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Being a sustainable business is a trending topic in 2022, which means sustainable packaging is on the agenda too.

Research completed by Lloyds Bank in 2020, which discovered that ‘almost two thirds (64%) of small and medium-sized businesses want to improve their environmental sustainability! Unsurprisingly, this goes hand in hand with the rise in eco-conscious consumers. Our 2021 unboxing survey found that 19% of consumers would not continue to buy from a retailer that didn’t use sustainable packaging!

So, as it’s World Environmental Day, we thought it was a good time to talk about why sustainable packaging is important for small businesses as well as larger organisations! In this edition of our Packaging 101 guide, we’ll cover the basics of sustainable packaging and some examples of eco-friendly packaging products. Then we’ll look at some changes you can make to become a more sustainable small business.

A sustainable small business must choose sustainable packaging

What is sustainable packaging?

Wikipedia states that “sustainable packaging is the development and use of packaging which results in improved sustainability. This involves increased use of life cycle inventory and life cycle assessment to help guide the use of packaging which reduces the environmental impact and ecological footprint.

This translates to making conscious decisions about your packaging to reduce its impact on the environment! Packaging’s main role will always be to protect products in transport but today it must be designed to be used and disposed of as sustainably as possible.

Your packaging materials are a good place to start – are they recyclable? Do they contain recycled content? These can be straightforward questions to answer. But have you ever thought about if your packaging is too big or not providing the right level of protection?

For example, if your packaging is too big and heavy it will take more fuel to transport it. The result? Increased carbon emissions. Likewise, if your ‘protective’ packaging is failing to prevent damages, you’ll have to process returns and replace goods. This can double or triple the carbon cost of a transaction.

A sustainable small business has a wide range of choices

Examples of eco-friendly packaging to explore

Often, the packaging materials you choose will depend on your product, the protection you require, and your sustainability goals.

Paper-based packaging products are a frequent eco-friendly packaging choice. This includes cardboard boxes, paper cushioning, paper wrapping and even paper tape. Paper is recyclable at kerbside, from a renewable resource and often contains recycled content.

However, paper might not be the right application for your product. It can often be quite heavy and is no use for palletising goods for shipping.  But if you are shipping palletised goods, you will need stretch wrap. In which case, helpfully, there are many recycled content packaging options available. Many plastic packaging products now contain at least 30% recycled content following the introduction of the Plastic Packaging Tax.

You could also consider “alternative” sustainable packaging materials, such as bio packing peanuts made from starch and even air pillows that are made from plant-based by-products.

The options really are endless! If you’re unsure what to go for, it’s worth seeing if the packaging you use has clear labelling that indicates if a material is recyclable. A great example of this is the OPRL (On-Pack Recycling Label) scheme.  You can also consult Recycle Now, to see where and how certain packaging materials can be recycled.

To see a wide range of sustainable packaging options, click here to download our sustainable packaging specialogue.

Why sustainable packaging is important for small businesses

One of the key reasons to invest in being a sustainable small business is, of course, reducing your impact on the environment. However, there are some business-centric benefits to choosing eco-friendly packaging too!

With eco-conscious consumers on the rise, it makes sense that we listen to them. Using sustainable packaging can help boost revenue and add to the customer experience. We like to say that packaging has a 100% open rate! The people receiving your deliveries are already interested in you as a brand as they have purchased from you, and of course, they’re going to open it to get the item. So, what your packaging says, matters!

Plus, if you optimise your packaging so its lighter and uses less material, you can save on transport and storage, which can positively impact your bottom line and reduce your emissions.

A sustainable small business uses clear labelling

Simple changes to make your packaging more sustainable

We have covered what the benefits are and why you should do it, but where to start with sustainable packaging! We want to focus on simple swaps and thing any sustainable small business should be aware of!

  • Make sure you don’t use excess packaging – this can be wasteful and increases your pack weight, driving up your carbon footprint. Review your pacing process and implement guidelines that stipulate how much to packaging you use. Longer term you could look at smaller packaging automation options than can help you control usage. Click here to learn more.
  • Consider sustainable packaging swaps – there are some simple swaps you can make for an instant sustainability win. One example is switching plastic packing tape for paper packing tape. You’re instantly removing plastic from your supply chain and paper tape doesn’t need to be removed from boxes for recycling – win, win!
  • Use clear labelling on your packaging – 14% of respondents in our 2021 unboxing survey stated they were unsure how to dispose of their packaging as there were no clear recycling instructions.


If you want help making your packaging more sustainable, ask us how we can help. Don’t forget we have any other great articles in the Packaging 101 series that can guide you through your packaging journey. Click here to see the rest of the series.

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