Innovation is the Key in Sustainable Packaging

09 Jul 2011 Innovation is the Key in Sustainable Packaging

Die cut box with built in partitions


“What makes one package greener than another?” It’s a rather simplistic question that does not permit a brief or concise answer. It was recently asked of me by an intern working for a governmental agency, and I began by telling him that my response was only my opinion, but one that would hold up in most circles. I added that when we attempt to answer that question we look at packaging in three critical areas:

  1. SOURCE – What is the packaging product and where does it comes from? For example, recycled content, PCW percentage, FSC certified, etc.
  2. LIFE CYCLE – Where is the packaging material likely to end up after its initial use? Is it reusable, recyclable, biodegradable, compostable, etc?
  3. USE- How is the packaging material used and does it eliminate or minimize the use of a different and perhaps less eco-friendly product?

Packaging Often Requires Innovation to Make It Green or Greener  

I promised myself years ago I would never use the cliché “thinking outside of the box” in my writing because it is just so often used and in many cases misused. However, I believe the third point above (USE) is potentially the most immediately beneficial in regards to the environment. How to use the products we currently have more efficiently may be the most challenging, but it is the difference between selling green packaging solutions and simply selling boxes, tape, etc.

“Source” and “Life Cycle” in most cases are relatively black and white and much easier to accomplish than many people realize or are willing to admit. There are some excellent, extended life cycle packaging products being created on an almost daily basis, and we work very hard to keep up with that ever-changing market. We put equal effort into offering products that simply use less packaging overall, ideally of more eco-friendly materials. This line of thinking may not be revolutionary, but it works and will usually substantially reduce labor and material costs.

Examples of New or Rarely Used Green Packaging Options

These are material or packaging type combinations that create the desired green results and in many cases eliminate the need for more expensive or less eco-friendly interior or cushioning products like EPS foam or plastic bubble packaging. BTW, you won’t find these working with the large, national catalog or internet packaging companies, but don’t let the words “design” or “custom” intimidate or discourage you.

Die Cut Boxes with Built-in Partitions

Pictured above, these provide product separation without having to buy, stock or utilize separate packaging SKU’s. The built-in partition also dramatically increases the box strength, minimizing the possibility of damage in shipment. These are custom-designed for each application, so some tooling may be required, but if you have to use a lot of cushioning or void fill material, the savings can be huge.

Stock mailer with custom die cut insert


Combining Stock Boxes and Custom Die Cut Inserts

There are an almost endless number of possible combinations, but it is a great way to minimize initial expense on a new product line, test product or limited promotion. Some companies try to make everything a custom project, and others will attempt to force everything into one of their stock products. Neither of those approaches is necessarily bad, but it may not be the best or definitely not the least expensive.

Molded Pulp and Custom Boxes

Molded pulp clamshell with retention die cut box


This one was created by one of our favorite manufacturing partners and it is a stock molded pulp clamshell designed to fit 12- to 27-ounce glass jars commonly used for candles and decorative food containers. The loaded clamshell fits snugly into a custom box that is designed with die cut top flaps that hold the tray and product in place. Since both of those products (molded pulp clamshell and die cut box) are stock, no expensive tooling is required.

What is most encouraging is that many of these custom design innovations like the molded pulp retention pack are becoming stock items for eco-focused companies like ours, making them more available and affordable, even for low-volume applications and situations.

My best advice is never to assume you can’t afford or justify custom-designed or custom-printed green packaging because you probably can. Sometimes it is just a matter of talking with the right people.