Eco-friendly packaging: Transitioning to sustainable materials for shipping

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With global consumers increasingly conscious of environmental impact, businesses are acknowledging the importance of sustainability across all aspects of their operations. Areas where sustainable practices are gaining momentum are shipping and packaging. Companies are turning to eco-friendly packaging solutions as they aim to reduce their carbon footprint and minimise environmental harm. In this guide, we will explore the impact of conventional packaging on the environment, the benefits of adopting environmentally friendly packaging for businesses in Sri Lanka, various types of sustainable packaging materials, and the steps to transition to eco-friendly packaging.

How does packaging affect the environment?

Packaging plays a significant role in the environmental challenges we face today. Excessive and often non-environmentally friendly packaging is a common sight in shipping. This type of packaging not only leads to waste production but also consumes valuable resources. The United Nations Environment Programme reports that approximately 36% of all plastics produced are used in packaging, making it the largest generator of single-use plastic waste worldwide.

Conventional packaging materials, such as tape, cardboard boxes, styrofoam padding, and bubble wrap, are often made of plastics. Plastic production is energy-intensive and contributes significantly to the climate crisis. Moreover, when disposed of improperly, plastics take centuries to break down, causing harm to the environment, including soil contamination, groundwater pollution, and damage to marine life.

Benefits of using sustainable packaging for businesses

The shift toward sustainable packaging offers numerous advantages for businesses:

1. Regulatory compliance

Governments worldwide are introducing laws to reduce unsustainable packaging and promote eco-friendly practices. Embracing sustainable packaging now helps businesses stay compliant with future regulations.

2. Enhancing brand reputation

Incorporating eco-friendly packaging can be a competitive advantage for small businesses as it demonstrates a commitment to the environment, enhancing their brand image and attracting eco-conscious consumers. This not only fosters customer loyalty but potentially helps small businesses find an edge in their marketing efforts.

3. Ensuring customer satisfaction

Consumers increasingly seek packaging that is easy to dispose of responsibly and does not contribute to waste or environmental damage. Sustainable packaging meets this demand and aligns with consumer values.

Sustainable packaging solutions businesses can consider

There are several eco-friendly packaging options available for businesses:

Biodegradable packaging peanuts

Biodegradable air peanuts made from natural materials are a cheaper and more sustainable packaging alternative to styrofoam, providing effective cushioning against shocks during shipping.

Corrugated bubble wrap

Up-cycled corrugated cardboard can replace traditional plastic bubble wrap, offering similar protection without harming the environment.

Air pillows made of recycled materials

Inflatable air pillows, made from recycled and biodegradable materials, reduce bubble wrap or styrofoam usage and provide cushioning for items in transit. Offered in various dimensions, these pillows are perfect for occupying empty spaces within packages or cushioning items within them. 

Air pillows, being small bags that can be inflated, primarily comprise air, thereby reducing the amount of plastic required for their manufacturing and transportation in contrast to alternative cushioning materials. While they can be reused and recycled, it's crucial to opt for versions crafted from 100% recycled and biodegradable materials.

Recycled cardboard

Cardboard boxes, when sourced from post-consumer or post-industrial recycled materials, are biodegradable and can be recycled multiple times. Also, look for packaging materials that are certified to support sustainably managed forests.

Corn starch packaging

Corn starch, an organic substance, is produced from the corn or maize plant and exhibits similar characteristics to plastic. This renders it a viable and eco-friendly substitute for plastic across various applications, spanning from bottles to flexible film packaging. 

Nonetheless, because corn starch is sourced from corn grains, it vies with human and animal food production, which could potentially elevate the cost of corn. Consequently, despite its commendable packaging attributes, you may opt for alternative plastic replacements.

Biodegradable and recycled plastics

If your product necessitates the use of plastic packaging, you can still opt for environmentally friendly choices, such as 100% recycled or biodegradable options. However, it's essential to note that traditional plastic can only undergo a limited number of recycling cycles before ultimately reaching landfills. A more sustainable approach involves procuring biodegradable plastic materials that can be broken down by living microorganisms.

While certain bioplastics, like those derived from corn starch, sugar cane, and wheat, compete with human food supplies, there are also microbial polyesters known as polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs). PHAs are synthesised and stored by diverse microorganisms. The only drawback lies in the additional carbon required for these microorganisms to metabolise and produce these biodegradable polyesters. Nevertheless, promising, cost-effective, and sustainable options include utilising waste cooking oils and animal oils in this process.

Organic ecological textiles

Durable materials like organic hemp, recycled cotton, tapioca, and palm leaves can be used for packaging, reducing waste and decomposition time. Each of these materials is biodegradable, meaning they naturally break down relatively quickly. Practical applications include using organic cotton wool for padding, employing linen and poplin for protective wrap covers or bags, and utilising hemp tape for bundling products together.

Mushroom packaging

Mushroom packaging is, indeed, crafted from actual mushrooms. It involves a method that merges pre-treated agricultural waste with mushroom mycelium. This resulting material is shaped as needed, dried, and employed for packaging purposes. 

Importantly, since agricultural waste is unsuitable for human consumption, mushroom packaging sidesteps the dilemma associated with corn starch packaging. Moreover, it naturally decomposes at a rapid pace. However, it's worth noting that despite its suitability as an eco-friendly packaging solution, it's currently most practical for smaller items.

Seaweed packaging

Seaweed serves as an eco-friendly packaging option crafted from agar, a gel-like substance abundant in various seaweeds and algae. This agar is carefully extracted and dehydrated to create a suitable packaging material. Thanks to its sourcing from abundant and sustainable raw materials, seaweed-based packaging has the potential to emerge as a prominent trend in the realm of environmentally-conscious packaging solutions.

Edible films

Edible film represents an innovative and environmentally friendly packaging option, particularly suitable for food items, and is projected to capture a substantial global market, anticipated to reach $4.2 billion by 2028. This advancement holds the potential to effectively mitigate both food and packaging waste while reducing the leaching of chemicals from plastic materials.

Various natural ingredients can be harnessed to create edible packaging, but among them, chitosan stands out as the most efficient and widely adopted. Chitosan is derived from the chitin shells of crustaceans, constituting a readily available biopolymer. Consequently, edible packaging crafted from chitosan emerges as a significantly greener substitute for traditional plastics.

Steps for transitioning to eco-friendly packaging

To make the shift toward eco-friendly packaging:

  • Evaluate current packaging: Examine your products and the packaging employed for shipping each item. Evaluate opportunities to replace existing packaging with eco-friendly alternatives, and, notably, identify areas where you can minimise unnecessary packaging.
  • Selecting the right sustainable packaging materials: Choose sustainable materials that are suitable for your products and ensure they will be well-protected during transit. For example if the nature of your product requires you to use plastic packaging, opt for biodegradable and recycled plastics.
  • Find reliable suppliers: Do your research to find and collaborate with suppliers who share your commitment to sustainability.
  • Inform customers: Communicate the switch to eco-friendly packaging to your customers, highlighting your environmental responsibility.
  • Regularly review the sustainability of materials and make improvements: Continuously assess the impact of your green packaging efforts and seek ways to further streamline packaging as well as distribution processes.

Embrace sustainable shipping with DHL Express

To further reduce your environmental impact, consider partnering with a logistics provider dedicated to sustainabilityDHL Express Sri Lanka is committed to implementing sustainable shipping solutions, including electric vehicles and sustainable aviation fuels, to reduce carbon emissions and promote eco-friendly logistics. By working with DHL Express, you can showcase your commitment to sustainability, meet customer expectations, and your business can contribute to global sustainability goals.

Transitioning to sustainable packaging is a vital step for businesses in Sri Lanka to remain competitive and environmentally responsible. Open a business account with DHL Express today to explore more sustainable international shipping solutions such as GoGreen Plus for long-term business success. Together, we can create a more sustainable future.