9 Sustainable Packaging Materials for a Better Environment


9 Sustainable Packaging Materials for a Better Environment

As of 2021, the global population stands at 7.9 billion, while an astonishing 159 billion parcels were shipped worldwide during the same period.

The amount of materials used in product packaging and the resulting waste in landfills and oceans is alarming, posing a serious threat to our ecosystem.

These figures will only grow in the coming years, if not dealt with.

The only solution to combat the ongoing threat to the environment caused by packaging waste is to adopt sustainable packaging materials.

Sustainable Packaging: Need of the Hour

Businesses across the globe are now seeking and using sustainable packaging materials. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation reports that 300 international organisations have pledged to achieve 100% recyclable, reusable, or compostable packaging by 2025. 

As environmental concerns take centre stage, consumers are demanding sustainable products and packaging materials. Companies that want to stay competitive must respond to this growing trend.

This growing focus on sustainability is one of the most essential packaging trends.  It has led to an array of innovative eco-friendly packaging materials which offer alternatives to traditional packaging.

If you too are exploring eco-friendly packaging for your business, you can choose from among these nine most sustainable packaging materials.

9 Most Sustainable Packaging Materials

1. Compostable

A material that naturally and fully decomposes back into the earth without leaving any harmful residue is compostable. A compostable should be able to break down within 90 days in commercial composting conditions and within 180 days in home conditions.

Compostable packaging material is made by plant-based and recycled materials such as cardboard, paper, bamboo, potato starch, and bioplastics. A commonly used bioplastic in packaging is PLA (Polylactic acid). PLA is not only compostable but also edible.

The following should be considered while evaluating compostable packaging material for your business:

  • Compostable packaging materials are mainly used for food packaging

  • They need the right conditions to decompose. So consumers should be aware of home composting techniques or they need to dispose of it properly so it ends up in composting facilities and not in a landfill.

2. Biodegradable air peanuts

Biodegradable air peanuts are a sustainable and less expensive packaging alternative to Styrofoam which is now banned in many countries. These biodegradable air peanuts are used in packaging fragile and sensitive items by providing cushioning against shocks.

Biodegradable packaging material is like compostable in its ability to decompose and return to natural elements following disposal.

The difference is that while compostable material will decompose within a specific period by either composting at home or in a composting facility, biodegradables can take an undetermined time to break down as they are left to decompose in a landfill.

A biodegradable material will break down into mostly organic materials, but may also leave behind microplastics. Essentially, all compostable materials are biodegradable but all biodegradable materials may not be compostable.

3. Cornstarch packaging 

Sustainable packaging material made from cornstarch is emerging as a very popular eco-friendly alternative to traditional packaging like plastic.

Cornstarch is derived from the corn plant and has plastic-like properties making it suitable to be used as a packaging solution. Since corn is easily available, cheap, and easy to produce, cornstarch packaging is very viable and profitable to manufacture.

Cornstarch packaging is gaining traction in takeaway food companies, food packaging companies, paper, adhesives, and firework industries among many others. Cornstarch, which is biodegradable, can also be used to make packing peanuts.

One major concern of cornstarch packaging is that since corn is also consumed in large quantities by humans and animals; it may compete with the food supply. However, this does not weaken the potential of cornstarch packaging and it is one of the most sustainable packaging alternatives.

4. Mushroom

As the name suggests, mushroom packaging is made from a fungus found in the mushroom roots called Mycelium. The process involves cleaning and grounding of agricultural waste which is then fused by mycelium.

Mushroom packaging can be moulded into various shapes and used for protection packaging. Many businesses use it now in place of traditional plastic foams.

Durable, lightweight, and biodegradable are some of its other positives. However, it is used to package smaller items at the moment.

5. Seaweed

Another promising sustainable packaging material is made from seaweed and is an eco-friendly substitute for single-use plastic.

Seaweeds and algae contain a gelatinous substance called Agar which is extracted using a prototyped process. Agar then is dehydrated and frozen to produce a stiff material. The final process includes compression after which the material can be used for packaging.

Seaweed can be particularly used to package single-use items such as food consumables, condiments, sauces, and instant coffee powder. They can also be used to package soaps, straws, sanitary napkins, and toothpicks.

Seaweed packaging can be produced in a range of vibrant colours by utilising different species of seaweed. They are also edible and come in different flavours. Loliware, a company based in the US, has created a line of unique cups made entirely from edible seaweed. These cups come in a variety of delicious flavours, including vanilla, grapefruit, and cherry

Owing to the huge availability of its raw material and biodegradable nature, seaweed packaging has the potential to be a game changer. While seaweed packaging shows great promise, it currently comes with a high cost due to the need for manual processing and the fact that it is still in the early stages of scaling-up.

6. Corrugated

Corrugated is one of the most sustainable packaging materials and is created using a fluted corrugated sheet and one or two flat liner boards. It is made from old corrugated containers and can be recycled up to 25 times. Since it can be easily broken and reused entirely, waste is also minimised.

Corrugated is cost-effective, lightweight, and can be custom designed to securely package a product of any size. Freight and handling costs are also lesser when using a corrugated packaging material.

Another feature of corrugated is its multi-functionality. It can be used in various stages of a product’s journey such as in its packaging, shipping, displaying, and even storage.

Corrugated material can be used to custom package a wide variety of products regardless of their sizes and shapes. Food products, office supplies, stationery, textiles, electronic products, healthcare, and most eCommerce order fulfilment services use corrugated packaging. They are also used extensively by movers and packers for relocation services.

7. Recycled and Reusable

One of the most sustainable packaging materials is recycled and reused packaging materials. Recycling materials lead to the conservation of natural resources, decreases the energy required for production, and helps in closing the recycling loop.

Some of the popular recycled and reused packaging products include;

  •  Recycled cardboard and paper

  • Recycled plastic for packaging materials that need extra support

  • Air pillows made from recycled materials which are cost-effective and eco-friendly alternatives to bubble wrap or Styrofoam

To ensure these recycled packaging materials are as eco-friendly as possible, it is advisable to source post-consumer or post-industrial recycled products.

8. Organic Ecological Textiles

Another sustainable packaging material is those made from organic ecological textiles. These are sustainable and environment-friendly options against traditional packaging which are harmful to the environment.

Organic textile packaging includes those made from hemp, tapioca, organic or recycled cotton, palm leaves, and other ecological textile materials. These are biodegradable, reusable, and leave a positive impact on the environment.

Some of the ways these ecological textiles can be used as packaging material are:

  •  Linen can be used as bags or anti-scratch covers

  •  Organic cotton balls can be used as cushioning agents

  •  Products can be bundled together using hemp tape

9. Cellulose

Cellulose is a naturally occurring insoluble and organic compound mostly found in plants. Cellulose-based packaging is increasingly becoming popular as a sustainable packaging material in place of traditionally used plastic.

Natural sources such as temp, wood, and cotton are used to make cellulose packaging, which is biodegradable and compostable. The manufacturing cost of cellulose-based products is also lower compared to plastic.

Pharmaceutical, electronic devices, and food and beverage companies among others are increasingly using cellulose-based packaging. In the case of a food product, cellulose-film packaging also helps to maintain the aroma of the food.

A lot of research is also going on in this area as many other industries are also willing to utilise cellulose-based packaging for their products.

A limitation of using cellulose packaging is its sensitivity to moisture which reduces its long-term efficiency. However many start-ups are working on this limitation and many have come up with solutions and the future is nothing but bright.

Choose the Right Packaging Materials

To conclude, there are many sustainable packaging materials available and a lot more will be available in the near future. Sustainability is no longer an option but a necessity. Businesses understand their obligation to the environment and the consumer now demands eco-friendly solutions.

The information on sustainable packaging materials above will help you in your efforts to find eco-friendly packaging solutions.

For your other business needs such as logistics and courier services, PACK & SEND can help you with the best solutions. Contact us to seek more details about the services we offer.

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