An Approach to Designing Sustainable Packaging

What is Sustainable Packaging? 

Today, more than ever before, businesses and direct consumers are deeply concerned about working with companies that adhere to sustainable practices. But what does “sustainable” actually mean, and how does it apply to the packaging process? Understanding what “sustainability” truly entails will empower you to take better care of your customers and the world around you as you are able to recognize packaging that is sustainable by design and partner with responsible packagers. 

Sustainable Packaging Defined

Many definitions of “sustainability” get thrown around, and it can feel confusing. The simplest, most accurate way to describe sustainability is simply an effort that is made to take social equity (involving equal opportunity within the scope of safe and healthy conditions), the environment, and the economy into consideration. In terms of packing, we like to keep the “Three Ps” in mind:

  • People: Is the packaging socially progressive? Is it useful and beneficial to people from various walks of life and abilities? Is it produced in a safe, healthy work environment? Is the end product safe? 
  • Planet: Does the packaging take the environment into consideration? Is it manufactured in a way that is responsible? Is an effort being made to use materials that can be recycled and/or do no harm? 
  • Profit: Is the method of package production fiscally sound? Does the packaging minimize consumer expenses? 

The Importance of Packaging That’s Sustainable by Design

As more and more businesses face pressure to adopt more sustainable practices (and many are feeling the heat of approaching deadlines), it can be tempting to quickly partner with any packaging company that claims to be sustainable and meets your budgetary requirements. Although you may get lucky by taking this approach, chances are that you are selling yourself (and your customers and the environment) short. You want partnerships with businesses that manufacture products that are sustainable by design. This means much more than simply using recycled materials or minimizing manufacturing facility emissions. While these are great things, they neglect the big picture. 

Sustainable packaging by design means developing packaging that can be cycled through a circular economy. This means that the materials used for packaging will be around and in use for as long as possible. By this measure, sustainable packaging companies are constantly looking for ways to ensure that their products are durable, useful, and can be easily reused while still emphasizing responsible manufacturing processes. Additionally, packagers that are interested in products that are sustainable design will focus on a “less is more” approach, ensuring that the minimum required resources are used to produce excellent packaging. 

Types of Sustainable Packaging 

So, what type(s) of materials should you be working with as you move towards a product and labeling that is sustainable by design? Here are some commonly used resources:

  • Plastic: If this one took you by surprise, you’re not alone. Plastic has earned quite a bad name for itself through no fault of its own. Many people equate plastic with waste and harm to the environment. In reality, however, plastic is one of the most sustainable packaging options if it is incorporated into a closed-loop recyclable/returnable packaging system. This closed-loop system really is the key to success. Virgin plastic continues to contribute to waste in the world, whereas recycled plastic eliminates the volume of resources used and is highly beneficial. It is strong, durable, and lightweight and is very easy to customize. When it comes to labeling, though, there is the potential for a lot of waste. That’s where we come in! In addition to using responsibly sourced materials, we will collect and recycle the liner waste that comes from your machines. The quantity of liner “waste” that gets repurposed results in extraordinary savings, and over time, it significantly cuts back on landfill waste (we’re talking tons and tons!)
  • Paper: Everyone knows that paper can be recycled easily. Therefore, it may seem like paper should be the “go-to” product for generating sustainable packaging or product labels. It’s a little more complicated than that, though. In fact, poorly designed paper face stocks and adhesives can make the recycling process very inefficient, resulting in a lot of wasted water while also introducing chemicals like alkalis and bleach into the local water supply. That’s why it’s so important to transition to fully repulpable adhesive technology. Ultimately, this makes it much easier for packaging with adhesives to be recycled safely, responsibly, and effectively.
  • Compostable Packaging: Compostable packaging is picking up steam in terms of popularity. This would involve labels made of organic matter like wood pulp (or others, depending on practicality). Although compostable packaging is fantastic, it only works if people are educated on how to properly dispose of and compost these materials. Otherwise, they simply wind up in a landfill. 
  • Biodegradable Packaging: People love the idea of biodegradable packaging because, in theory, it breaks down naturally via bacteria and organisms in the soil found in landfills. Sadly, the world hasn’t perfected this technology yet. In fact, using biodegradable packaging isn’t entirely safe for the environment. This is because super-specific atmospheric conditions are required in order for materials to completely and safely biodegrade.


Taking Steps Towards Sustainability 

Many business owners stress out about sustainability initiatives because they mistakenly believe they have to magically change everything they do overnight. Fortunately, this isn’t the case at all. It’s important to remember that sustainability is NOT an “all or nothing” approach to packaging. By making small, simple changes to your product over time, you can make a huge environmental impact. Packaging is a fantastic place to start. In addition to working with primary packagers to come up with sustainable, attractive, and practical designs, you can turn to your package labeling partner. 

Those who partner with CCL, for example, will find that we don’t push you to turn your whole world upside-down overnight. Our tiered approach to sustainability empowers you to design practical, useful labels while transitioning to more sustainable materials that can be recycled and reused. This keeps your costs (and your customer’s costs) at a minimum while making a positive impact on the environment. We can also help you transition to wash-off adhesives for film, repulpable adhesives for paper, and removable adhesives for paperboard. As mentioned previously, these are processes that are extremely important if you’re hoping to make it easier for your product’s containers to be recycled. Even working with our design team to reduce the number of colors used in your labeling and packaging or optimizing printing webs can go a long way! And because we’re constantly working on our sustainability methods and practices, we’re happy to continuously work with you to take small but mighty steps in the right direction.

This may all sound fantastic, but you’re still unsure when or how to begin the process of becoming a more sustainable brand. The following steps will get you on your way. 

  • Research: Kick things off by doing a bit of market research. You already know that your consumer audience is interested in working with sustainable and responsible brands. Poll them on what, specifically, they would like to see in terms of sustainable design elements. From here, you can determine what is doable for your brand right now.
  • Redesign: Whether or not you make major changes to your packaging right now is entirely up to you. As discussed earlier, it can feel like a lot at first. But a really great (and more affordable) place to begin is with a simple redesign. The team at CCL can work with you to make small changes that go a long way. Swapping out the color palette or transitioning to a new labeling adhesive are great jumping-off points. 
  • Re-price: No one likes to have to increase costs to their customers, but sometimes it’s necessary. Although sustainability practices can cut costs in some areas, they can raise costs in others. Fortunately, research has shown that consumers are willing to pay more for products that are sustainable by design. Allow your customers to absorb some of your costs without pushing them over the edge with extreme pricing. 
  • Reinforce: Making changes to become a more sustainable brand is amazing, but you’re going to be able to make the most impact if you shout it from the rooftops. Reinforce your efforts by updating your marketing strategy to let the masses know what you’re doing. This will make existing customers happy while attracting new ones. Not only is this excellent for your bottom line, but it also ensures that more people are using sustainable product packaging, thus making a bigger environmental impact.

Final Thoughts on Sustainable by Design Packaging

When it comes to employing a “sustainable by design” approach to packaging, every little detail counts. We will help you through the process of making small changes that can make the world a much better place. Feel free to contact our design team to discuss simple ways that you can make your labels and packaging more sustainable than ever before. Get in touch to get you started on your sustainability journey today.

Speak with one of CCL Healthcare Sustainability Packaging Experts

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