6 Tips for Designing Sustainable Packaging

Sustainable or “green” packaging is all the rage these days, and there is no mystery why.

The public desires economic sustainability and renewability, and government policies are moving in the direction of supporting these efforts. Here are 6 tips for designing sustainable packaging whenever possible.

By Jeff Giedt 

1. Reduce:

Less is more. Whenever possible, the least amount of packaging should be used while still protecting the product. For example, new bottle designs use one-third less resin compared to previous bottle designs. In addition, the smaller a package can be, the better, as long as it maintains its integrity and protects the product. This is ecologically sound and reduces costs – a key consideration for designing sustainable packaging.

2. Reuse:

When possible. New packaging designs make it possible for customers to reuse food packaging for other purposes and thus extend its lifecycle. For example, fast food companies in other countries are introducing reusable containers that are microwave- and dishwasher-safe. Although most products housed in reusable packaging are food, not all are. Sports fashion retailer Puma now packages its footwear in a reusable shoe bag that has reduced its paper usage by 65%, thus also reducing diesel, energy, and water consumption in manufacturing by more than 60% annually.

Bic Eco Solutions Packaging3. Recycle:

Recycling “recaptures” the resources used to produce the packaging so that they can be reused again. While recycling has become mainstream in much of society, in manufacturing, recycling is still often overlooked because package functionality or aesthetic appeal takes precedence over environmental concerns. However, that’s changing. Take a look at the following developments in manufacturing as part of these 6 tips for designing sustainable packaging:


Recycling is often not possible with packaging when polyethylene coatings are used, but more environmentally friendly options are becoming available. While polyethylene coatings have traditionally been used in carton applications that fold, a new technology from Smart Planet Technologies called EarthCoating reduces the polyethylene content by mixing in powdered minerals, rendering the packaging material recyclable.

Activia eco-plastic packagingHoloBrite™

Holographic imagery has long made packaging attractive to consumers, but it generally requires film lamination that renders packaging non-recyclable. HoloBrite™ is a new technology that gives the appearance of a holograph design without using film lamination. This means that the packaging can be recycled without worrying about contaminating other paperboard content with the metal and polyester traditionally used in holographic design. One of the first products to use this design is the popular Aquafresh White & Shine Toothpaste box.

Ecologic Pulp Packaging

Ever popular, ecologically minded Seventh Generation is using Ecologic Brands’ molded pulp packaging for its concentrated liquid laundry detergent. The outer shell is made of 30% old newspapers and 70% recycled cardboard, which can be recycled seven times over. The inner pouch of the liquid laundry detergent is made of polyethylene that can be recycled with the ever-ubiquitous plastic grocery bag.

4. Change Strategy:

Encourage Food Consumption. One of the major challenges over which ecologically minded folks agonize is the waste of food. That’s why this tip encourages packaging a food product so that it can be consumed in its entirety instead of thrown away as trash. To that end, manufacturers are now increasingly focusing on packaging that is reclosable, has “use by” dates clearly marked, and has an interior “slippery surface” that encourages the complete emptying of the package, as applicable. In addition, food manufacturers are weighing the viability of single-serve packaging versus bulk packaging. As the reasoning goes, while packaging in bulk is arguably more cost-effective for the consumer, at least theoretically, single-serve options may be more consumer friendly AND environmentally friendly if they encourage that the packaged product be used up in its entirety instead of tossed because of spoilage.

recycled packaging5. Renew:

Although not originally included as part of the mantra, “Reduce, reuse, recycle,” “AND renew” is certainly an option, thanks to today’s new technologies. As an example, packing materials can come from renewable feedstock such as bioplastics made from sugarcane or corn. Although ‘renew” ideas are still being evaluated, they look promising as experts evaluate how they perform throughout their lifecycle and in the recycling stream.

6. Be transparent with the origin of the packaging material:

Increasingly, consumers, not just retailers, want to know from where their products’ packaging materials come. While it may be no surprise that non-GMO foods are increasingly in demand, consumers are also savvy about the packaging that houses those foods. Stonyfield Farm’s yogurt cups are made of corn-based bioplastic, but that wasn’t enough for the company. The manufacturer of those cups couldn’t assure Stonyfield that they were made entirely of non-genetically modified corn. To that end, Stonyfield Farm has funded a farm to grow non-genetically modified corn to ensure that the corn used for its yogurt cups is grown via sustainable agricultural standards, rather than simply through standard means.

Guest Writer

Jeff Giedt is vice president and general manager of Pioneer Packaging in Phoenix, AZ. With recyclable food packaging options, Pioneer Packaging is a division of the Heritage Pioneer Corporate Group, a leading distributor of corrugated boxes, packaging materials and equipment, with 16 locations across the western United States.