As you wrap, and unwrap, gifts this holiday season, you may notice they’re a little lighter than usual. It might be because more companies are easing up on the packaging – or at least using eco-friendlier alternatives.
As the green movement grows up, there’s a new movement among businesses to find new, more planet-friendly ways to package their products. Some companies reduced their packaging footprint years ago by eliminating unnecessary plastic and cellophane or replacing non-biodegradable Styrofoam with paper and cardboard. But packaging technology has gotten more sophisticated, and there are higher-quality alternatives these days, from compostable plastic to recycled wood to biodegradable packing peanuts.
Earlier this year, several big companies– including Coca-Cola, Kellogg and Dow Chemical – banded together to start the American Institute for Packaging and the Environment (Ameripen), an organization that will lobby for evaluating the impact of packaging on the environment and reducing its toll. And some product makers have pledged to stop using pollution-causing PVC plastic in their boxes.
Some of this shift might be due to pressure from major chains: Walmart and Target have put more pressure on their suppliers to use eco-friendlier packaging through their sustainability scoring.
For small businesses, though, determining what kind of packaging alternatives will work isn’t always easy, While there are lots of new, “eco-friendlier” materials to choose from, small businesses need to be careful and do some research.
Here are a few of the considerations:
- True environmental benefit. Even though a company may claim its product is offering an eco-friendly alternative, such as “biodegradable” or “recyclable,” that doesn’t necessarily mean its environmental footprint is much less than anything else. You need to know how much energy is used to produce it and transport it.
- Cost. Many eco-friendlier materials are more expensive than ones that are more environmentally harmful. You either have to suck up the extra cost or be able to pass it along to your customers – which isn’t always realistic. Be sure to understand the cost impact before switching to new packaging.
- Feasibility. Eco-packaging may sound good, but will it actually be a good replacement for what you already use? It’s possible it won’t be as durable, so it’s important to get samples and test any prospective packaging before adopting it.
Given all these potential pitfalls, what do you do? Talk with other businesses in your industry or other businesses that have explored green packaging options. There are some nonprofits that help businesses adopt eco-friendlier packaging and can provide helpful research. Check out the Sustainable Packaging Coalition, for one.
Eco Packaging Photo via Shutterstock