Recyclable & Eco Friendly Packaging Materials: What Are They & When To Use Them

One of the most significant shifts in brand identity over the last few years has been toward sustainability and discovering new ways to be green. Industries of every type are evolving due to the changing public perception of how the products they use affect the environment. Fewer consumers want to be complicit regarding how their spending power can be found in landfills or the ocean. 

Because of this, packaging has had to rise to meet the demand without sacrificing form and function. And in the wake of these breakthroughs, packaging options have been increased for brands looking to break out of the tradition and embrace all things sustainable. 

We compiled a list of some of the best options for brands looking to do more for the earth, one bag of organic corn chips at a time. 

Recyclable vs. Eco-Friendly Packaging

Doing what’s best for the earth isn’t one-size-fits-all. There are different ways a company can work to make an impact. Gone are the days of packing boxes with a ton of Styrofoam peanuts, paperboard, and bubble wrap. While popping a few bubbles is fun, they’re ultimately bad for the environment. 

Excessive packaging is bad for the environment, and people often don’t know what to do with everything once stuff is unboxed. Eco-friendly packaging materials have been designed, produced, and transported with sustainability. 

Certifications exist that ensure the packaging has come from responsibly managed forests (if paper or cardboard-based) like the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), Sustainable Forest Initiative (SFI), or Program for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC). The Sustainable Packaging Coalition also has excellent resources and certifications to look for (the How2Recycle label or Extended Producer Responsibility).

Compostable refers to materials that naturally decompose back into the earth without leaving toxic residue. Compostable packaging is made from plant-based materials. Truly compostable materials should break down in 90 days in commercial composting conditions while nourishing the plants and soil. 

Recyclable food packaging is a little different. This packaging gives plastics a second life, which conserves natural resources from landfill waste, limits the need to collect new raw materials, and prevents pollution. If you’re promoting an earth-focused green brand, using eco-friendly materials for your flexible packaging only makes sense. 

Recyclable Packaging Materials

There are quite a few options regarding what can be used repeatedly. Corrugated packaging comes from box fibers made from trees and can be reused to make new packaging materials up to 7-10 times. Glassine is a transparent paper packaging made from wood pulp that makes it biodegradable and recyclable. 

Recycled flexible packaging should use the least amount possible because fewer materials mean less space for shipping. The same goes for ensuring that the packaging can be used again, is refillable, or can be returned to a proper location – when thinking about all of this, durability and multiple uses matter. 

Other things your flexible packaging should be able to do: 

Protect the items inside – innovative packaging keeps everything tight while keeping materials used to a minimum. A ton of conventional packaging is plastic-based and not recyclable. Vast amounts of virgin plastic are produced from fossil fuels (oil and petroleum products) and leave a carbon footprint. Once we toss something, that packaging winds up in the landfill where it’ll sit forever, or worse, it could end up in a forest where a plastic bag can affect flora and fauna. 

Some of the most effective ways to use recyclable packaging are through PCR Zippers, which are press-to-close zippers and made from recyclable plastic, so there’s no need to deconstruct this portion to make it Store-Drop compliant.

There are also dual-layer recyclable films that meet the requirements for the How2Recycle “Store Drop-Off” program. Alternatively, the #2 Resin ID code and generic store drop-off symbol show consumers how to recycle.

Eco-Friendly Packaging Materials

There are a variety of options when it comes to eco-friendly alternatives. There’s not just the packaging but also sustainable printing and polymer-based inks, which don’t contain hazardous air pollutants (HAPs). Environmentally friendly lamination processes keep Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) out of Consumer-Packaged Goods.

There are also cardboard and paper products, but they’re not without their issues. Paper and cardboard contribute to deforestation and are water-intensive to process. Some brands are experimenting with components like mushroom packaging made from hemp hurds, and there’s also bamboo as an alternative to wood because it’s vital – in these cases, it depends on what you’re selling.

Cellulose is an interesting new entry into the biodegradable conversation. Microfibrillated cellulose (MFC) is plant waste and can be added to an existing substrate. 

Switching to “Green” Packaging Options

If you’re looking to make the jump into the “green” world, finding the right eco-friendly packaging company can be a process. So many companies think of packaging as an afterthought when the packaging is the first thing people gravitate to when reaching for your brand above the others. Celebrating being eco-friendly is another way to champion the brand’s identity and what the company stands for significantly. Finding the right partner to manage all these expectations takes work. 

Some partners might say they’re “green” and not put in the work of ensuring their products are genuinely sustainable, collectively known as greenwashing.” Case in point, when companies say their bioplastics are biodegradable, but only under specific conditions that aren’t natural – so what’s the end?

If you’re looking for a trustworthy partner dedicated to the cause of being eco-friendly, we’d love to talk. Since ePac’s inception, we’ve made it our mission to find ways to make our products as sustainable as possible. We believe in lessening our footprint, one sustainable packaging solution at a time.