Packaging is everything but strategic when it is not sustainable. A visually appealing box can earn you extra bucks and the patronage of a few customers. But it takes sustainable packaging to experience a higher or stable ROI in the long run. 

With the growing interest in environmental conservation and improved health of the environment, packaging has evolved into one of the indices for measuring a brand’s credibility, integrity, and commitment to environmental development.

Are you still wondering why there is so much noise about sustainable packaging? Here are some answers.

Why Sustainable Packaging?

Research conducted by Trivium this year revealed that 74 percent of customers are willing to pay more for sustainable packaging. Meaning that you can increase your chances of selling a product by using the right materials to package it.

Generally brands that are not practicing sustainable packaging will score low in terms of integrity or credibility. And these brands will likely lose their customers to competitors that know the secret of sustainable packaging.

There is no easier way to earn customer’s trust and make more sales than ensuring that your packaging materials pose no threat to the environment.

In this article, we are going to be explaining what sustainable packaging is and some of the best practices for sustainable packaging.

What Is Sustainable Packaging?

Sustainable packaging is packaging with materials that are biodegradable, renewable, and eco-friendly. It includes all the measures a business takes to reduce or eliminate the adverse effect of packaging and shipping a product to the customer on the environment. 

Sustainable packaging reflects the brand’s position on how and where they source packaging materials, and what type of materials are ideal for the environment. 

According to a report on Ask Pulp & Paper, 56 percent of consumers want brands to use more sustainable packaging. From packaging materials to shipping options, consumers expect every brand to indulge in practices that would better the environment. 

The study also reported that many consumers do not trust a brand’s attempt to be green because the CEO says so.

This means that we are dealing with consumers that are more informed than they were a few years ago. In such a situation, your brand cannot afford to make mistakes about its packaging materials.

If you are using a 3PL service provider, ensure that you spell out what you want your product packaging to look like. Red Stag offers some of the best 3PL fulfillment services. Here are some questions to guide you through the decision.

  • Are my packaging materials biodegradable, reusable, and eco-friendly?
  • Are the materials easy to dispose of?
  • How will I source my packaging materials or how does my 3PL service provider source their packaging materials?
  • What are the best packaging style and print processes for my product?
  • What shipping options are available to me?
  • What certificate program do I need?

By answering these questions, you are one step ahead in creating the best sustainable packaging practice for your business. 

The Best Sustainable Packaging Materials 

The use of sustainable packaging materials is now a popular trend among brands. However, using these materials does not necessarily translate to having a sustainable packaging practice. To have a sustainable packaging policy, you must do the following:

  • Ensure that your packaging can protect your product throughout the supply chain.
  • Educate your customers on what to do with the packaging material.
  • Create a system that ensures that materials are used efficiently.
  • Ensure that materials are continuously cycled and discourage degradation as much as possible.
  • Ensure that packaging does not pose risk to human health or the environment.

Sustainable packaging material is any material that does not contain hazardous chemicals or carcinogens. These materials are usually organic and they are sourced responsibly. Some sustainable packaging materials include:

  • Paper materials
  • Biodegradable packing peanut
  • Corrugated bubble wrap
  • Cornstarch packaging
  • Organic fabrics
  • Mushrooms packaging
  • Seaweed packaging
  • Some plastics 
  • Biodegradable polymers

1. Paper Materials

Modern packaging can not do without paper, and more than 50 percent of packaging in the US involves the use of paper. In 2018, the global production volume of paper and cardboard was around 420 million metric tons . And half of the total production was attributed to packaging paper.

Paper is used because it is biodegradable, recyclable , and easy to print on. Paper also allows you a variety of packaging options. In 2018 alone, over 78,000 tons of paper were consumed in the US .

Paper can be used to make corrugated boxes or serves as accessories that turn your packaging into a finished product. Paper serves multiple purposes in packaging and they include:

  • Corrugated Cardboard (including boxes)-   paper is used to make corrugated boxes for boxing your product. Corrugated boxes come from 70 percent recycled paper, which makes them safe to use.
  • Paper bags- paper bags are used to package lightweight materials. They are usually less expensive and easy to move from one location to another.
  • Gummed paper tape – packaging requires tape and paper tapes are the best way to stay eco-friendly with your packaging.

Gummed paper tapes have a water-soluble base that is activated with water. This tape offers top-notch security to the contents inside your box without costing much.

  • Paper fillers- paper is also a great alternative to foam when serving as fillers. Paper fillers can be produced in varying sizes with the help of a machine. Paper can also serve as cushions to give inside your box a structured look.
  • Kraft self-adhesive tape- Kraft tapes can serve as a better alternative to plastic self-adhesive tapes. 

2. Biodegradable Sealed Air Packing Peanut

After several states in the US banned the use of styrofoam, that expanded, lightweight, airy material used in packaging takeaway cartons, the packaging industry turned to the use of a better alternative.

Biodegradable sealed air packing peanuts are made from non-food plant ingredients making them eco-friendly. It is 100 percent recyclable and they are easy to use. The 14 cubic feet of peanut can give your product all-around protection.

3. Corrugated Bubble Wrap

Corrugated Bubble wraps are less hazardous compared to their plastic counterparts. These wraps are made from cardboard, and they are less expensive. However, corrugated bubble wrap may not give you the popping appearance of other bubble wraps.

4. Cornstarch packaging

Cornstarch is one of the preferred alternatives to plastic due to its plastic-like properties. They are usually produced from maize plants, making them eco-friendly.

Cornstarch can be used to produce bottles, molded foams, or even fillers. However, the use of cornstarch will reduce the amount of maize available for food.

5. Organic Fabrics

Organic fabrics can serve the same purpose as plastic bags. They are produced from organic materials like hemp, cotton, tapioca, etc. Organic fabrics take less time to biodegrade than normal plastic.

6. Mushroom Packaging

The packaging industry has seen a lot of great innovations in the last few years, and mushroom packaging is one of them.

Mushroom is another cheap eco-friendly material that can be used for packaging. Mushrooms are used as roots to fuse other clean agricultural wastes. This function is otherwise known as mycelium.

Mushroom packaging can be used for smaller items. And you can be very creative with it. You can mold the agricultural waste into any desired shape, and then dry it well for packaging.

Using agricultural wastes is one of the best eco-friendly practices. It is the safest way to stay away from the controversy of reducing food supply or petroleum materials.

7. Seaweed Packaging

Seaweeds, especially the gelatinous substance agar have been dominant in the food industry over the years. Seaweeds have been used as thickeners.

And they have also served as a vegetarian alternative to gelatin. However, we have always known that these natural materials can be used for more.

Recently, a group of designers won an award for prototyping seaweeds as a packaging material. The packaging uses a host of natural materials with seaweed as the major materials.

8. Some Plastic

Plastic should be avoided as much as possible. Most consumers are no longer buying products that are packaged in plastic material.

According to the Guardian , a large number of plastic reserved for recycling is being incinerated because developing countries are refusing to accept waste plastic.

However, some plastics are more hazardous than others. Recycled plastic may be used when there is no better alternative. These plastics usually have a grey inner liner that can be easily identified.

9. Biodegradable Polymers

Biodegradable polymers are a great alternative to plastic. This is essential in packaging food items. Biodegradable polymers decompose into Co 2,  water, inorganic compounds, and biomass.

Biodegradable polymers can be made of different materials. Here’s a table showing polymer types and their applications below.

Category Polymer Types Application

Natural polymer




-wraps, cups, plates, and trays

-fish, fresh food, baked goods

-fresh fruit and vegetables

-films, the coating on paper

Synthetic Biopolymers
Polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHA)

Bacterial Cellulose
-cheese coating, bottles, containers, sheets


Non-natural polymers

Poly(Vinyl Alcohol) (PVA)

Polylactide (PLA)

Polyglycolide (PGA)

Poly(e-caprolactone) (PCL)

Poly(butylene succinate) (PBS)

Poly(trimethylene teraphthalate) (PTT)
-water-soluble films

-paper coatings, films

-protective layer in multi-layer packages like PETE bottles, cups, dishes, trays.

-loose-fill, film bags, foam trays

-films, bags


Some of The Best Packaging Styles

Packaging requires only a few ingredients to stand out. And one of such ingredients is creativity. Without creativity, it will be difficult to differentiate between one brand and another. 

If you want to create a unique, visually appealing packaging,  you must be flexible enough to try your ideas. 

There are no strict rules when it comes to packaging styles. Just ensure that your product packaging can leave a lasting impression on your customers.

Some packaging styles you may want to try include

1. Custom Packaging

Customized boxes are recyclable and visually appealing. These boxes can easily stimulate your customers’ eyes from afar. All you must do is to make sure you use the right color combination.

Custom boxes should also be a perfect fit for your product. Avoid using a box that is too big for your product. These boxes also give you enough space to go creative through inserts, stickers, or even printing. 

2. White on Kraft

This type of packaging style involves printing white ink on a Kraft.  Instead of leaving a Kraft paper bare, you can create a unique design with white ink on it. Kraft papers are usually less expensive and easy to use.

They are great for packaging lightweight materials like snacks, some books, etc.

3. Vintage Packaging

This type of packaging allows you to recreate an old packaging design with a more modern touch. This packaging is based on vintage aesthetics and colors, without posing threat to the environment.

Vintage packaging differs from luxury packaging since it uses materials that can be recycled without stress.

What is the Role of Ink-Printing in Sustainable Packaging?

Most finished packaging usually includes a printed message. Some of these messages are printed with inks that are toxic and difficult to remove.

Like other packaging materials, you need to make the right choice of ink and printing style. If you don’t use the right ink, it will make it difficult for your packaging materials to be used again.

To avoid making the wrong call, verify whether the ink is renewable. According to the US National Association of Printing Ink Manufacturers (NAPIM) , an ink is renewable when

  • It is derived from trees, plants, insect, or animal materials
  • It comes from eco-friendly materials.

You can also verify the content of your ink by registering on NAPIMs Biodegradable Content (BRC) program.

These programs help you determine whether an ink contains a substantial amount of bio-renewable content. Generally, a sustainable printing process will help

  • Produce lower weight packaging
  • Reduce volatile organic components
  • Improve chances of recycling
  • Extend shelf life

Common Printing Process In Packaging

There are three main printing process used in packaging and they include-

  • Lithography
  • Flexography
  • Ink-Jet

1. Lithography

This printing process involves the use of a metal plate which carries the image that will be printed on the box or material. The image is usually applied to the surface of the metal plate using a greasy medium like a crayon, pencil, etc.

After that, a solution gum is applied on the surface to produce water receptive non-printing areas, and grease receptive image areas. Next, the paper is placed on a surface and the metal plate is pressed on it.

2. Flexography

This involves the use of a roll that passes through a series of rotary flexible relief plates. A special roller gives each plate a unique color. These plates and their colors then work together to produce the final printing results.

Flexo printing is great for corrugated boxes. It works well on both rough and smooth surfaces. Arka has some of the best flex printed corrugated boxes.

3. Ink-Jet

This is a machine based printer. Inkjet prints by recreating a digital image by sending droplets of inks onto paper or plastic substance. This type of printing is very common due to its flexibility and was of use.

Inks can be used to improve the result of your packaging. And when they are no longer serving their purpose, a process known as flotation may be used to remove ink from the material.

Printing Method Advantages Disadvantages
Lithography -High print quality with more than a four-color process.
-Retail print quality for consumer products.
-Smooth and noticeable graphics
-Requires custom made printing plates
-Longer lead times
-The print surface must be flat
Flexography -Lesser unit cost
-Can work with both water and oil-based inks
-Lower tooling cost and faster turnaround time
-Not suitable for 4 color printing jobs
-May not print smooth color gradient
-Lesser printing quality compared to lithography
Ink-jet -Quick turnaround time, and minimal set-up cost
-High print quality
-Higher per-unit cost does not offer many coating options like lithography
-Cannot use metallic ink, and PMS colors are difficult to match

FSC Certification Programs and Programs

An FSC certification can help promote your stand on sustainable packaging. FSC certification proves that your brand complies with the highest social and environmental standards in the market.

As a brand owner, you can sign up for forest management certification, or chain of custody certification.

Arka offers some of the best packaging ideas. And you don’t have to worry about where your packaging materials are sourced from. Arka packaging materials are FSC certified.

According to FSC, over 200 million hectares of land have been certified as of 2020. This is likely to increase by more than ten percent next year. 

To become FSC certified, there are five important steps you must take. They include-

  • Contact any FSC certified body to request quotes
  • Proceed to submit a certification application to the FSC body
  • Ensure that the proper FM or CoC management is in place
  • Undergo an onsite audit with the FSC body
  • Gain certification approval

Understanding The Three Levels of Packaging

Packaging is not limited to the box protecting your product from harsh weather conditions. If you are not very familiar with the packaging industry you may not get this. If you want to invest in your packaging, it is salient that you can distinguish between them.

All packaging requires three levels of engagement and it is the same whether you are using a 3PL firm or not. Here are the 3 levels.

1. Primary packaging

Primary packaging is the packaging that comes in contact with the product directly. It focuses on containment, protection, and preservation of the finished product. Primary packaging is also known as a consumer unit.

Primary packaging is usually the first layer containing the finished product. And it is usually appealing. They are used to convey a brand’s message to the end-users.

This level of packaging is where creativity is most needed. You have to craft the right brand message, choose the appropriate inserts,  and pick the right colors. 

2. Secondary packaging

Secondary packaging is used outside the primary packaging. It is used to contain several similar packaged products to create a stock-keeping unit (SKU). Secondary packaging focuses on maintaining the integrity of the primary packaging.

Secondary packaging may include multiple components like a box, padding, reinforcement, separators, papers, etc. They can serve as a shipping container. And also allows for easy identification in the warehouse.

3. Tertiary packaging

This level of packaging is used to group larger quantities of SKUs to transport them from one point to another. Tertiary packaging generally serves the function of shipping containers or distribution boxes.

It helps prevent damage while facilitating the storage and transportation of goods. Tertiary packaging may not require visually appealing materials.

In most cases, a large wooden box can be all you need. You may also use a large corrugated box, with lots of tapes to protect your products.


The benefits of sustainable packaging to a business can not be overemphasized. From an increase in sales to building a strong brand reputation, sustainable packaging gives your business so much for less.

You will do your business a whole lot of good with it. It is not very hard to start and show your customers why they should stick to your brand. All you have to do is take some of the tips listed above to create your sustainable packaging policy.

Vitor Botega is the Head of Partnerships of Arka with over a decade’s experience in digital marketing. Vitor has gathered expertise in multiple industries working with SaaS, ecommerce, Agency, and several digital media platforms.