Balancing Sustainability and Costs

Look at Packaging Differently this Earth Day

With Earth Day just around the corner, it’s the time of year when many companies get serious about eco-friendly, sustainable packaging materials. This year, however, most of us are more concerned with acquiring the supplies and raw materials we need for our businesses to operate. With the COVID-19 pandemic came an explosion in online shopping, which in turn has required a lot of packaging materials, coupled with broken supply chains. 2021 was tough, and 2022 has started out similarly.

Just because you’re concerned with supply chain problems, however, doesn’t mean you can’t follow through on your sustainability goals and initiatives. That’s where Pioneer can help.  

The good news is that there are multiple environmentally friendly materials to choose from today, although they may not mean what you think. In this post, we’re going to cover the benefits and drawbacks of several different sustainable packaging options.

What do we mean by sustainable packaging materials?

In simple terms, when we say “sustainable” packaging, we’re talking about materials that are either recyclable, reusable, biodegradable, made from renewable resources, or some combination of the four. We’re also talking about how much energy goes into making and disposing of the material and how much solid waste volume it generates once it’s discarded.

The key thing to also remember is that many of the benefits of sustainable packaging are only benefits if the end user takes the time to reuse or recycle them. Let’s take a look at some benefits and drawbacks of different materials when it comes to being environmentally friendlier.

Is all paper eco-friendly?

Whether you’re at the grocery store or deciding how to package your product, the question that often arises is “Paper or plastic?” By being created from renewable resources paper and cardboard have the advantages of being biodegradable and easier to recycle by the end-user. Depending on whether coatings or bleaches are applied to them, they can also be easily composted back into the earth.

Many grades of corrugated cardboard, for example, can be recycled up to 25 times before being discarded. Furthermore, some boxes may contain up to 90% recycled materials.

The downside to paper or cardboard packaging products is that they require a lot of energy and resources to create. On average, a paper bag uses 4 times the energy to produce than a plastic bag, and chemicals and fertilizers used in the production process can create further problems for the environment.

Paper and cardboard can also only be recycled up to a certain point. Both consist of long fibers that become shorter and shorter each time the material is recycled, meaning that their service life is finite (up to 25 times for corrugated cardboard and as few as five times for some types of paper). Once the paper or cardboard has been recycled the maximum amount of times, it has to be discarded.

The key to ensuring your cardboard and paper packaging products are more eco-friendly is to pay attention to where the materials used to create them are sourced. For example, the paper should come from forestry operations that use sustainable and responsible harvesting methods. Also, you should look for corrugated boxes that have a high percentage of recycled material.

How to use eco-friendly plastic packaging

Most of us have it engrained within us that plastic is bad for the environment. However, when you look at the full picture, it might not be as bad as most people think. The primary advantages of plastic packaging are the following:

  • It typically takes much less energy to create than paper
  • No trees need to be cut down
  • Plastic products are much more lightweight, reducing transportation energy needs
  • Plastic takes up less space in landfills than paper if not recycled
  • Plastic bags also consume less than 6% of the water needed to make paper bags
  • Flexible plastic lowers dimensional weight, reducing freight costs and allowing more products to be sent in fewer shipments

The main downside to plastic packaging materials is that they will not biodegrade for a very long time. That means that if they are not recycled properly, plastic bags will sit in landfills or pollute the environment.

The key to ensuring your plastic packaging products are sustainable is to ensure they are recycled correctly. To help promote recycling, you can put instructions on your packaging informing the end user what to do with the material once they are done with it.

What is the most eco-friendly solution for packaging?  

When it comes to choosing the most sustainable packaging option for your products, the truth is that there is no easy answer. It’s always best to use the smallest amount of material possible, generally it’s good to choose recycled over virgin resources, and you want the resources that go into your materials to be procured from renewable sources.

At Pioneer, our team can help you re-examine and redesign your current packaging to incorporate environmentally preferred alternatives. We offer a variety of sustainable options:

  • Corrugated, recyclable and biodegradable
  • Chipboard, recyclable and biodegradable
  • Recyclable loose-fill peanuts
  • Recyclable plastics and tapes
  • Natralock® paperboard packaging
  • Thermoformed PET packaging
  • Recycled air pillows, paper void fill, and pulp/luxury pulp packaging

Contact Pioneer today and start moving towards sustainability this Earth Day!