3 Innovative Alternatives to Plastic Packaging for Eco-Conscious Retailers

Brands are rapidly reducing their reliance on plastic due to its negative environmental impact, but how are businesses replacing their plastic packaging? Many innovative alternatives are becoming widely available.

Are There Any Benefits to Using Plastic Packaging?

Plastic packaging has been a popular packaging material for decades, but things are changing. It’s falling out of favour with businesses, consumers and global leaders at a staggering rate. 

The introduction of the UK’s Plastic Packaging Tax aims to urge British businesses away from using plastic that doesn’t contain at least 30% recycled content. Other countries are set to ban single-use plastics, restricting imports and banning sales to minimise plastic pollution.

But before the world abandons plastics altogether, it’s worth considering why plastic has been such a popular packaging material:

  • Durable — Plastic is hardwearing and can protect many goods in transit. However, it’s prone to cracking or splitting, which may compromise the packaging entirely.
  • Lightweight — Most plastics are light, which helps minimise postage costs by reducing package weight. Other lightweight materials include cardboard and Kraft board.
  • Cost-effective — Plastic has been produced at scale for over half a century, driving down the cost of materials, although plastic prices are set to rise in 2022.
  • Recyclable — Some plastics are recyclable, making it a reasonably good option for eco-conscious retailers that rely on plastic packaging, such as food manufacturers.
  • Versatile — Plastics come in various flexible forms. It can be moulded as necessary to provide maximum protection against damage during transportation.

While plastic packaging has advantages, it’s impossible to see past the numerous environmental drawbacks. The world is moving beyond plastic, and brands aren’t just moving away from plastic for environmental reasons alone. 

Why Are Brands Moving Away from Plastic Packaging?

Research indicates that consumers are willing to pay more for sustainably packaged products. Putting the planet first makes consumers feel more comfortable about their purchases, and safe in the knowledge that their choices positively impact the environment.

The move away from plastic has been primarily consumer-driven, and retailers need to respond to retain customers and prove to the world that they’re acting responsibly regarding packaging waste.

Alternatives to Plastic Packaging for Retailers

Sustainable packaging has been a burgeoning industry for the past five years. Consumers are becoming increasingly aware of the environmental impacts of their purchases, driving businesses to adopt better packaging processes.

Understandably, selecting the most appropriate packaging materials can be a tricky affair. The packaging must protect the products during transit and give the customer a good experience. In 2022, that means providing customers with accessible packaging that can be easily reused for returns or disposed of responsibly:

1. Refillable or Reusable Packaging

Retailers have offered consumers the opportunity to reuse their packaging to mitigate packaging waste. In 2021, Tesco teamed up with Loop to give shoppers refillable options when shopping. Integrating reusable packaging into everyday situations helps minimise plastic packaging waste that needs to be handled by consumers, most of whom don’t want the burden of disposing of non-recyclable or non-biodegradable packaging at home.

While reusable packaging requires more resources to produce, it preserves resources in the long term through continued reuse. Plus, most metals can be infinitely recycled, further extending the packaging lifespan and broadening a brand’s sustainability.

2. Paper-Based Recyclable Packaging

On the other hand, it might come as no surprise to learn that you can only recycle plastic packaging once before it starts to degrade or become unusable. It’s often the case that plastic packaging is downcycled into lesser quality products instead of being recycled into like-for-like packaging. Eventually, more plastic will need to be produced to meet the global demand.

In contrast, cardboard can be recycled five or more times, giving it a much longer lifespan. It doesn’t require as much energy to produce or process, and at its end-of-life, it will degrade naturally in a matter of months. The result? Less raw materials need to be produced, and less landfill waste needs to be managed, benefiting the environment.

3. Compostable Packaging

Sometimes, recycling packaging doesn’t make sense for the products it protects. For example, some UK councils have banned fast food packaging from their recycling bins as the packaging itself is often spoiled by the greasy food it contains. 

Similarly, many plastic mailing bags aren’t recyclable since they’re typically made of plastics you cannot recycle. Most of the time, plastic mailing bags aren’t reused because they’re ripped or cut open, rendering them useless.

On the other hand, compostable mailing bags offer a much more eco-friendly solution for eCommerce businesses looking to ship their goods securely and sustainably. Packaging made from materials like PLA (polylactic acid) — derived from plants — will decompose quickly and without damaging the environment.

Will Plastic Packaging Become a Thing of the Past?

Sometimes, plastic packaging is necessary — like in the medical sector where products need to be kept sterile — but for most retailers, there are plenty of greener alternatives to be explored to reduce plastic waste and pollution. By increasing awareness of eco-friendly packaging alternatives, business owners can make more informed decisions about how to package our products practically and sustainably. 

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