8 Sustainable Packaging Ideas for 2024

As consumers become more conscious of their shopping habits, they’re looking not only for eco-friendly products. They’re also concerned about sustainable business practices across the board.

How items ordered from Shopify businesses are packaged and shipped has a major impact on the planet—and customers are taking note.

We spoke to founders about their sustainability practices, including eco-friendly packaging options and how they’re shipping and fulfilling their orders with the environment in mind. 

6 eco-friendly packaging tips

  1. Offer carbon-neutral shipping by offsetting emissions
  2. Ship items in bulk
  3. Use sustainable packaging materials that can be repurposed
  4. Offer a returns program for your empty product containers
  5. Reduce the size of your packaging
  6. Use compostable packaging and mailers

Let’s dive into each of these eco-friendly packaging ideas, with advice from ecommerce business owners on everything including recyclable packaging, compostables, sustainable alternatives to plastic bags, filler, and more.

1. Offer carbon-neutral shipping by offsetting emissions 

Eric and Yana Dales met while doing humanitarian aid work in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Being in a garment manufacturing hub, the Dales saw the environmental drain and social impact of fast fashion. In response to the unsustainable raw materials, plastic packaging, and poor labor conditions of these companies, they created the fashion company they wanted to see in the world. 

TAMGA Designs co-founder Yana Dales models one of the company’s dresses. TAMGA Designs

The couple started TAMGA Designs, a sustainable clothing brand that aims to be style-, people-, and planet-conscious. 

Their main objective is to not contribute to the deforestation taking place in ancient Indonesian jungles. They found a production partner that produces fabric from sustainably grown eucalyptus and beechwood trees to create pieces colored with low-impact dyes. 

The TAMGA Designs team: founders Yana Dales (left) and Eric Dales (center) and head designer Anna Valero Domenech (right).
The TAMGA Designs team: founders Yana Dales and Eric Dales and head designer Anna Valero Domenech. TAMGA Designs

Still, their garments are sourced in Asia, travel to their facilities in Canada, then ship out to consumers in more than 25 different countries. With all the miles their garments are traveling, the Dales set their sights on becoming a carbon-neutral company. “We looked at the carbon emissions per kilometer per kilogram of garments on different modes of transportation,” Eric says. “We have a big spreadsheet, and at the end of the month, we put together a tally and purchase offsets on those emissions.” 

TAMGA shares its process openly in the hope of creating systems other businesses will follow.

Compostable and biodegradable garment bags used by TAMGA Designs.
Compostable and biodegradable garment bags used by TAMGA Designs. TAMGA Designs

TAMGA Designs also packages each of its garments in eco-friendly packaging materials, specifically, 100% biodegradable cassava-based mailers. This compostable packaging solution replaces conventional plastic or kraft mailers.

“It’s really important for small businesses to know this isn’t something that is going to take away from their profitability,” Eric says. “In the long run, we honestly believe it’s a net-positive impact on our bottom line, because customers do see it and they do value it.”

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2. Ship items in bulk 

Harriet Simonis, David Fragomeni, and Scott Ferguson first became friends while living in Bali. When surfing the local waves, they were distressed to find that the ocean was overflowing with single-use plastic packaging and discarded fishing nets. That moment served as the catalyst to adopt the zero-waste lifestyles they still practice today. As they searched for plastic-free and eco-friendly products, they realized something ironic. “A lot of environmentally friendly products come affixed in plastic,” Harriet says. “It almost undoes the good.” 

Determined to create an eco-friendly solution, the trio founded Zero Waste Cartel, a brand of bath, body, and kitchen products in biodegradable or reusable packaging.

Zero Waste Cartel founders, David Fragomeni (left), Harriet Simonis (center), and Scott Ferguson (right).
Zero Waste Cartel’s David Fragomeni, Harriet Simonis, and Scott Ferguson. Zero Waste Cartel

Their pledge to go plastic-free came with its own set of distinct challenges. For example, Harriet says the company had a hard time finding a warehouse that would actually use the compostable mailers they provided because of the additional time and effort involved. 

They’ve since found a suitable partner in the United States, where most of their orders are placed, which further reduced their environmental impact by shortening the shipping distance between warehouse and customers. 

Assortment of zero-waste products to replace everyday disposable items
Zero Waste cartel sells a variety of eco-friendly products to replace commonly used disposables. Zero Waste Cartel

“We prefer to ship in bulk, for the dual reason that it’s a better value for customers and better for the environment too,” Harriet says. Zero Waste Cartel only sells its bamboo toothbrushes in packs of 10 to encourage customers to plan their purchases or share orders, so that products can ship in a more sustainable manner. What might otherwise seem like an inflexible policy has resonated with Zero Waste Cartel’s customers, who see value in bulk purchases for the planet and their own wallets. 

3. Use sustainable packaging materials that can be repurposed 

Since 2016, Roth Martin and Stephen (Hawthy) Hawthornthwaite have created high-end, durable, and machine-washable footwear made from plastic water bottles, under the moniker Rothy’s. With products that place style and sustainability on equal footing, Rothy’s counts Meghan Markle and supermodel Karlie Kloss among its fans.

Five members of GRLSWIRL posing for Rothy's limited edition collaboration.
Rothy’s regularly works with different organizations to design limited edition products, like this collaboration with female-founded skate group GRLSWIRL. Rothy’s

Lauren Taflinger, who was Rothy’s director of production, says the company has recycled and repurposed more than 34 million water bottles to date. Rothy’s production process also knits shoe uppers to shape, which creates virtually zero waste, unlike traditional cutting, where 30% to 40% of material is wasted. 

Like TAMGA Designs, Rothy’s also offsets its carbon emissions from production and fulfillment by partnering with the Envira Amazonia Project to fund ecosystem services and forest conservation projects.

Pointed leopard print flats, pointed zebra flats, white sneakers, red pointed flats, and original flats in zebra print being modelled.
An array of Rothy’s designs: classic flats, pointed flats, and sneakers. Rothy’s

Rothy’s team took a logical approach to reduce waste in its shipping and packaging practices. “Rather than shipping a box within a box, our shoeboxes are the vehicle for both shipping and returns,” Lauren says. Rothy’s vegan, biodegradable boxes are made from 85% post-consumer recycled materials. Rothy’s hopes to reduce the additional use of paper cards and make their boxes even more versatile.

Rothy’s biodegradable shoeboxes and care instruction cards.
Rothy’s biodegradable shoeboxes are durable enough to ship on their own. Rothy’s

When it comes to sustainability, Rothy’s is all about reimagining the details, from products to packaging, so that every component of a customer’s order produces less waste. 

4. Offer a returns program for your empty product containers

Visual artists Tara Pelletier and Jeff Kurosaki are the life and business partners behind Meow Meow Tweet, an organic skin care company that features adorable animal illustrations on its eco-friendly product packaging. Their love of animals, also the motivation behind their vegan lifestyle, eventually inspired them to create products made with organic unrefined plant oils, cold-pressed essential oils, and botanicals.

Rows of Meow Meow Tweet's Eucalyptus Lemon deodorant sticks.
The Eucalyptus Lemon deodorant sticks in their compostable kraft paper tubes. Meow Meow Tweet

Jeff and Tara want everything they create to either return back to the earth or be reusable. In pursuit of that goal, they use biodegradable packing peanuts as filler and non-reinforced paper tape throughout their environmentally friendly shipping process. Their solid products, like deodorants, soaps, and lip balms, come in biodegradable kraft packages, while liquid products like cleansers, toners, and sunscreen, are packaged in recyclable packaging like glass or aluminum bottles. Plastic pumps can be recycled by their partner, TerraCycle

The packaging and bottle for Meow Meow Tweet's Everyday Sunscreen.
Meow Meow Tweet encourages purchasers of its Everyday Sunscreen to reuse, recycle, or return the product’s aluminum bottle and plastic pump. Meow Meow Tweet

5. Reduce the size of your packaging 

Holy Lamb Organics has come a long way since its early days, when founder Willow Whitton sold bedding out of a repurposed school bus. 

The brand has attracted a loyal following that includes rave reviews. Part of the appeal can be attributed to husband-and-wife team Jason and Mindy Schaefer’s steadfast adherence to a zero-waste production process.

“Our production model is carefully designed to make the most effective use of every cut, and any excess in a cut is used for something else,” Mindy says. The same goes for the company’s wool suppliers, who use cardboard rolls and kraft paper for their eco-friendly packaging, while scraps can be sent back to their suppliers to be repurposed.

A maker sews a piece of bedding at Holy Lamb Organics.
The efficient cutting and repurposing of scraps allow Holy Lamb Organics to achieve a virtually zero-waste production process. Holy Lamb Organics

When it comes to sustainable shipping, the Holy Lamb Organics team has a knack for getting their items to fit into smaller packages—an eco-friendly packaging solution for larger items. “We keep our boxes as light as possible by not adding extra collateral or material, and vacuum sealing all mattresses so they ship smaller,” says Jason. 

For all the other shipping and logistics components they cannot control, Mindy says the team uses a carbon offset program to help mitigate the effects.

Holy Lamb Organics pillow cover and full body pillow wrapped and packed in a box.
Minimal packaging and bedding folded to allow products to ship in smaller containers. Holy Lamb Organics

The team wants to work with fulfillment partners who can help shorten the distance of each shipment by having their products stored at warehouses closer to the majority of their customers.

6. Use compostable packaging and mailers 

A big trend in eco-friendly packaging right now is compostable and biodegradable packaging. Speaking to this growing area of focus for many retailers, Hero Packaging is a supplier dedicated to making 100% compostable mailers, which replace traditional hard to recycle poly mailers.

A roll of custom packaging tape sits on a red surface with scissors and an envelope
Hero Packaging’s offerings include compostable tape shown here and alternatives to poly mailers. Hero Packaging

Life and business partners Anaita Sarkar and Vik Davé were originally running a fashion business when they realized how much plastic waste went into fulfilling their orders. “We were throwing away a lot of packaging from suppliers then having to repackage things again, adding to the world’s plastic and landfill woes,” Vik says.

So they took matters into their own hands. “We did some digging and found out that you can actually have compostable shipping labels and mailers to replace plastic,” Vik says. The material Hero Packaging uses is cornstarch and cassava based.

Now that business has taken off in Australia, Vik and Anaita have begun seeing a large portion of sales of their eco-friendly packaging from North America. To respond to newfound demand, they’re keen to start partnering with fulfillment centers in the US.

Vik jokes that “being a business which is essentially located at the bottom of the Earth makes it difficult to viably ship heavy boxes to different parts of the world.” The couple says their goal is to further reduce their carbon footprint by shipping closer to their customers in the most sustainable way available.

Take sustainable steps with eco-friendly packaging

The common thread with all of these brands is a desire to be more environmentally responsible. For some, this commitment offered a way to connect with customers around core values. For others, the time, energy, and research involved in sourcing sustainable packaging solutions just felt like the right thing to do. 

Depending on your industry, location, and resources, the right packaging and shipping solutions for your business can vary widely. Whatever you choose for your business, know that your efforts will pay off as more and more customers are speaking up for the environment with their dollars.

Feature image by Unsplash / Sticker Mule

Eco-friendly packaging FAQ

What is eco-friendly packaging?

Eco-friendly packaging refers to alternatives to typical wasteful packaging like plastics. These alternatives include renewable packaging, compostable poly mailers (bioplastics), recycled kraft shopping bags or filler, biodegradable packing tape and stickers, recycled corrugated cardboard boxes, and other packaging materials that contribute less waste.

Why is eco-friendly packaging important?

Packaging accounts for a huge amount of waste produced globally. Taking steps to replace some of this with sustainable alternatives will reduce the strain on our planet, including plastics that end up in our oceans and deforestation.

What is the most eco-friendly packaging?

There are many alternatives that all have their pros and cons. The best packaging is no packaging at all, but this is an unrealistic standard to meet, especially as an ecommerce company. The most eco-friendly packaging is that which uses the least new resources and is easy to either reuse, home compost, or recycle.

How much does eco-friendly packaging cost?

Eco-friendly packaging may cost more than conventional packaging, and the prices will range widely depending on a number of factors, including material and volume. Buying anything in bulk will save you money and is a great solution for businesses that ship many things in the same size packaging. Compare rates and options. The extra cost is worth it for the positive impact you will make on the planet—and in customer’s minds.

Where can I buy eco-friendly packaging?

There are multiple packaging supplies that offer eco-friendly options from large businesses like Hero Packaging and noissue that offer custom packaging options. Weigh the offerings of each of these sources based on your volume and other needs.

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