Updated: Aug 15, 2019
Much More than a Trend and a "Make Do and Mend" Philosophy, Here's Why Using Eco-Friendly Packaging is so Important
In recent years, modern life has become to be defined by our throwaway cultures; our customs of excess and our close-minded attitudes towards worldwide ethical and environmental issues. Living in an era plagued by man-made climate crises, ecological emergencies and humanitarian tragedies, it's both disheartening and shameful that as a global collective it's taken us this long to even contemplate about being more Earth-conscious.
Why is being eco friendly important?
Up until now, we Brits have been just as guilty as any other when it comes to not taking full responsibility for our planet. Before April 2019 - when the Extinction Rebellion protests and the visit of Swedish teenager and activist Greta Thunberg rocked our Capital - being energy-saving; resource-saving, waste-reducing and Earth-friendly was always seen as being someone else's obligation. Environmental issues were seen as being someone else's problem and 'sustainability'; 'post-consumer' and 'eco consumerism' were merely buzzwords used by people keen to "green wash" their businesses to make more money or to simply gain more likes on Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest. Being environmentally responsible seemingly evolved from being a serious social issue to a hashtag seriously trending on social media.
Regardless of how the popularity for being green has risen, it's important now for people need to understand that being environmentally responsible shouldn't be used as a superficial stint to become more popular. Neither should it be used as a money-making gig by so-called green collared conservationists. Being green is about making critical lifestyle changes and business choices that are beneficial for our planet and are rewarding for us in many other ways.
By deviously boasting about faux green credentials and bogus eco friendly products, phony ecologists continue to cripple the hard work genuine environmentalists have put into saving our planet by making it harder for consumers to know whether the eco friendly products they're buying are genuinely good-for-the-planet or not.
So, why do we really need to embrace being Earth-conscious? Why is being environmentally friendly so important?
Here are just a few reasons:
The UK government has recently declared that we are living in a climate emergency
Britons are now worrying more about the environment than the economy; crime and immigration
The UK generated 222.9 million tonnes of total waste in 2016, an increase of 4.2% from the 214 million tonnes generated in 2014
48 per cent of supermarket packaging is still non-recyclable
By 2050, there's likely to be more plastics in our oceans than fish
A fifth of Britain's wild mammals are at high risk of extinction
To put it frankly, being environmentally friendly is so important because we need to fight for nature; to make amends for the damage that we've caused. We need to do all we can to help the Earth recover and to help prevent further damage from being made before it's too late - after all, there is no Planet B.
Degradation of the world’s natural resources by humans is rapidly outpacing the planet’s ability to absorb the damage. As it stands, we only have 11 years left to prevent the Earth from being irreversibly damaged by climate change
But how can being Earth-conscious about your packaging choices make a difference? Why eco friendly packaging at all?
Packaging. In the grand scheme of things, it's not something you'd ordinarily associate with being able to help or harm the planet. But considering that the average household in the UK produces more than a tonne of waste each year - half of which cannot be reused, re-purposed or recycled - you quickly realise that what many people consider to be small inconsequential choices really do have a big impact on our planet. Whether those impacts are negative or positive is down to us.
The average household in the UK produces more than a tonne of waste every year. Put together, this comes to a total of 31 million tonnes per year, equivalent to the weight of three and a half million double-decker buses; a queue of which would go around the world two and a half times
'Ah', some might say, 'I'm not a business; I don't make packaging choices.' But buying and using packaging materials isn't just for artisans, companies and commercial conglomerates to showcase and ship their products in. Every day, people use packaging materials to store items, post parcels and wrap gifts. Many even use packaging as a more affordable solution to regular forms of insulation. Considering this, it's easy to see how people use packaging more than they think they do.
Not to mention that packaging is just as much a part of our daily lives as breathing is. Whenever we shop online; visit local stores, go out for lunch or order a takeaway, the things we buy have already been packed, wrapped and boxed. Just because we didn't choose which types of packaging our food, drinks and toiletries came in doesn't mean to say that we can never escape from pernicious packaging. Despite not making the initial packaging decision, we can still exercise our rights to select the types of packaging we do want to use and accept from companies. Regardless of what we might think, we do have the power to choose to move away from the unsustainable packaging designs upon which our modern life seems to depend by making environmentally responsible packaging selections.
But what exactly is eco friendly packaging? What are eco friendly packaging materials and how will choosing them actually make a difference; not just to the planet, but to your life or your business?
What is eco friendly packaging?
Before finding out why it's best - for you and the planet - to opt for eco friendly packaging, it's worth becoming familiar with what eco-conscious packaging materials actually are because in this day and age of "green washing", bewildering buzzwords and confounding waste management processes, it's not easy to tell whether an eco friendly product is genuinely good-for-the-Earth or not.
In order for packaging to be considered authentically eco-friendly, the following unwritten rules apply:
1. Virgin materials should not be solely used to create eco friendly packaging materials; they should be combined in a low impact manufacturing process with recycled products so that manufacturers and craftspeople can save energy, resources and reduce waste.
For example, making just one aluminium can from raw materials uses the same amount of energy as it takes to recycle 20 of them and by recycling 1 kilogram of old tins, the need to mine 8 kg of virgin bauxite and use 4 kg of potentially perilous chemicals is completely removed. So, by recycling aluminium, we're not only helping to protect our planet from being overly mined, we're also helping to protect ourselves and the environment from the release of potentially hazardous contaminants.
2. Organic virgin materials used for eco friendly products should be farmed from sustainable sources in a low impact manner so that we can conserve raw materials and natural resources for future generations. Not to mention that by focusing on sustainability, we can reduce our ecological footprint across all stages of a product's life-cycle; therefore reducing our negative environmental impact. Not only that, but by using renewable resources we can ensure that environmental quality and community health improves in the long term, as sustainability helps to reduce the amounts of greenhouse gases and other toxic chemicals we and the planet are exposed to during manufacturing and decomposition processes.
For example, our compostable packing peanuts are made from GM-free potato starch; a UK-based renewable resource. Plus, our eco-friendly void fill emits fewer greenhouse gases during their manufacturing process than ordinary polystyrene peanuts and to help protect our atmosphere even further, we only ever use steam as our blowing agent - not pentane gas.
3. Eco friendly packaging should be completely biodegradable and preferably compostable so that when the packaging decomposes it only breaks down into natural elements; water, carbon dioxide and organic matter. To be classed as genuinely eco-friendly, no harmful residues should be released back into the air or our planet's soils or waterways, either.
For these reasons, packaging products such as cardboard boxes; Kraft tape, wooden cones, hemp and cotton twine, packaging made from mushrooms and hydrating floral wraps are the best kinds of eco friendly packaging as they're all made from organic materials which decompose naturally in compost piles without leaving any toxins or chemicals behind. They even help to create nutrient-rich humus; an organic slow release fertilizer that can hold up to 90 per cent of its weight in water, something that every plant, shrub and tree needs to grow healthy and strong.
But throwing around terms like biodegradable is where things can get a little confusing as there are in fact three different kinds of biodegradable product available; bio-compostable, oxo-degradable and landfill-biodegradable.
Both biodegradable and compostable materials are intended to return to the earth safely without leaving any harmful waste products or chemicals behind, but while there is a 50/50 chance of achieving this with biodegradable packaging, there is a 100 per cent chance of achieving it with compostable materials.
Oxo-degradable packaging (like 'degradable' bubble wrap, carrier bags and straws) never fully degrade - and they certainly won't break down at all if accidentally sent to a landfill rather than a composting site - so this type of 'eco-friendly' packaging is anything but Earth-conscious and as such, should be avoided.
Landfill-biodegradable products (like plant-based plastic cups; toothbrushes, dental floss, self-fill tea bags and disposable aprons) are better for the environment than oxo-degradable products because they will eventually break down to become natural fertilisers and they can be completely recycled with other plastic products. The only downside to these kinds of eco friendly packaging is that when left to degrade in waste management sites they produce a large amount of methane gas which is nearly 30 times more detrimental to our ozone layer than carbon dioxide. So, the best way to utilise landfill-biodegradable products is to actually recycle them so that they can be turned into something else, rather than letting them rot in dumps.
For more information on the differences between compostable, biodegradable and degradable materials, check out our blog post on the subject by clicking here.
4. Eco friendly packaging should also be recyclable, reusable and easily re-purposed.
The idea of recycling plastics might seem a bit counterproductive to saving the planet, after all, recent doom merchant documentaries and alarmist news stories have made this material out to be a truly dreaded substance. As true and shocking as the facts are in these articles, most experts agree that recycling plastic remains the most important way to reducing the amount of litter and waste we make.
Recycling recovers valuable materials while reducing greenhouse gas emissions and conserving significant amounts of energy and water.
So, in the spirit of the 1940s, when it comes to packaging it's best to make do and mend. From plastics to glass, from cardboard to metals, by reusing and re-purposing items until it's no longer possible to use them, waste is kept away from the environment; methane is not being created in landfills and toxic chemicals aren't seeping back into our airways, waterways or soils.
What is the most environmentally friendly packaging?
Truly eco friendly packaging is the kind primarily made from natural, sustainable materials mixed with recycled elements and manufactured in a low impact way that saves both energy and resources while significantly reducing the amount of waste produced. Positively eco conscious packaging is also the kind that you can compost so that it naturally decomposes and creates organic, nutrient-rich fertilisers without leaving anything harmful behind in soil, water or air. Genuine environmentally friendly packaging is also the kind that you can recycle, re-use and re-purpose; helping to stop the mining and farming of unsustainable virgin materials.
Do your bit for the planet; choose to buy renewable and compostable packaging from eco friendly packaging companies. Choose to shop local; buy organic, chemical-free eco friendly products from ethical, eco-conscious businesses rather than commercial multinationals, and choose to go plastic free by taking re-usable net bags or wicker baskets down the fruit and veg aisle of your local greengrocer or supermarket.
So, we can see why choosing eco friendly packaging is favourable for our planet, but why would choosing environmentally conscious packaging be beneficial for us?
Why eco friendly packaging?
Now, more than ever, more and more people - and companies - are looking for ways they can reduce their ecological footprint and protect our planet. Whether this low impact lifestyle stemmed from cursory social media trends or a genuine desire to make a difference, it doesn't matter, because now the rise of an eco-fashion movement has begun to make head ways in minimizing the negative impacts we subject our environment to.
Eco-fashion, by promoting the use of thoughtful packaging and placing importance on social responsibility has driven other industries, including the packaging industry, to evolve and become more eco-conscious. Whether a consumer or a brand, people are increasingly looking for ways to rethink how they buy, use and sell packaging in order to live a more sustainable life and run a more environmentally responsible business.
According to a recent survey by Global Data, 65 per cent of consumers worldwide always try to recycle packaging and 53 per cent of consumers always try to avoid excessively packaged grocery products
Apart from the obvious - a happy, healthier planet - what's in it for people if they do decide to go for earth friendly packaging materials?
Here's our top 10 list of reasons to choose eco friendly packaging:
1. Eco Friendly Packaging Decreases Carbon Footprints
By investing in eco-friendly packaging, homes and businesses will not only reduce their carbon footprint; they will also be helping to decrease the overall flow of greenhouse gases escaping into our atmosphere. By going eco-friendly, people, with very little effort, can help reduce air pollution; can help combat drought and according to the World Health Organization can prevent world hunger. Researchers from the University of North Carolina have also discovered that by aggressively reducing our greenhouse gas emissions, we can help prevent 300,000 - 700,000 premature deaths across the globe annually by the year 2030 .
2. Compostable Packaging is Healthier for Manufacturers and Consumers
Unlike synthetic, chemical-laden packaging, eco-friendly packaging materials are free from harmful byproducts which can cause us physical health problems. For example, BPA (a chemical used to make poly-carbonate plastics and epoxies) can actually bleed out of plastic liners and containers into the foods and drinks they're holding so that most people are exposed to these small amounts of toxins every day. In fact, over 90 per cent of the U.S. population has detectable levels of BPA in their urine according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and once this acute level of toxicity has built up over time, BPA (an endocrine disrupter) can accelerate puberty, cause tumours and can change behaviors .
Another way that eco conscious packaging is healthier for manufacturers and consumers is that the materials they're made from help prevent pest infestations caused by the improper disposal of non-eco packaging. If allowed to get out of hand, waste materials can become breeding grounds and homes for mosquitoes, flies and rodents; all of which carry risks of disease to the communities around infested areas. These dangers can be abated by using and properly disposing of compostable and biodegradable packaging.
3. Eco Friendly Packaging Means Guilt and Hassle-free Disposal
Unlike conventional packaging materials which typically end up in landfills; scarring our environment and seeping toxins back into our airways, waterways and soil, eco-friendly packaging - particularly the compostable variety - is much easier to dispose of. Not to mention that biodegradable packaging - so long as it has the correct environment in which to degrade - decomposes much faster than their non-compostable counterparts and they don't leach chemicals back into the Earth. For example, our compostable packing peanuts can be, as the name suggests composted; sent out with the food waste recycling or can be dissolved in water!
When waste doesn’t compost or biodegrade, it becomes a hazardous long-term problem; an eyesore and a logistical nightmare with potential health risks that we are forced to find space for and deal with as and when waste management technologies improve.
4. Environmentally Friendly Packaging Reduces Postage Costs
Eco friendly packaging solutions are designed with minimalism in mind, and while still able to provide effective item and product protection, the packaging is less bulky and requires less materials to make. Therefore, eco-conscious packaging weighs less - and takes up less space - meaning more items can fit into boxes, pallets and shipping containers and become more affordable to ship.
5. Eco Friendly Packaging Promotes Sustainability
The basis for sustainability - and sustainable packaging - started in the 1970's after America celebrated the first ever Earth Day, however it's only recently that people are seeing sustainability (a way for people to use resources without those resources ever running out) as essential to a peaceful and productive human existence; not just now but for the future. Without "the ability to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs", civilization as we know it is at risk, not just from environmental issues but also from social and economic dilemmas.
“If current trends continue, and the world fails to enact solutions that improve patterns of production and consumption, if we fail to use natural resources sustainably, then the state of the world’s environment will continue to decline” - Achim Steiner, Executive Director of UNEP
By choosing eco-friendly and ethical packaging, families and companies are ensuring that companies are run with good corporate governance; that workers all over the globe are being paid fairly and have safe working environments, that our economies improve (or at least remain stable), and that much needed resources won't run out in our lifetime or our children's childrens lifetime.
6. Eco Conscious Packaging is Versatile; Compact and Reliable
Because eco-friendly packaging is designed to be minimalist and re-usable, Earth-conscious packaging products are conveniently multi-faceted, reliably strong and dependably durable. With this kind of packaging, space and materials are never wasted and the items and products stored or shipped inside them are just as well protected - if not better - than what conventional packaging can afford. For example, our expertly engineered eco friendly packing chips have been independently verified by two renowned Academic institutions - Brunel University and the University of Humberside - to be more supportive and protective than ordinary polystyrene packing peanuts are.
7. Demand for Eco Friendly Packaging is Increasing Anyway
Whether you're a commercial business or you're selling items on eBay or have lots of gifts to wrap, people are now, more than ever, expecting others to use environmentally-responsible packaging. This demand for eco-conscious packaging is growing so quickly that by investing in these kinds of products companies won't fail to expand their customer base. For example, Unilever surveyed 20,000 adults from five different countries and found that 1 in 3 are consciously choosing to purchase items from brands and people who have positive environmental and social values . Not only that but the Nielsen Global Survey of Corporate Social Responsibility and Sustainability has proven that the younger generation (millennials and Gen Z) are willing to pay more for their goods from companies, artisans and people who demonstrate a commitment to social responsibility .
“Brands that establish a reputation for environmental stewardship among today’s youngest consumers have an opportunity to not only grow market share but build loyalty among the power-spending Millennials of tomorrow, too" - Grace Farraj, SVP of Public Development & Sustainability from the Nielsen Global Survey of Corporate Social Responsibility and Sustainability
8. Compostable Packaging Improves Brand Image
According to a survey conducted by Tandberg, more than half of global consumers say they prefer to purchase from a company with a strong environmental reputation. This sentiment is backed by an international study conducted by Unilever who found that 1 in 5 people are more likely to buy a product if it has clear sustainability credentials labelled on its packaging . Therefore, opting for eco-conscious packing materials - and being open and honest about how eco-friendly your products and packaging actually are - can effortlessly add value and credibility to your brand.
9. Eco-Friendly Packaging Allows for More Efficient Manufacturing Processes
Contrary to popular belief, the entire process of manufacturing packaging can be made far more efficient - and far more affordable - if everyone switches to eco-friendly packing materials. The reason being that when people examine what their minimum packaging requirements are, they'll soon discover that they actually need far less than what they've become accustomed to using. So, whilst non-recyclable and non-compostable packaging is widely used because it's considered the most affordable, people can actually save more money in the long run (while helping our country's manufacturers save energy and resources) by ditching the unnecessary layers of void fill and plastic.
10. Eco Conscious Packaging Saves People Money in the Long Run
There is a common misconception that eco-friendly packaging is expensive, however, going green is actually quite cost-effective as it saves money in the long run:
By reducing the amounts and types of materials needed, the manufacturing processes of Earth-conscious packaging costs less and the saving gets passed down to consumers
Because environmentally-friendly packaging is designed to be simple and economical, almost all eco-friendly packaging is lighter than their conventional counterparts, therefore postage and shipping/export costs become more affordable
On the same subject, it's easier to store and transport items in lightweight and compact eco-friendly packaging as they require less storage space and weigh less therefore allowing for more items to be transported in a single delivery run, cutting down fuel costs and making a positive impact on cutting down greenhouse gas emissions
The more people demand recyclable and compostable packaging, the more encouragement manufacturers will get to invest in and produce more Earth-conscious products which subsequently will bring the costs of those products down even further
So, there you have it; a comprehensive look at why you should be using eco-friendly packaging. Not only does green packaging help save the planet and go a long way to establishing sustainability, it's also more affordable than people think; it can help improve a brand's image, the item/product protection provided by eco-conscious packaging is just as good - often better - than conventional packaging and using environmentally-responsible packaging saves people money in the long run. What's not to love?
If you'd like to make the move to a more eco-friendly way of living or you'd like to upgrade the way you present, package and ship your products, check out our ever-expanding eco shop for a wide array of eco friendly merchandise. Alternatively, feel free to get in touch if you'd like to discuss your green requirements with one of our friendly, knowledgeable team.