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Sustainable Packaging Alternatives

With consumer trends moving towards choosing eco-friendly products when shopping, it’s crucial that businesses embrace the trend. Gaining in popularity is the “cradle to cradle” concept, where the impact of a product – from sourcing through to end disposal – is carefully taken into account at each and every stage in the process. 

One of the biggest contributors to a business’ carbon and environmental footprint, and one of the largest costs, is packaging materials. To reach a consumer, the raw materials need to be shipped to the manufacturer. Then the product is shipped to the retailer, and finally sold to the consumer. This entire process uses significant quantities of often expensive packaging materials. Luckily, business looking to become more sustainable and save on material costs have many options to choose from, some of which we will detail below.


    Traditional packing peanuts are made from Styrofoam, or expanded polystyrene foam (EPS). It is a standard material for void-fill packaging. It isn’t biodegradable and isn’t cost-effective to recycle, and often ends up in waterways where it harms marine life. 3 US states (Maine, Maryland, and Vermont) have a current ban and 3 others (Colorado, New York, and Virginia) have legislated the ban to go into effect over the next few years. At least a dozen other states don’t currently have a statewide ban, but have passed legislation in at least one county or major city.

    If you like your packing peanuts, but are looking for an alternative, biodegradable air peanuts are much less polluting and cheaper as well.

    Air pillows are small bags which are inflated to provide cushioning and void-fill to your boxes. Because they are largely air, much less material is used, which is both better for the environment and your bank account. They can be reused and recycled, and the ones that are made of 100% recyclable material are extremely biodegradable.

    Several options exist for plant-based packaging, some better than others. Cornstarch-based packaging is organic, made from the corn plant, and is being used to replace traditional oil-based plastic packaging. It has plastic-like properties and can be used to make molded forms easily. A negative about this particular form of packaging is that since it is made from a plant that both humans and animals eat, the competition to the food supply causes increased pricing.

    Mycelium is another organic type packaging, a matrix of mushroom roots holding together cleaned and ground agricultural waste. The raw material can be shaped as desired, and when dried, provides packaging material that avoids using petroleum and food sources, and biodegrades so quickly it can be composted at home.

    Agar, a gelatinous substance found in some seaweeds and algae has found great application, especially in the food industry where it’s used as a vegetarian alternative to gelatin. In 2016, AMAM won the Lexus Design Award for emerging designers with their seaweed-based prototype packaging. It is a sustainable and plentiful raw material that’s poised to be the next big thing in eco-friendly packaging alternatives.

    Plastic bags are widely used and have been around for decades, and their impact on the environment has never been greater. The eco-friendly alternative is reusable bags made from organic fabrics such as hemp, jute, palm leaves, and organic or recycled cotton, along with many more. Even when disposed of, these materials can biodegrade in about 100 days, as opposed to the 10,000 years it takes for a plastic bag.

    Cardboard boxes are the industry standard for shipping items. While they are organic and highly recyclable, they can have a really negative effect on the environment if not sourced sustainably. It’s always best to use recycled cardboard when possible.

    A great way to reutilize your used cardboard is to transform it into shock-absorbent, protective void-fill for your shipping needs. Not only does it provide a way to sustainably recycle your used cardboard, it will save you money by alleviating the need to buy void-fill packing. An investment in a machine like the HSM ProfiPack Cardboard Converter would be a great addition to any business – small or large. Also known as a cardboard converter, the ProfiPack cardboard shredder does exactly that – converts your used cardboard into a perforated layer of void-fill material. No need to continue buying bubble wrap or packing peanuts when you can use your waste cardboard to make your own sustainable packaging.

Plastics are on the way out, take the opportunity now to switch and make your business eco-friendly. Whatever method you choose, it’s easy to see that sustainable packaging is the future of business.


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