Thanks to hit television series like the BBC’s recent Blue Planet: Live, the British public is more aware than ever before of how much plastic we consume and discard in daily life. You only need to scroll through the BBC’s plastic pollution headlines to see the scale of the issues affecting our country and the world.

The shift in public attention means that finding alternatives to plastic packaging is more important than ever before, as brands realise that they need to curb their environmental impact through the materials that they choose. Being a packaging supplier ourselves, it is important that we are able to provide alternative packaging methods that achieve business’s goals without taking a toll on the environment.

The problem with this topic is that many of the packaging alternatives commonly mentioned are rare, experimental or expensive. Our goal in writing this article is to suggest eco-friendly ways of packaging your products that don’t require you to spend a lot more money or take a risk on something brand new.

Our focus is on postal packaging and logistics rather than product packaging, but many of the principles will carry over. We hope that we can inspire our readers and customers to pursue a goal of reducing their plastic consumption, even if the precise strategy varies from business to business.

Alternatives to plastic bags

In the postal packaging industry, sealed plastic bags are one of the most common sources of single use plastic. Their application is similar to shrink wrap in product packaging, providing a protective shield without substantially increasing the size of the product.

However, plastic bags are not strictly necessary for transport. Box makers like Boxtopia are more than capable of creating bespoke boxes to suit any size product, reducing the need for void fill. Depending on the product, there may be some additional empty space when compared with a bag, but the box need not be excessively spacious inside and will not add much in the way of weight. If considered carefully, boxes containing clothing and other slim items are more than capable of fitting through letter boxes.

Die cut boxes (like the example above), while more limited in size options than other boxes, are another great way of posting small items without paying excessive postage costs or skimping on presentation. In fact, they look much better than single use bags!

If you are determined to stick with mailing bags, we recommend only using them where strictly necessary, or looking for plastic from eco-friendly source.

Alternatives to bubble wrap

Another large source of plastic within our industry is bubble wrap (and other plastic wraps). These can be recycled at recycling points around the UK, but many consumers will not realise this.

Good alternatives to bubble wrap do exist. While they may not function in exactly the same way, these other types of internal packaging can help you to achieve the same goal, which is the most important quality to consider.

There are a number of alternatives to bubble wrap. For example, we stock single face corrugated paper. We can also supply biodegradable loose fill and brown filla paper, as well as tissue paper. Tissue paper can offer a similar protective layer when wrapped around your packaged products. In some ways, it is actually more versatile than bubble wrap. A roll of tissue paper can also be used to fill gaps in your boxes as well as wrapping individual items. Even better, it is a low-grade paper product, which means that it is often made from recycled materials.

Another alternative to bubble wrap is a cardboard divider. Unlike bubble wrap, a divider can only separate products; it can’t wrap them. However, this achieves a similar effect of nestling items in more secure compartments, in which they won’t have the freedom to move around and pick up damage in transit. Cardboard dividers are particularly well-suited to packaging multiple regularly shaped items like bottles and other containers. If you’re shipping items between your own locations, or out to retailers, dividers are a great way to achieve the protection that bubble wrap might also grant.

3 cardboard box dividers of varying sizes

What if plastic packaging is the best option?

The demands of business don’t always allow us to make 100% sustainable choices. Plastic is ubiquitous within the packaging industry because it is so good at helping us achieve our goals of minimising packaging size and weight. It is often the cheapest packaging material we can get hold of and it’s readily available in some form from almost every packaging retailer, ourselves included.

We do supply pallet wrap ourselves, but are trying to persuade our customers to take high performance, thinner gauge films (therefore less waste). This can be done because the resins used to make the film are stronger so there is no compromise on quality.

When your business demands the use of plastic and there are no suitable alternatives, what else can you do to minimise your environmental impact?

Use plastic only where necessary

As we noted in our excessive packaging blog post, the most egregious uses of disposable plastic are those in which it simply isn’t necessary. Shrink wrapping individual items is a common example of plastic overuse, as is using plastic trays and film where a cardboard box (or, simply, no packaging) would suffice.

Consider the reasons why you use plastic in your packaging and ask whether another material is readily available as a replacement. Focus on these areas first and don’t worry about cutting your plastic use to zero. Those further changes can be made in the future as materials and supply improve.

Understand how plastic can be recycled and inform your customers

It’s amazing how much plastic can be recycled nowadays. Consumers are generally aware that hard plastics can be recycled, but many people don’t know that films can also be recycled at certain points. While you can’t throw them in your general recycling bin, points around the country will take them. If you’re using wraps and films internally, it may be that you can put a recycling policy in place to make sure that you’re throwing away as few plastic products as possible. We have more information in our recent post on how to recycle packaging materials.

If plastic is being used in packaging received by consumers, you have less control over how it is recycled. However, you could include some information on your website or even in the packaging itself that tells customers how they can recycle these materials. Not everyone will take your advice, but those that do will appreciate the care that you have taken as a company to provide the information.

Start small

You won’t be able to phase out plastic packaging overnight. Doing so will take time and a commitment to sustainability from everyone within your business. Start by making changes in the most obvious, cost-effective places and work from there. If you try to do too much in one go, you’re more likely to grow disillusioned with the process and revert to the way it’s always been done.

For more advice, get in touch with Boxtopia today to learn about alternatives to plastic packaging that would suit your business.

Author: Rowena Perrott

Rowena Perrott is the General Manager at Boxtopia and has over 30 years’ experience in sales. She works with businesses of all sizes across any industry to find the best packaging supplies for their needs.