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How to Design Sustainable Product Packaging and Save Money

How to Design Sustainable Product Packaging and Save Money

Sustainable product packaging is quickly becoming one of the most important - and most challenging - aspects of the food and beverage industry. Consumers are placing more and more importance on the sustainability of the products they purchase. To be successful, businesses need to get ahead of this trend and develop plans for sustainable packaging.


What Is Sustainable Packaging? 

The Sustainable Packaging Coalition defines sustainable packaging as packaging that:

  1. is beneficial, safe & healthy for individuals and communities throughout its life cycle
  2. meets market criteria for performance and cost
  3. is sourced, manufactured, transported, and recycled using renewable energy
  4. optimizes the use of renewable or recycled source materials
  5. is manufactured using clean production technologies and best practices
  6. is made from materials healthy throughout the life cycle
  7. is physically designed to optimize materials and energy
  8. is effectively recovered and utilized in biological and/or industrial closed loop cycles.


The Sustainable Packaging Coalition also provides eight metric frameworks to assess how much any given package fulfills this definition. These requirements are extensive and make sustainable packaging design seem difficult. However, succeeding in just a few of these sustainability requirements can drastically improve the sustainability of your product packaging. Focusing on scoring well in select metrics is a more feasible approach to sustainable packaging design.



Why Adopt Sustainable Product Packaging?


Save Money

Eco-Friendly packaging is a powerful way for small food and beverage businesses to save money. Using locally sourced materials and smaller volumes of packaging material cuts back on shipping distances and shipment weights, which drastically decreases money spent on material transportation.

"Transportation is tied so closely to energy that, when you manage logistics well, you also manage costs well" stresses Anne Johnson, director of the Sustainable Packaging Coalition. The tie between sustainability and transportation is undeniable, and recognizing it can drastically impact your expenses. In addition, recycled materials often cost much less than their new counterparts.


Grow Your Business

Using sustainable product packaging will also help you maintain and expand your customer base. There is an ever-growing demand by consumers for environmentally friendly products. Meeting this demand with sustainable packaging is a simple way to maintain existing consumer support.

Also, new customers will more likely to chose your eco-friendly product over a less sustainable option. Eighty-four  percent of consumers globally say they seek out responsible products whenever possible, a 2015 Cone Communications/Ebiquity Global CSR Study found. 



More generally, as many as 77% say they take sustainability into consideration when shopping at the supermarket. With that in mind, sustainable packaging design will draw new customers to your product and drive up your sales.


How to Create a Sustainable Product Packaging Design

The definition of sustainable packaging is broad, so there are multiple avenues to making your product packaging sustainable. Here are some of the basics:


Pick a Life Cycle Tool

Different systems exist for evaluating the sustainability of your materials; pick one, and stick with it. The SPC produces COMPASS® (Comparative Packaging Assessment) online design software, which provides guidance on environmental standards. EarthSmart produces PackageSmart LCA Software, which helps designers visualize environmental impact of packaging designs. 


Know Where Your Packaging Materials Come From

Using locally produced materials saves money on shipping and storage. In 2009, Dell, who manufactures products in China, began using bamboo packing materials. The bamboo is sourced from forests in China local to the manufacturing plants. This move saves Dell money in transporting and storing bamboo packing materials.  


Design For Reusability

Companies like KFC, Pizza Hut, and Coca-Cola all create packaging that consumers can upcycle or recycle. In 2010, Puma introduced the Clever Little Bag campaign, which replaced all Puma shoe boxes with reusable bags made from recycled materials. The switch from boxes to reusable bags reduced Puma’s cardboard use by 65 percent and completely eliminated the need for tissue paper. The bags require less energy to produce and transport, and have saved Puma millions in production expenses.  



Consider Using Post-Consumer or Alternative Materials

Post consumer plastics are inexpensive, sustainably produced, and recyclable. Or, many traditional packaging materials are manufactured in sustainable alternatives. You can switch your traditional material for an eco-friendly version. There are multiple sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based plastic:


    • Polylactic acid (PLA) packaging is biodegradable, non-toxic, and made from plants. PLA packaging is usually thin and weak, and best used as a wrapper or outer layer. Although PLA warps in heat or humidity, companies like Plastic Ingenuity are developing more durable versions that can withstand temperatures above 110 degrees Fahrenheit.
    • Bioplastics are plastics that are partially composed of renewable feedstocks like corn, potatoes, rice, and wheat fiber. Bioplastics are stronger and more durable than PLA packaging, and can be used to produce containers and bottles. Unlike PLA, bioplastics are not always biodegradable.
    • Polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA) polyesters are biodegradable plastics produced by bacterial fermentation. PHA plastics act almost identically to petroleum based plastics, although they are slightly more brittle.
    • Milk protein plastics are made from casein, a protein found in milk. This plastic is a thin film best suited for tight packaging and keeping oxygen away from food products.


If you want to make your cardboard packaging more sustainable, there are also various options:


    • Post consumer recycled fibers create corrugated cardboard that is just as strong and durable as pre-consumer cardboard.
    • Bamboo packaging is bamboo based, biodegradable, and certified compostable. Bamboo product packaging is as strong as cardboard, and is slightly more water resistant. It can be used for boxes or as a protective casing around fragile products.
    • ProGreen® is a recyclable alternative for wax-coated produce cartons. It is water resistant, durable, and completely repulpable.
    • Notbox is a reusable, lightweight, and durable cardboard box alternative. Notboxes can each be used for up to three years, and can withstand 35 kilograms of compression.


Pick just a few of these avenues to focus on, and you will soon reap the benefits of sustainable product packaging. The earth will thank you - and so will your sales!

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Molly Brogie

Molly Brogie is a Content Marketing Journalist at Repsly with a passion for innovation. She is committed to providing readers with informative and engaging material. Molly is a self proclaimed gym-junkie, and loves Shakespeare.

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