We all know how frustrating it is to receive a package that can only be compared to that of a Russian doll – a small box inside a plastic bag, inside a bigger box, surrounded by wads of styrofoam. Especially when the item inside isn’t even fragile! These days, it’s pretty unforgivable for retailers to have excess packaging, and for good reason, really. In Ireland alone, packaging waste from online shopping rose by 25% in 2020. That’s the equivalent of 15 million standard sized parcels.
While eliminating excess packaging should be a high priority for retailers and brands, there’s also a lot to be said about switching to greener shipping materials. We’ve already created our directory of delivery and shipping methods to help merchants determine what options they should offer their customers. Now, we’re looking at what eco-friendly shipping materials are available, to help brands make smart swaps on their journey to become more sustainable.
Compostable Mailer Bags
What is it?: Compostable mailer bags are generally 100% compostable, both at home and commercially. Typically made from plant-materials, they break down in 6 months at home, and heavily reduce the need for plastic packaging. If they somehow find themselves in landfill (though not ideal), they still break down, unlike many traditional plastic mailers.
Use it instead of: Plastic Poly Mailer Bags
Biodegradable Packaging Peanuts
What is it?: Generally made from wheat and corn starch, biodegradable packaging peanuts can be added to a compost bin, and can be dissolved in water. They do tend to be slightly heavier than typical packaging peanuts, which can add to shipping costs, but will always be a better alternative. However – if you are using packaging peanuts to protect products in standard sized boxes, rather than optimising parcel sizes, your time and money would be better spent focusing on this.
Use it instead of: Traditional Packaging Peanuts
Corrugated Bubble Wrap
What is it?: Made of 100% recycled cardboard, corrugated bubble wrap is naturally biodegradable, and a great protective packaging for products in-transit. Again – it is only a greener option if your delivery boxes need some extra padding. If not, leave it out entirely.
Use it instead of: Plastic bubble wrap
Recycled Tissue Paper
What is it?: Using custom tissue paper is a great way to add your unique branding to packages, and makes the unboxing experience a pleasant one for customers. Recycled tissue paper is more eco-friendly than straight-up tissue paper for obvious reasons – it’s already been used, partially from post-consumer waste. It’s generally also naturally biodegradable and compostable.
Use it instead of: Virgin tissue paper
What is it?: The name gives it away – filled with air, these inflated cushions are used to offer protection to products in a shock-absorbent way. The pillows are made from a recyclable plastic material, and when the air is released from them, the material takes up minimum waste space.
Use it instead of: Packaging peanuts or bubble wrap
What is it?: Similar to cardboard in its composition, this packaging is made from ground mushrooms and mycelium, and can be moulded into a variety of shapes. As it’s renewable, has low CO2 emissions, is non-toxic and biodegrades in approximately 40 days, it’s becoming a more popular alternative to the traditional cardboard packaging that we’re all so used to seeing.
Use it instead of: Plastic and cardboard
What is it?: Though it’s probably not the first thing that springs to mind when thinking about shipping materials, you’d be surprised at the environmental impact of traditional ink – every year 9 billion pounds of ink is used worldwide, typically derived from non-renewable sources like petroleum and other fossil-fuels. Soy and algae based inks offer the same features as traditional ink in that they don’t fade, can be used to print on multiple boxes/shipping vessels, and degrades approximately four times faster.
Use it instead of: Standard ink
Compostable Adhesive Labels
What is it?: You may be using mailers that are compostable, which is fantastic – but if you’re adding a shipping label to them that isn’t also compostable – it means that the customer has to remove it from the package before it goes in the compost pile or bin. Compostable adhesive labels, made from thermal recycled paper or sugarcane remove the need for this extra step, while still remaining durable enough to hold up in the transport process.
Use it instead of: Shipping labels with adhesives that deem then non-recyclable/compostable
What is it?: There are lots of different plastic-free tapes on the market – water-activated tape, masking tape, paper packaging tape, the list goes on. Generally eco-friendly tape is made from bio-based materials and is solvent-free – often not needing to be removed from a packaging vessel before it is thrown in the recycle bin. Often times, recycling plants have to dispose of cardboard boxes that have too much tape as they can clog machinery, so paper or cellulose tape greatly decreases the risk of this.
Use it instead of: Plastic tape
As you can see, there are plenty of alternative shipping materials on the market, all designed to lower retailers’ carbon footprint and help them in their quest to become more sustainable. While it might not be possible to switch every shipping material that you are currently using, little steps can still make a huge difference in reducing waste. If you do make any switches, however – there are a few vital things to keep in mind:
Don’t forget to tell your customers! Using greener materials is only half of the story – the other half comes from human behaviour – in simple terms, having your customers know that they should put a delivery box into the compost bin rather than the recycle bin. Or that they can dissolve their packaging peanuts in water – an experiment for their kids! You get the idea – make it clear to customers that you’re trying to do your bit to become more sustainable, and educate them on how they now hold the baton.
If you have a sustainability or corporate responsibility page on your website, call out the changes that you continue to make to improve your shipping materials. Be open about your efforts and take your customers on your sustainability journey with you.
Michelle McSweeney Content Marketer