How to Reduce Waste in Your Packaging

If your organization has adopted sustainable business practices, waste-free packaging is probably on your goals list.

According to the Zero Waste International Alliance, zero waste is defined as responsible production, reuse and recovery of resources. Zero waste packaging means there should be no burning of materials or disposing of packaging into landfills and oceans.

Waste-free packaging is:

  • Designed to be minimal and functional
  • Made of 100% recyclable or compostable materials or intended for reuse 

Consumers want sustainable packaging. A 2018 study by the Paper and Packaging Board and IPSOS found 63% of consumers are more likely to buy products in cardboard or paper because the packaging can be reused. These materials also enhance the perceived quality of the product, with 63% saying paper and cardboard packaging gives a product a premium quality.

Some packaging, like the BillerudKorsnäs D-Sack, disappears as it's used. The D-Sack paper cement sack disintegrates into a cement mixer which both prevents airborne cement dust, which can be harmful, and creates a truly zero-waste experience for the user. The user doesn't have to spend time finding a place to dispose of the bag or feel guilty if it's not recyclable. All types of consumers can benefit from reduced waste packaging.

If your business wants to reduce waste in packaging, use this guide to move toward more sustainable packaging.

Step 1: Audit Your Packaging

Examine what you are already working with:

  • How much of your packaging is recyclable, and what materials could you swap out for recyclable or reusable materials? 
  • Are you using unnecessary packaging materials? 
  • Can the amount of packaging you're using be reduced without compromising the protection for the product? 
  • Can you optimize packaging to reduce transportation needs and carbon emissions?
  • Do you need to make packaging for the “shelf” when it is destined for the direct to consumer channel? 

Conduct a packaging audit to identify sustainable opportunities. Besides looking at the packaging of your products, find ways to reduce packaging waste in your supply chain. A well-designed transport packaging system allows for packaging to be reused throughout the supply chain.

Step 2: Audit Your Partners and Vendors

How sustainable are the suppliers, manufacturers, vendors and other partners that you engage with throughout your supply chain? If they are not sustainable, are they willing to adapt in order to keep your business? Ask for evidence of sustainable efforts, including life cycle assessments, information about the source of their materials, proof of safe working conditions and other tactics your current and potential partners are using.

Outdoor recreation brand REI is one example of a company holding its brand partners to high sustainable standards. Its apparel and outerwear line puts sustainability at the center of product creation, working closely with partners to ensure products are fair trade and built to be long-lasting.

Package Free Shop is another brand focused on sustainable partners. The company commits to zero waste and plastic-free shipping, making all shipping materials (including tape) and labels 100% recyclable and 100% compostable. All wholesaler shipments must come 100% plastic-free, or the products are returned and not sold by Package Free Shop.

Step 3: Develop a Waste Reduction Plan

To develop a packaging waste reduction plan, you must first take stock of the amount of packaging waste you have and define a target reduction to achieve. To do so: 

  • Create a waste reduction mission statement that highlights the values driving the mission
  • Set incremental goals to achieve the mission
  • Name key stakeholders who will play a role in implementing the plan
  • Identify strategies and initiatives and how and when they will be carried out. These could include:
    • Bulk shipping of items to reduce transportation and fuel emissions
    • Using reduced waste packaging, such as 100% recyclable packaging or packaging made from 100% sustainable raw materials
    • Re-engineer packaging for better product protection and reduced material usage 
    • Moving toward multi-use packaging to discourage single-package use and end-of-life packaging waste
    • Recycling waste in the supply chain and/or reusing waste as packaging, like shredding paper for packaging fragile items
    • Shipping products in reused packaging
  • State potential challenges and opportunities, and how those will be faced

Each initiative should be outlined with key actions and key indicators for measurement.

Step 4: Implement a Waste-Free Packaging Plan

Training is key to successfully implementing a waste-free packaging plan. To ensure smooth implementation:

  • Make sure optimized packaging is in the supply chain and is used for your products
  • Train product factories on how to handle and assign the right packaging
  • Train staff on how to recycle or reuse waste in the supply chain
  • Get buy-in from upper management on your waste reduction goals
  • Communicate the waste-free packaging plan across your company, digitally through company-wide email and physically through use of posters

You'll also want to be transparent in the progress you're making with your plan to keep stakeholders and your employees interested, engaged and focused. Plan for regular review periods and times you'll share progress.

Step 5: Measure Success of Plan and Iterate

Zero waste is an achievable goal. But to get there, you will need to keep optimizing your plan based on what's working and make improvements where possible.

Establish benchmark goals and monitor your progress. You can use a life cycle assessment to compare your progress to competitors, or compare your own products to each other. Adapt your waste-free packaging plan with new tactics to continuously improve.

Share your successes and progress with your customers. Many consumers already assume companies are doing the right thing and working to minimize waste. When consumers make choices, they’re considering how sustainable a product or company is. Beyond that, communicating with customers can also help you get input and ideas for how to keep improving.

We Can Help You Reduce Waste in Your Packaging

Reducing packaging waste makes financial sense for your business, and it can help the environment. Benefits of packaging waste reduction include:

  • You save money through more efficient use of packaging
  • Waste disposal costs decrease
  • Customers, suppliers and employees who value sustainable brands will place higher value in your business

Waste reduction is an essential part of sustainable packaging programs. Download our Sustainable Packaging Program eBook to learn more.

Any questions, ideas or something you'd like to tell us? Don't hesitate to contact us. 

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