6 Tips for Eco-Friendly DTC E-Commerce Packaging

by | Apr 22, 2019

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I have been involved in branded, eco-friendly packaging for e-commerce from the beginning of that trend (2007, to be exact). During that time, I’ve watched companies adopt better, greener practices when selecting their packaging, and today, many e-commerce packaging buyers assume sustainable packaging is now the norm.

I am here to tell you: it is not at all standard or “table stakes.” While most manufacturers and suppliers do now offer excellent and legitimately green packaging products, some have drifted away and are not delivering what they claim. Greenwashing still exists, especially about imported manufactured packaging products, but also about some manufactured domestically.

Having created millions of e-commerce packaging shipping containers, I’d like to share a few observations and recommendations:

1. Ask your potential supplier to define their definition of sustainable packaging, and make sure it aligns with yours.

As I often say, you can ask five different people to define sustainable packaging and you are likely to receive five different answers. Some people are focused on the material source and where the raw material originated, or on certifications such as SFI or FSC. Others only care about the recycled content percentage, type of recycled content, etc. Still, others are more concerned with where the packaging will end up in terms of recyclability, compostability, or reusability.

Decide what “sustainable packaging” means to you and look for a supplier with similar goals.

2. Don’t over-design your packaging and end up working against your own sustainability objectives.

You can begin with a great, 100% recycled content board, but by the time you add specialty inks, coatings, or laminates, it becomes not only considerably more expensive but also less eco-friendly.

3. Do “right size and don’t over-package.

One of the most obvious ways to reduce material consumption is through proper and minimal package design. This saves companies inbound freight cost, outbound shipping costs, and storage/inventory costs. With the recent (January 2019) increase in package shipping rates, the transition to dimensional rates and the competitive market trend toward free shipping, keeping your boxes as small as possible can mean the difference between profit and loss on an order.

4. Don’t assume a box is the only or best way to ship.

Many companies, especially those shipping soft goods and apparel, have discovered great savings shipping in flexible mailer envelopes rather than rigid cartons. Unpadded paper mailer envelopes are typically made of 100% recycled content. Even poly mailer envelopes are acceptable if they have a large percentage of verifiable recycled content and are fully recyclable.

Keep in mind, however, that most poly mailers are made overseas, so standards are different and content will vary greatly.

5. Do utilize inserts to minimize or eliminate void fill products such as foam peanuts and shredded paper products.

I don’t know anyone who likes receiving loose-fill, and I have never met anyone who recycles it. I think most would agree that these products don’t add much to the consumer’s unboxing experience or product presentation.

6. Don’t use paper-out, poly bubble lined mailer envelopes.

The two different materials are laminated together and cannot be separated, so they are not recyclable and have to end up in a landfill. I know the exterior is typically printed with all sorts of environmentally friendly “recycled content” information, but no one can argue this fact: paper and plastic are never recycled the same way at the same facility when they are fused together.

The final advice is to do your homework and ask the tough questions. Make no assumptions and keep an open mind to new materials and designs. Your bottom line, your customers and the planet will appreciate your efforts!

By Dennis Salazar, President & Co-Founder, Salazar Packaging

Dennis is an Environment & Energy Leader 100 Honoree. The E + E 100 will be celebrated at ELEMCON in Denver in May. More info here.

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