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Sustainable Packaging: How To Minimise Waste When Packaging Products

How I minimise my waste when packaging products, including links to the websites I use for my sustainable packaging and printing.


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A few years ago I began trying to find ways to minimise as much waste as I could from my supply chain. About a year after that I succeeded in providing zero-waste products to my customers (that is, my products produced no waste at the consumer end). I'm here to tell you how I did it.


An illustration of a triangular postal tube
An illustration of one of my triangular cardboard poster tubes


BIODEGRADABLE PACKAGING


The first thing I looked into was how to make my packaging biodegradable. It came with an easy answer: make sure all of my packaging is made out of paper. Of course, there are problems with that I'll address in the next paragraph. But by and large, if it's made out of paper, it's going to biodegrade. Paper is also endlessly recyclable, where plastic is not.


As an art print business, I looked high and low for postal tubes that didn't have the little round plastic lid in the top and bottom - I never found any, what I found instead was these triangular postal tubes from Kite packaging.


Since initially searching though, the amazing Eco Craft (www.eco-craft.co.uk) has released postal tubes with metal lids (I ordered some the other day in fact, and they are great!). Also from eco craft, is a range of clear envelopes made from corn starch, which also biodegrade (and I know they do, because I chucked a couple in my compost pile).


In the end though, my decision was to have my printer D Studio (www.dstudiouk.com), package all of my prints in their biodegradable packaging, so the packing was done for me. The downsides with this is they only have certain sizes, and it's more expensive than doing it yourself.


USE RECYCLED MATERIALS


The problem with using things made out of paper, is that you often have to cut trees down to get them. Enter the recycled paper boxes. If you can find a way to buy packaging that is made out of recycled paper, then no new trees are cut down to make it, and voila! You've closed the loop and instantly made your packaging more sustainable.


A card with a bear on it, holding a present, it reads 'I come bear-ing gifts' and stands on a mantelpiece
One of my greetings cards, made and packaged with 100% recycled materials

Until last week, I hadn't found any postal tubes made of recycled paper, but now Eco Craft are doing them, as mentioned above - yay! I also used Eco Craft's recycled paper packaging for things like: my envelopes that go with my greetings cards (100% recycled), my greetings cards themselves (100% recycled), my A5 art prints and posters (glassine bags), the envelopes for my A5 art prints and posters, and cards (100% recycled), the paper tape I use to seal my packaging . . . the list goes on and on.


Basically, sod this post and head to their website. (This is not sponsored by the way, I just love them.)


KEEP IT LOCAL: ORDER SUSTAINABLE PACKAGING FROM YOUR COUNTRY OF ORIGIN


This should go without saying really if you're trying to be more eco friendly. If you order from the country you live in, and those items are manufactured in that country, then you clock up way less carbon by not flying things all over the place. Usually, with any true eco friendly manufacturer, they're also doing their best to pay a fair wage to their workers.


A simple drawing of a white clover flower with two leaves on a blue background
My illustration of white clover, the seeds of which I sent out as a sustainable free gift for a while

A NOTE ON THANK YOU PARAPHERNALIA


Now, here's where I'm a little unsure of myself. You know when you order something and you get reams and reams of thank you paraphernalia: one 'Thank You' postcard, one free gift, one wine voucher, a flyer advertising their website . . . yeah, this is what I mean.


While I am all on board for treating your customers, and saying thank you for their much appreciated support, I'm not entirely convinced this is the way to do it if you want to be more eco-friendly.


Keep it simple: cut down on the paraphernalia. I usually send a business card type thing with a little handwritten note on the back and a discount code for the person's next shop.


Or if you really must send something, send something useful: a couple of summers ago I sent a little packet of organic clover seeds to all of my customers - all they had to do was upend it into some grass and there you have it: food for bees, fixes nitrogen in the soil, makes the grass healthier, good for the environment and zero waste. Good stuff.


TO PRINT OR NOT TO PRINT . . . ON DEMAND


Here's something I'm just trying out at the moment: print on demand. I have set up with a company called Gelato (www.gelato.com) for all of my newer products. Why?


Pros:

  • Print on demand means less waste, because something is only printed when it's ordered

  • Gelato operate in a number of different countries around the world, so it's printed directly in most countries, and doesn't have to be flown over

  • They offer products that I would not be able to post, such as framed art prints and posters, and larger sizes, such as A2

  • To save money: I don't have the cash to keep ordering in bulk


Cons:

  • I can't control the packaging, I don't know what it will arrive with you packaged in - it could be plastic, and then that makes everything here null and void, don't you think?

  • I have no stock for markets etc.

  • It's more expensive

  • They offer lots of less eco friendly products and I'm not sure I want to support that


So, all in all, I'll give it a go and let you know what I think of its eco credentials once I've been using it a little while.


A poster showing 20 different green creatures with identification below, framed and resting against a polkadot wall
One of the products I print on demand: my green animals kids' poster

AND THERE YOU HAVE IT


Make your packaging biodegradable, and better yet, make it recycled; order your packaging from your country of origin to avoid the carbon produced from your packaging travelling all over the shop, keep thank you paraphernalia to a minimum, and consider printing on demand (though weigh the pros and cons of their eco credentials first).


Comment below if you have more questions and I'll do my best to answer!


If you fancy reading more about sustainability, try:


This post on what carbon offsetting is and how I use it for my business

Or this slightly more immediately helpful post on how to create a DIY glass cleaner


As always, thanks for reading!

Nx

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