6 Sustainable Packaging Materials Your Business Needs to be Using

Krista Greenaway

Krista Greenaway

Handmade Paper Rolls On The Shelf sustainable packaging
photo credit: Brett Sayles / pexels

Sustainable packaging materials, they’re essential. Packaging should be the first process businesses look at when streamlining sustainability within the supply chain.

It’s incredibly easy to implement, and with more and more suppliers offering sustainable packaging options it’s hard to believe that there are brands out there that aren’t making eco-friendly packaging adjustments to their supply chains.

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Why use sustainable packaging materials?

Many businesses don’t have the luxury of insight into their packaging process. But really, they should. For e-commerce businesses, every product you sell has to be shipped in some form of packaging. With an estimated 12 million – 24 million eCommerce sites across the entire globe, the volume of packaging to accommodate these sites is something we desperately need to be conscious of.

Here are 6 sustainable packaging materials your business needs to be using to streamline sustainability and win over consumers.

white recyclable box with the words Boxed Water Is Better written on a green plant background
photo credit: Boxed Water Is Better / Unsplash

1. Recycled cardboard and paper instead of the standard 

Before we get onto the exciting stuff, let’s start with given: recycled cardboard and paper. Not much explanation is needed here. Switching out your usual cardboard and paper packaging for recycled cardboard and paper means you’re not exhausting virgin materials from our rainforest. Instead, you are reusing what we have made previously. Not only that, but, if you can use it as an alternative to plastic, it will always be the better choice. 

Cardboard and paper use has drastic impacts on the environment. It’s estimated that around 165 billion packages are shipped in the U.S. each year. The cardboard used for these parcels would equate to more than 1 billion trees. That’s statistics for just 1 years worth of packaging. 1 country out of 195, and 1 portion of the total eCommerce shipping volumes.

If we continue to ignore even this simple effort, we unnecessarily destroy the world around us. Paper and cardboard are the easiest on this list to recycle and source. So if you are to make any effort at all, start here. 

ONE TRIBE ADVICE: Keep an eye out for materials marked as FSC-certified. They are sourced from sustainably managed forests meaning you can identify which materials are guaranteed 100% eco-friendly.

Cardboard box filled with strips of recycled material and a cardboard sign that says thank you.
photo credit: Monstera / pexeles

2. Biodegradable packing peanuts to replace styrofoam made

We are all familiar with packing peanuts, and I think it’s fair to say we have all, at some point, been incredibly irritated by them. The fluttery styrofoam flakes are actually detrimental to our environment. 

EPS (expanded polystyrene foam) or styrofoam material is not biodegradable or recyclable. When it enters our landfills, it piles up there for years on end.

However, it doesn’t just sit as one giant styrofoam mountain. Instead, it slowly chips away and enters our waterways. Polluting our oceans and enticing marine life to consume the toxic plastic for dinner.

The issue has been so detrimental over the years that New York City recently declared a ban on styrofoam containers and packaging. The movement has spurred the production of biodegradable packing peanuts as a solution.

The peanuts can protect goods in the same way as their styrofoam counterparts, without the devastating environmental impact. You can readily buy biodegradable packing peanuts online, from nearly any packaging retailer. Or simply ask your packaging suppliers about the eco-friendly options they have available.  

photo credit: Karolina Grabowska / pexels

3. Corrugated bubble wrap to replace plastic bubble wrap

Since bubble wrap is made from plastic it is not an eco-friendly material. So it’s problematic to have no alternative to plastic bubble wrap, our primary source of protective packaging for fragile items.

However, like biodegradable packing peanuts, modern developments are being made to recreate sustainable variants of traditional packaging. The result here is corrugated bubble wrap.

Corrugated bubble wrap is made from up-cycled corrugated cardboard. Rather than disposing or recycling cardboard waste, it is recycled to form a durable cushioning material. Similar to the texture of bubble wrap, small grids are cut into the material to produce the same cushioning effect which protects against shock.

It’s a great option for heavy-duty eCommerce products and using it reduces landfill waste, air pollution, water pollution, greenhouse gas emissions and protects trees from being unnecessarily harvested.

biodegradable plastic bag filled with red apples
photo credit: John Cameron en Unsplash

4. Recyclable, biodegradable air pillows to replace plastic alternatives

You may have seen more companies using inflatable air pillows. The huge puffy balloons that look like the Michelin man used your parcel box as a wardrobe. Yes, they are inflated plastic, which we wouldn’t usually advocate on an eco-friendly list, but they are often made from a recyclable plastic material with new innovations being made to combat the issues surrounding plastic waste. 

The best option for air pillows on the market right now is Opus Bio Air Pillows. They are the first-ever packaging pillows that are both recyclable and biodegradable- something most plastics aren’t. Opus Bio Air Pillows are a great protective packaging option thanks to their durability and versatility. 

They come in a variety of sizes which means the right size is ideal for filling voids in boxes and providing cushioning. On top of that, they’re a lot less hassle than bubble wrap or packing peanuts, while still providing the same, if not better, level of protection.

Mushroom packaging
photo credit: Ecovative

5. Mushroom packaging as an alternative to cardboard and paper

It sounds strange, but this cheap, eco-friendly packaging material is a perfect solution to both agricultural waste and unsustainable packaging materials. The cardboard-esque material is made from ground mushrooms fused together with mushroom roots, otherwise known as mycelium. Once manufactured and dried, the packaging can be molded into pretty much any shape desired. 

Mushroom packaging, despite its weird and unusual concept, is one that all businesses should consider using in their packaging process. Not only does this material cease food waste, but it’s also rapidly biodegradable, non-toxic, low energy consumption, low co2 emitting, and compostable from home.

With 88% of consumers asking for businesses to help them make a difference, it looks like an easy solution that benefits both you and your consumers.

Evoware's innovative seaweed-based products
photo credit: Evoware

6. Seaweed packaging to replace all non-environmental packing material

Seaweed packaging is made from a gelatinous substance called agar, also referred to as agar-agar (which surprisingly can also be used to make vegan-friendly gelatinous foods like jelly).

It’s a strange concept to get our heads around. How does a wet, gooey substance transform into a useful packaging product? Through innovative sustainable genius. Seaweed packaging can be made to form plastic-like packaging, cardboard-like packaging and can even be shaped to make products like mini capsules

Notpla is an ethical brand that makes a range of biodegradable seaweed packaging with their first product being the “edible water bubble”. An incredible feat of engineering has led them to work with the likes of Lucozade to produce edible sports gels, edible sauce sachets, and edible cocktail bubbles.

The benefit of all this is that if you don’t feel adventurous enough to eat the unique packaging, the sachet is easily biodegradable meaning you can chuck it into your food waste like all other edible things!

Sustainable packaging materials are more than just packaging

Sure, we can safely admit that packaging hasn’t been a priority for most businesses. But our blasé attitude toward packaging in the past has resulted in extreme pile-ups in landfill sites we might never be able to overcome if we don’t start looking into greener alternatives.

With rising demands from consumers to businesses to start using sustainable packaging materials, it’s an effort that won’t go unmissed. Smart business owners know that although trends have lifespans, their popularity results in a demand that tests time. 

Speak to your packaging providers, supply chain managers, or even source sustainable packaging materials yourself via online retailers. One Tribe’s mission is to provide guidance on exactly how to overcome deforestation and other deadly environmental practices.

Our checklist is a great tool to help you keep on track with your efforts. Download the free guide here.

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