When manufacturing new products, new packaging must be created as well. As products swiftly evolve, package design must keep pace, placing a limit on the time allowed for ingenuity. Packaging, especially for electronic products, can be a challenge for industries looking to increase their eco-friendliness and reduce their carbon footprint. Efforts to increase sustainability can help companies gain a stronger foothold in their market and more easily adhere to government regulations by catering to the earth-friendly desires of their own consumer market.
When delicate and sensitive products are at stake, creating sustainable packaging while maintaining a budget and strong market performance can be difficult in a quickly changing market. And many of the packaging materials most commonly used to create such packaging materials are toxic plastics such as polystyrene, which currently contributes up to 30% of the material in our landfills. Fortunately, alternative packaging is beginning to make its way into the common market.
Sustainable Packaging Methods
Sustainable packaging trends are on the rise as businesses find new and innovative ways to cater to new trends focused on environmentally-friendly company practices. These trends include limiting and downsizing current packaging, lowering the weight of packaging, increasing package recycling, recovering waste during packaging, reusing recycled content, seeking out and harvesting renewable sources of materials, and improving the design and logistics of packaging. Many new sources of packaging are being investigated, including glass, metal, paper, and various organic materials.
One surprising alternative to conventional packaging materials comes in the form of agricultural waste, aka Mushroom Packaging. This alternative is natural and can be designed to fit each specific product. The materials can be conformed to any shape, which allows them to compete with the less desirable polystyrene packaging. Mushroom Packaging is attractive, price-competitive, environmentally-friendly, resilient, compostable, non-abrasive, and USA-made. Mushroom Packaging has already found use in the packaging of industrial equipment, furniture, ceramics, glassware, automotive components, wine, and electronics (for example, Dell uses Myco Foam packaging for its servers), among others.
Molded pulp has been greatly successful in packaging electronics, and is most typically made out of old paper and newsprint. With a competitive price, 100% recyclable material, and customizable packaging solutions, this renewable resource is incredibly consumer friendly. This eco-friendly alternative also requires little space for shipping and storing. Molded pulp is exceptionally well received as it is both made from recycled materials and also can be recycled itself at the end of its application as a packaging product.
Corn is a common ingredient in many of our foods, and now it appears that corn has made its way into the product packaging market. Green Cell Foam is a biodegradable packaging product made from cornstarch. This product requires 70% less energy than petroleum based foams, is water soluble, and can even be composted. It's composed of cornstarch that is guaranteed to be GMO-free and made in the United States. Green Cell Foam is customizable and strong, and can be used to package computers, gaming consoles, windshields, video cameras, temperature-sensitive pharmaceuticals, aircraft parts, and many more products.
As businesses seek out more sustainable packaging methods, many best practices and solid solutions have begun to make their mark during such endeavors. Many sustainable packaging efforts take stock in the following trends:
- Shipping in bundles – Shipping products together can help cut down on packaging and also save money on shipping costs. Wherever possible, pieces are packaged together to get more for a comparable price.
- Seeking simplicity – the more complex and ornate the packaging, the more effort must go into its production. Ornate packaging is also at more risk of damage during product shipping. Avoiding over-engineering can be achieved by beginning the design with the right questions in mind, such as just how complex does the packaging need to be to serve its purpose, and how much product protection is truly necessary?
- Decreasing bulk – there are many ways to reduce packaging without compromising the integrity of the packaging. Efficiency is an important part of decreasing bulk. Care should be taken to decrease unnecessary space, remove extra material that is not useful for product protection, and replace weighty materials with lighter options.
Big businesses & the Sustainable Packaging Coalition
Any initiative does well with a coalition to support its efforts. The Sustainable Packaging Coalition (SPC) is a nonprofit dedicated to supporting the creation of sustainable packaging through the use of renewable materials. The SPC endeavors to support the creation and use of packaging that is responsibly sourced, has both high performance and low cost, is safe throughout its lifecycle, is created with renewable energy, and can be recycled after use. The SPC is a platform for collaboration between manufacturers and is a place where guidelines, innovations, education, resources, and best practices can be created and shared.
The SPC has over 150 members, including: 3M, McDonald's, The US Postal Service, Johnson & Johnson, Staples, Coca Cola, and Dell, to name a few.
- 3M offers their own Sustainable Packaging Award that acknowledges customers using 3M's sustainable packaging tapes and equipment.
- McDonald's uses 100 percent sustainably sourced molded pulp packaging for all centrally purchased packaging in their Europe stores. This includes their cups, bags, napkins, tray liners, and more.
- USPS packaging is recyclable and eco-friendly, meeting Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) or Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification standards.
- Johnson & Johnson optimizes the amount of packaging material they use, and they manufacture their packaging with materials that contain up to 25% post-consumer recycled content.
- Staples has introduced Smart Packaging, endeavoring to reduce unnecessary space in their packaging products. This has resulted in a reduction of more than 15 percent in corrugate packaging, around 60 percent in air bags, and 20 percent in their break-pack cubes.
- Coca Cola has lowered the weight of their plastic bottles by more than 25 percent, reduced the weight of their aluminum cans by 30 percent, and lightened their glass bottles by more than 50 percent.
- Dell has found favor in innovative packaging materials such as bamboo and mushroom cushions. They have reduced their box sizes, and have refined their transportation network to get packages to their destinations faster.
Creating sustainable packaging has gained increased focus as global concerns hit the forefront of the consumer's mind. And the race is on as business owners seek out environmentally friendly, recyclable, and sustainable packaging that is cost-effective, economic, customizable, and quick to produce. Fortunately there are many innovative and new products hitting the market that can help global suppliers create eco-friendly packaging for a better future.