How do you choose the most sustainable packaging?

About this article

What do you need to consider when choosing the best food packaging for your business and the planet? We cover the 4 most important things to think about.

calender 05 Jan 2024
clock 5 min
user James Pitcher

Packaging is important for society. By protecting our products, by allowing them to be transported great distances and stored safely for longer periods of time, packaging helps us live our modern lives.  

But packaging, like most products and activities, leaves an environmental footprint behind. To act for the welfare of the planet, society must do its best to make this footprint as light as it can be. 

So, how do we do this when it comes to packaging? In this article we give you some insight and tips about how we select the most sustainable options. 

How To  Choose Sustainable Packaging

  Several aspects are important when selecting sustainable packaging:

– Where does the packaging come from?

– Which material is the most sustainable?

– Can the packaging be recycled?

– Which waste management route suits your company best? 

Responsible Sourcing: where does the packaging come from?

Where have you sourced the packaging from? What is the manufacturer’s environmental record like? Are there better alternative sources?

At Verive, we maintain the highest standards of responsible sourcing, assessing our suppliers to ensure their environmental records stand up and that their use and management of resources does not incur unnecessary impact to the ecosystem. 

We do extensive research and due diligence for you, so your job of choosing the most appropriate food packaging is made that much easier. 

Do you have a question about responsible sourcing? You can get in touch with one of our sustainability heroes today who will help provide the answers you're looking for.

Material of the packaging: which material is the most sustainable?

All materials have their pros and cons, meaning it’s hard to state that one is better than another. For example: cardboard has a better reputation than plastic, but that’s mainly because of the poor waste management of plastic. In some countries this waste management infrastructure is absent, resulting in plastic ending up in waterways leading to the sea, adding to the infamous plastic soup. Whilst this is visibly harming wildlife and environmentally problematic, it doesn’t necessarily mean that plastic has a more negative impact on the environment overall. Cardboard may have a more environmentally conscious image, and yes, it is easier to recycle, but it does have a higher carbon footprint. These things aren’t black and white.

While reducing waste is an extremely important part of sustainability, there are more factors to consider when you’re looking for the best material for your food packaging. It’s not just about reducing the waste after the product’s been used, instead we need to consider the whole life cycle of the product, including all resources and energy used in production and transport.

sustainable food packaging
Which food packaging material is the most sustainable?

Life cycle assessments calculate the true environmental costs

That’s where Life Cycle Assessments (LCAs) come in. LCAs are data-driven analyses that quantify actual environmental costs. and provide a detailed breakdown of the consequences of business operations. LCAs, and other assessment methods, show us  how packaging contributes in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, ocean pollution, acidification, and other environmental outcomes. 

They help us by allowing us to ask how our material choice impacts the environment across the packaging’s entire life. 

LCAs are sometimes used to compare across different packaging materials, such as comparing olives packaged in a glass jar, steel can or a plastic pouch (although the remit of LCAs is wider than just materials). 

There is no ‘one-size fits all’ solution

It turns out that there is no ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to sustainable materials, and because every material has some type of impact, there is no material that is perfect. LCAs sometimes return surprising results.

At Verive, choosing the right material for the job is something we spend a lot of time making sure that we get it right. 

Recycling Problems Solved

When it comes to recycling, is the packaging format collected and recycled where you are? What’s the chance that someone is going to be able to get that pack recycled by putting it in the right bin? These are important questions to ask. 

Packaging design and material choice matters. Packaging made of several materials is often more difficult to recycle simply because it can be hard to separate the materials for their distinct recycling streams.

Sorting problems with small plastic items

It is possible to recycle small plastic items under 40mm wide, but most sorting machines miss the smaller items. The most advanced facilities can catch the smaller pieces, but such facilities are currently few and far between.

Design guidelines for packaging determine the recycle process

Design guidelines outline how we should design packaging to make it simple to process at recycling plants. Written by experts in recycling, guidelines such as these explain which types of inks, coatings, adhesives and materials we should or should not use.

Consider contacting your waste management provider, and work with them to understand what packaging is easy to recycle in your location. You might consider discussing the material, the size of the packaging, the decoration, and what the contents are, to see if they accept it.

Consider choosing one type of packaging 

One piece of advice we sometimes offer is—choose one type of packaging, with one end of life–recyclable or compostable–and stick with it. That way it’s a clearer message to customers and they don’t make mistakes when choosing which bin to put it in. This can also help you solve waste sorting issues. 

It can come in useful to choose one waste management route, either recycling or composting, make sure of course it’s possible in your location, and then stick with it.  

Verive sustainable food packaging and tableware
There's no one-size fits all approach

Taking the first steps

 By simply asking ‘how can I reduce my impact on the planet?’, you are already taking the first step in understanding how to approach sustainability. 

With packaging, one starting point is to reduce the amount of resources you use, and a second is to ensure that packaging is easy to recycle. There’s a lot more to the whole picture of sustainability, but these two points can help guide a lot of decisions.

Let us help you

At Verive, we try to help you make the best decision by giving you all the information on a product and its end of life.

In addition, our team of sustainability specialists can help you create the perfect personalised packaging strategy. Get in touch today, our team would love to hear from you.

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James Pitcher

Sustainability isn’t about choosing to do the right thing OR grow your business, we can help you to do both

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