typically designed from a combination of PLA (plant materials such as field corn and wheat straw) and PBAT, a bio-based polymer. The virgin material breakdowns in industrial and home bins. Some poly mailers use polymer-based adhesives and ink that can cause contamination to soil if not composted properly (unless using sustainable alternatives).

Recycled mailers

This mailer can be a recycled paper mailer or a recycled poly mailer. The first is a renewable source material, while the latter generally reuses already existing, non-renewable source material. Paper mailers are currently simpler for consumers to recycle since the paper mails can go with their average recyclables.

Corrugated packaging

This packaging is boxes that are often made from trees, and is renewable and recyclable. For these boxes, there is a wavy/zig-zag-like fold of board between two flat boards. The folded design of the boxes can help lower freight and handling costs. It also means less fuel and lower emissions since not as many vehicles are needed to transport corrugated packaging.

Glassine

This translucent paper wrap that is water and grease resistant is made from wood pulp. More than a wrap, it is often designed as a pocket or protector for items like paper crafts or trinkets. It is recyclable and biodegradable. Glassine is also pH neutral and acid-free.

Cellulose packaging

This can be plastic that is made from hemp, wood, and cotton. It is considered to be a very flexible resource, since it is renewable, recyclable, biodegradable, and compostable. The bioplastic can be used for thermoplastics, extruded films, eyeglass frames, electronics, sheets, rods, or other molding needs.

Cornstarch packaging

Simply made from cornstarch, this renewable packaging material can turn into sustainable packing peanuts, bubble wrap, styrofoam, or plastic. It’s also good to mention that this biodegradable packaging material can be manufactured as transparent or opaque material.

Mushroom packaging

Mushroom packaging uses the roots of mushrooms called mycelium. It can be used in place of styrofoam. Other highlights of this packaging material is that it is considered lightweight, strong, and cheap to produce.  (bonus: Mushroom Packaging is also the name of a company we covered in our post about 25 sustainable material alternatives)

Kraft paper

This packaging material is made from wood pulp; and can come from a variety of sources like the often-left-out resinous pine. Kraft paper is typically designed as a box or pocket. It is recyclable and biodegradable.

Green Cell Foam

This corn-based material can be used in place of styrofoam. This is actually a company using US-grown corn to make this packaging material that is compostable in backyard and industrial facilities. The material is safe enough to compost at home in the sink since it can be dissolved as well.

Acid-free paper

Like most paper, this packaging material is made from wood pulp. Unlike most paper, the wastewater and byproducts in the manufacturing of this paper can be recycled. The term “acid-free” refers to the paper being alkaline at a pH of 7.0 or higher. The paper is free of lignin and sulfur.

Rice paper tape (Washi)

Japanese Washi Tape, also called rice paper tape, is a type of masking tape. The colorful, decorative tape is an acrylate adhesive that is also moisture-resistant. This material can be used as part of packaging that may add to how products are wrapped or assembled inside a package.

Cassava Starch Packaging

This material is made from the root of the cassava plant. It is a biodegradable material that can replace the use of plastic. Currently, this version of bioplastic may not be as common as cornstarch-based materials, but it is worth getting familiar with as an alternative packaging material.

Soy ink

Soy ink comes from soybeans. This ink makes paper products easier to recycle. Using soy ink helps paper-based packaging materials become more sustainable compared to products that may use toxic dyes.

Algae ink

Algae ink comes from algae cells. Similar to soy ink, using algae ink helps paper-based packaging materials become more sustainable compared to products that may use toxic dyes.

Quick tips for Transitioning to Sustainable Packaging

One thing we don’t want is analysis paralysis with the amount of options we placed in this post. We’re giving you lots of information to research, so we’ll start you off with two quick tips for choosing materials and a brief list of companies before you go on your quest.

Tip #1: Check if paper products are Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified. It means that the material is sourced from a forest in an environmentally-friendly, socially-responsible, and economically viable manner.

Tip #2: Many package designs end up including decorative illustrations or patterns to stay in line with branding. We highly encourage opting for safe, non-toxic dyes like soy ink or algae ink to maximize your sustainability footprint.

Here is the brief list of businesses that specialize in sustainable packaging that you can connect with:

Ranpak

EcoEnclose

Hero Packaging

(You can also learn more about how Hero Packaging is creating connection in our ALL Ways blog series)

EcoPackables

Elevate Packaging

S-Packaging

Earthpack

Sustainable Packaging
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