When you’re starting a business, you’ll find yourself thinking often about the future.
But what about the bigger picture: the planet’s future?
Using sustainable packaging methods can help you build a future-proof system for your brand, so you’re creating things that make sense for a livable world. Packaging is actually a great place to start when you’re thinking of sustainable business practices. The default options, like packing peanuts, are often big contributors to plastic waste, so why use them when we have alternatives?
Changing the packaging on your product doesn’t have to change the product itself, and any money you spend making the switch will be worth it once you see how your customers appreciate the eco-friendly effort.
Here’s our guide to future-proofing your brand’s packaging:
- What Is Future-Proofing?
While the original definition of future-proofing was used for the tech and industrial markets—and more specifically, designing products to take on additions if necessary, and to hold up through technological changes—these days it’s taken on a new meaning.
Now, people fighting against climate change are using the phrase ‘future-proofing’ to mean designing something in an environmentally responsible way. When we talk about future-proofing your brand packaging, we mean it in two ways:
First, the packaging should be made of sustainable materials.
This means designing the packaging in a way that is cognizant of the toll it takes on the environment. If you use packaging materials that take up dwindling resources, you might be working with a system that doesn’t have the future in mind.
Future-Proofing of the Packaging Itself
Second, the packaging itself should break down easily and contribute less to the planet’s waste when people toss it out. This is more of a literal ‘future-proofing.’
Think about how a single piece of your packaging will look and where it will be 20 years from now. Will it be in a landfill, or recycled or repurposed somehow? Will it have decomposed already, or be a nuisance on some beach?
The good news is that people have been working on future-proof packaging for a while now. When you choose the packaging for your products, you’ll have a few different options with differing levels of future-proofing.
- The Environmental Impact of Plastic
Plastic isn’t biodegradable.
This means that when we create a piece of plastic—say, for a product package—it stays on the earth, presumably forever. It might live out its days in a landfill or break down into tiny microplastics to be consumed by animals.
You can recycle some plastics, but many kinds of plastic packaging aren’t compatible with the local district requirements. And this isn’t just the outer layer of the package. You can find plastic in inner layers and padding as well.
For example, packing peanuts are one of the least future-proofed types of packaging out there. They’re made from plastic and stick around without decomposing.
- Sustainable Alternatives
One way to respond to this problem would be to cut down on packaging wherever possible. But in lots of cases, especially if you’re planning to ship across long distances, packaging is something you can’t avoid.
If you’re trying to figure out how to create a more sustainable packaging system, you can look into these alternatives to plastic:
A direct alternative to packing peanuts could be packing paper. You’ve probably seen this thick, brown paper wrapped around food items or used as sketch paper for art and notes.
What you might not know about this paper is that it can be a perfect packaging material. When crumpled in the right way, a large square of kraft paper can become a strong piece of padding that can hold an item in place.
Fabric might not be the best material for the outer layer or padding, but it’s great as an inner layer of packaging. Rather than a clamshell plastic container or a thin cardboard box held together with a sticker, you can use fabric to hold the item itself.
Depending on the way you design the fabric, this piece of packaging can then be reused, placing it back into a system of usability. For example, a soap company can send its product in a small fabric pouch, which the customer can then re-use as a coin bag or a nice gift bag for someone else.
Cardboard is strong, cheap, and easily decomposable. It’s a great material for packaging, and that ease of use is reflected in its dominance in the field. It still adds to waste, but in most districts, cardboard is recyclable in a way that thin plastic bags aren’t.
And that brings us to the question: why are plastic shipping bags used at all when cardboard boxes exist?
The main answer is cost. Plastic bags often cost less up-front than cardboard. But the cost of cardboard is quite low anyway, and customers might appreciate the effort towards environmental sustainability.
Plant-Based Packing Peanuts
There’s the peanut plants that make the snacks we know and love. And then there’s plant-based packing peanuts, which are made from the starch of corn or other plants.
If you really love the look and feel of packing peanuts but want a more future-proofed option, you can try a cornstarch version instead. They’ll likely be 100% biodegradable.
Because of these peanuts’ impressive ability to decompose, you don’t have to be super careful about how you dispose of them. But if you want to be neat about it, you can wash these peanuts down the sink or throw them in your backyard compost. They’re big and fluffy for the shipping process, but they’ll dissolve easily in water.
Future-Proofing Is the Future
The world is moving toward greater awareness of ecological responsibility, and this should mean big things for your business direction. For one, future-proofing your packaging can be your entry into the movement for sustainability.
And beyond that, you might attract a new customer base of people who are trying to lessen their own environmental impact. Packing peanuts might be cute, but why use them when there are so many sustainable options out there?
For more tips on looking ahead, check out the rest of our site!