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What is sustainable packaging design?

a cross section of sustainable honeycomb packaging


With the impact of global warming becoming increasingly more apparent, and the planet’s population and carbon emission levels continuing to grow, the last few years have seen the environment – and what behaviours we as a species need to change to protect it – very much on the agenda.

According to research by Deloitte, a significant 32% of consumers are now highly engaged with adopting a more sustainable lifestyle. This is something businesses have started to react to, with companies of all industries becoming more environmentally conscious in recent years. Interestingly, one of the biggest changes many businesses have made comes through the use of more sustainable packaging design. Indeed, since the government’s implementation of the new plastic packaging tax (PPT) from 1 April 2022 – which is designed to combat the use of single use plastic and encourage greater reliance on recycled plastics and other sustainable alternatives including paper packaging – sustainable materials have never been more important.

However, what is sustainable packaging design? How can it be implemented? And how can this process be optimised to ensure both environmental and financial benefits for your business? This guide answers all of these questions and more as PALLITE® takes a deep dive into sustainable packaging.

What is sustainable design in packaging?

As defined by the Sustainable Packaging Alliance (SPA), sustainable packaging design simply refers to the creation of product or shipping packaging that meets four essential criteria. This is to say, in order for packaging to be sustainable it must be:

  • Effective
    The packaging must be able to fulfil its core functions, typically being the protection of the packaged goods in question.
  • Efficient
    The packaging should not use more resources/materials than is necessary in order to be efficient.
  • Cyclic
    The packaging should only use sustainable materials, technologies, and inks, and should be designed with reusability in mind, adding the Circular Economy.
  • Safe
    The packaging should pose no harm to either human health or the environment during its lifetime.

How to make packaging sustainable

From the materials you choose to use to the physical design of the packaging, there are many simple ways to make packaging more sustainable. Below we have listed three of the most common ways of turning your packaging green.

  1. Materials
    Naturally, the most common change most businesses implement to make their packaging more sustainable is altering the materials they use. This can be done in two ways. Firstly, by opting to use materials that can be easily recycled, such as paper, cardboard, glass, aluminium and certain plastics. Secondly, by using more innovative materials, such as biodegradable packaging made from materials like corn starch and/or bamboo. For example, PALLITE® ‘s packaging solutions are FSC accredited. This confirms their packaging is ethically sourced and 100% recyclable.
  2. Design for reuse
    Creating packaging that has multiple functions is a good way of preventing it from ending in landfill after one use. This can be done by making it reusable (such as PALLITE® shipping crates) or by making it repurposable (such as H&M’s conceptualised shopping bags that turn into clothes hangers).
  3. Reduce volume
    Although typically more expensive to initially design, packaging that is specially made to optimise space without compromising on protection not only reduces waste, it can also lower costs in the long run. This is because shipment sizes and weights will be lower, in turn meaning fewer carbon emissions are generated.

What is packaging optimisation?

Put simply, packaging optimisation involves making packaging, and the processes needed to create it, more sustainable, economical and efficient. Traditionally, this process has involved retailers looking for ways to help them choose the right materials, size, and quantities of materials and packaging in order to achieve cost savings throughout the supply chain. However, nowadays packaging optimisation is also used as a way to reduce a business’ carbon footprint.

Unsurprisingly, plastic used in packaging represents one of the largest contributing factors to environmental degradation. With this in mind, modern businesses looking to become more eco-friendly should consider implementing a policy of packaging optimisation which will focus on sustainability. This could include tasks like reducing the size of packaging, limiting the use of non-recyclable or non-biodegradable materials in packaging, and redesigning packaging so that it can be used more than once.

Packaging optimisation can also help the environment, improve a brand’s reputation in the eyes of customers, and even save a business money through more efficient shipping loads and newly-discovered design efficiencies.

(H2) What is the plastic packaging tax?

As touched upon above, from April 1 2022, all UK businesses using single use plastic are now subject to a new plastic packaging tax. Designed to encourage businesses to use plastic-free or recycled plastic packaging, this tax applies to all plastic packaging that is made up of less than 30% recycled material. The rate of tax is £200 per metric tonne of plastic packaging, and all brands that manufacture or import ten or more tonnes of plastic packaging over a 12 month period are required to register with HMRC and pay accordingly.

This is yet another incentive for your business to start thinking about sustainable packaging optimisation and to start using single use plastic-free packaging wherever possible.

So there you have it – our beginner’s guide to sustainable packaging design. If you’re looking to introduce more sustainable shipping packaging to your business, PALLITE®’s EcoLITE range of honeycomb paper cardboard void fill and protective packaging could provide the perfect solution.


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