How to improve the sustainability of your packaging

March 24, 2023

As a small brand owner it’s unlikely you will have the finances in place to do a full Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) on your packaging - they can cost anything from thousands to millions! Eco-packaging suppliers will offer all sorts of solutions, from fully recyclable mono-material pouches, to Kraft paper bags lined with bioplastics to organic latex-lined paper bottles. 

With so many options available, purchasing your new packaging can get confusing. What factors should you be considering when deciding on your new sustainable packaging solution?

Material Structure

Common choices to improve the aesthetics of packaging include using aluminium foil for an excellent background for printing and Kraft paper for that ‘natural’ look. There are however more sustainable alternatives such as a Kraft effect lacquers to give a ‘paper’ feel and metalised polymers such as VM-PET which improves the overall resource efficiency of your packaging. 

Problems can arise if you opt for packaging with a poor barrier simply for its perceived eco-credentials - you could be risking reducing the shelf life of your products, or even complete spoilage before it reaches the intended destination.  Despite the furore surrounding single-use plastics, the introduction of flexible plastic packaging has actually significantly cut unnecessary food wastage, a seriously unsustainable practise!

Natural Resources 

It may seem straightforward to demonise plastic materials as bad for the environment because they require fossil fuels to produce virgin materials, but in reality, plastic films are actually produced from a by-product of the oil production process, which would otherwise be wasted.

Additionally, according to the British Plastics Federation (BPF), to replace all the plastic bags being used in the European Union with paper ones in one year, you would need to cut down an additional 2.2 million trees which would prevent 2,188 metric tonnes of carbon being absorbed by the trees. 

Packaging Weight

The weight of your packaging can directly impact the amount of energy required to transport your products around the country. Glass bottles, plastic pots and tubs may look like they are more functional, but they aren’t always necessary to protect your products. A great example of cutting packaging weight is to switch from glass bottles to spout pouches. This is a particularly effective solution for companies selling online cocktail subscriptions and has the added benefit of reducing your postage costs!

End of Life

It is essential to try and understand where your packaging will end up after disposal. Packaging industry stakeholders have been working hard to improve the recyclability profile of flexible packaging, increase infrastructure for collection and sorting of plastics, and improve the end of life value for flexible packaging recyclers.

If you have decided on a packaging solution just because it looks sustainable (green washing alert!), it is important to consider the likelihood of this packaging actually ever being composted or recycled. 

A good example of devaluing the end of life uses of flexible packaging includes mixing a layer of paper with a thin layer of plastic. Not only does this potentially make the packaging unusable in the paper waste stream, but it can even contaminate the plastic waste stream!

Best practice guidelines on sustainable packaging design are available from CELFEX (see D4ACE) and the BPF (see PackScore). 

“I want to start the conversations that help to dispel the myths around sustainability”

– Elliot Hyams