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5 Plastic-Free Packaging Alternatives For E-Commerce Brands

Some of the most common questions that we receive from our students, clients and community members revolve around sustainable packaging solutions. Since 40% of plastic use is attributed to packaging, today we’re highlighting 5 plastic-free alternatives that we recommend for e-commerce brands of all sizes. We say it often: the only way to move away from a world that is reliant on plastic is to phase it out altogether. 

Compostable Packaging

noissue: Plastic-free packaging supply  Compostable solutions of different varieties are the most commonly marketed alternative to plastic that we see on the market today. From mailers to utensils to food containers and packaging.

The definition of compostable may seem straightforward, but there are a few layers of complexity that we need to explore. Compostable products are made from renewable resources such as corn, bamboo, and sugar cane. Whenever you see a product with the word ‘compostable’ on it, what that really means is it’s commercially compostable. Commercial compost facilities break down organic and plant-based materials through a balance of heat, moisture, and oxygen. This is unfortunately something that home composting does not offer, so be sure to read the label carefully. 

According to World Centric, a product to be labeled and certified as compostable, the materials must disintegrate by 90% within 90 days of being in a commercial facility and must create zero toxicity during the degradation process. 

For mailers and packaging, we have a few go-to recommendations. First, Noissue offers a variety of solutions such as tissue paper, custom-designed boxes and food-grade packaging. Our own studio, Minty Made, has also been a member of their Eco Alliance for several years, as they send out helpful resources, articles and encourage businesses to share their creative solutions and inspiration with others in the community. What I admire most about this brand is their transparency and intent behind every product that they sell, ensuring that they aren’t marketing in a way that could be flagged as greenwashing. They clearly state the definitions and intricacies of each solution as well as the types of materials that they do not offer along with their reasoning as to why.

Eco Enclose, alternative packagingEcoEnclose is another trusted brand that excels specifically in mailer packaging that offers custom retail options, office supplies and does a fantastic job of providing educational opportunities for businesses to learn more about ways to adopt sustainable packaging solutions on their blog. They are constantly churning out new tools, calculators and resources to help businesses understand the impact of packaging on the planet but also as a long-term savings for their bottom line.

I had a chance to chat with their CEO, Saloni Doshi a few times and was extremely impressed hearing about some of their future initiatives.

Cellulose Packaging

Cellulose packaging During my extensive research to build our packaging lesson content for The Green Marketing Academy, learning about cellulose packaging triggered a “light bulb” moment for me. To the naked eye, cellulose packaging appears to be a thin plastic that one wouldn’t even consider to be recyclable, let alone biodegradable. Cellophane is derived from cotton, wood, hemp, or other sustainably harvested sources. It begins as a white dissolving pulp, then the raw cellulose pulp goes through several steps to be converted into the cellophane that we see today, wrapped around gift baskets and flower arrangements.

It also has moisture-resistant properties which makes it a preferable solution for consumer-packaged good brands. We have several clients who weren’t aware of this alternative before working with us, but are now using this type of packaging to house their moisture-sensitive skincare products or packaged goods.

Kraft Paper Packaging

Kraft paper packaging materialKraft paper isn’t the newest innovation of our plastic-free packaging alternatives, but it’s certainly not one that should be ignored or underrated. However, as with many things on the market, not all kraft paper comes from a reputable source. When selecting a vendor, it’s important to consider the ethics of where it is coming from as well. Look for kraft paper that is labeled 100% FSC-certified. This means that “all materials used come from responsibly managed, FSC-certified forests” and is the most reputable indicator.

Reusable cloth material packaging

Reusable Cloth Mailers

I personally discovered true reusable mailers when I started renting clothing from Nuuly and Armorie. Rather than receiving a flimsy “reusable” plastic mailer like we see from Amazon, these cloth alternatives last for months, even years in some cases. 

On the outside of the case, it has a slot for a shipping label and protects the contents while it’s shipped. I’ve had so many issues with boxes arriving wet or ripped, but haven’t yet experienced these issues with this type of shipping container.

Mushroom and Corn Packaging

Mushroom and corn packaging

 I saved (what I believe to be) the most exciting packaging alternative for last, because I could truly geek out for hours on the innovations that people are coming up with!

You may have heard about these nifty plant-based packaging solutions that have set out to replace styrofoam packing peanuts and plastic pillows, but you may be surprised with how

  • Cornstarch packaging can be used as a biodegradable replacement for foam packing peanuts and styrofoam.
  • Mycelium is a fungus found in mushrooms and is known for being lightwright, sturdy packaging material that can help keep products in place and prevent breakage while in transit.
  • Green Cell Foam is a bio-based foam material made from corn that dissolves with water and has the ability to protect frozen and perishable products during shipment.  

To wrap things up (pun intended!), the most exciting news about plastic-free packaging alternatives is that new innovations are constantly popping up in this space. We encourage you to bookmark this blog and check back often, as it will be updated regularly as new solutions are introduced. We hope this article serves as a helpful resource and reminder as you explore new avenues of packaging for your business!

Have a favorite plastic-free alternative that you would like to share with us? Get in touch with us here.