Why sustainable packaging should be your top priority

4 min reading time

In 2019, ordering something online and expecting it to arrive at your door the next day has become the norm.

What consumers do worry about, is the packaging that their order arrives in. Or more specifically: its impact on the environment. A recent market study by Smithers Pira predicts demand for sustainable packaging material to double in 5 years: from $ 32.9 billion in 2018 to $ 63.3 billion by 2023.

What is sustainable packaging?

The term ‘sustainable packaging’ has a few possible interpretations. It could be:

  • packaging that’s made from recycled materials
  • single-material packaging that’s easy to recycle
  • packaging that uses as little material as possible
  • packaging that encourages the recipient to reuse it
  • packaging that can be repurposed into something else

Ideally, it’s all of the above. First of all, because your customer demands it. A product that’s overpackaged is seen as environmentally damaging, and for modern, eco-conscious consumers that leaves a bitter aftertaste to their purchase.

Sustainable packaging: show your customer that you care

They’re not wrong: one of the biggest problems with overpackaging is empty space. The environmental cost? Roughly the equivalent of the annual carbon emissions of countries such as Belgium, Pakistan or Argentina.

Apart from their perception problem, overpackaged goods are also plain annoying. After all, Amazon didn’t declare war on wrap rage for nothing.

The above is backed up by a study conducted by Mintel in 2018 in five European countries:

  • 71% of respondents noted they would like to reuse their packaging for something else
  • 57% would like to see less packaging
  • 79% would like packaging to be 100% recyclable
  • 76% would like to see packaging made from recycled materials

 Another reason to go sustainable ­– ergo: minimal – is because any superfluous packaging is costing you tons of money. Returning to the empty space problem: solving that issue alone could result in about $ 46 billion a year in potential savings, globally. And that’s a conservative estimate. 

Sustainable packaging: how to do it right

By now, you might be wondering: won’t all this minimalism hurt my product during transport? And also: won’t it be … boring?

“No” on both accounts.

To answer the first question: the reason why most packages use a lot of void fill material is because of the aforementioned empty space problem. The better the box fits, the less the product within will be able to shift and shake and the less material you’ll need. Moreover, there’s tons of ways to test beforehand if your packaging is fit to survive the e-commerce supply chain.

And to the second question? As the old saying goes: less is more. Thinking minimal it’s a great incentive to challenge your packaging designers to come up with clever design ideas, adding to a pleasant unboxing experience.

We collected a few examples of companies that took sustainability to the next level through their packaging designs.

1. Getting crafty with it

Pushchair company Joolz delivers their goods in packaging that contains printed instructions on how to turn the cardboard into a variety of useable objects. Think chairs, birdhouses, or even a lamp shade.

The printed instructions are on the box by the way, instead of a separate piece of paper. 

Crafty cardboard repurposing by Joolz

2. Maximal minimalism

Natural cosmetics company Farmacy won several awards for their nifty box that draws inspiration from the key ingredient of the product: honey. The hexagonal design reminds of a honey comb and unfolds like a bloom.

The entire box is made of a single piece of cardboard, which makes it easy to flatten and recycle.

Again, instead of adding an insert with brand information, the brand story is printed on the inside. Thinking this could work for your brand too? Digital printing is a great, versatile solution that offers a lot of creative freedom and works brilliantly for short runs, as well. 

Eco-friendly packaging by Farmacy Beauty

3. Beautiful boxes

Beauty company Birchbox sends their customer a variety of samples to try each month. The contents are always different, and so is the packaging. By offering limited edition boxes – like a Mad Men one, for example, to honour the series finale –  they’re playing into current trends and turning their packaging into collectible items. This way, customers are encouraged to reuse it.

Editorial e-commerce by Birchbox

Endorsed by our CEO

Already, major packaging companies are leading by example. At DS Smith, 85% of all packaging is made from recycled materials. But that’s not all: the company is making an active effort to collect and recycle boxes and make them back into new packaging – a process that takes no more than 14 days.

CEO Miles Roberts explains why:

Curious to see how we can transform your packaging to make it more sustainable?

Book a visit at our Impact Centre to see what’s possible.

Sam Jones
Sam Jones Sustainability Manager Sam.Jones@dssmith.com

About the expert

Sam is responsible for oversight of the Group sustainability strategy and its ongoing development and coordination through the Group Sustainability Committee. Complimentary to this he is responsible for leveraging DS Smith's sustainability credentials to maximise value with internal and external stakeholders, including customers, investors, employees and regulators, capturing the value and benefits for the business.