Sustainable Packing Materials

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Delivering Sustainability: Packing Materials

By Maria C. Thiry (from

Avoid Making Trash

So, you want to make your packing and shipping more sustainable. How do you choose the most eco-friendly packing materials? One way is to think about their end-of-life options. "It's important to separate the streams of waste," says Owen Hammond, director of operations and sustainability for Teko Socks and member of the Outdoor Industry Association's eco-working group. He says that materials used in packaging generally fall into three categories:
    •    Trash: will go to the landfill or be incinerated
    •    Recyclable: there must be some kind of recycling program in place and it must be used, so that these items don't end up in the first category
    •    Compostable: again, some kind of infrastructure must be in place and it must be used, otherwise these items are simply trash. Hammond says that many compostable items require specific conditions and will not break down in a landfill
A rule of thumb, says Hammond, is not to use "mixed materials" (for example, combining plastic and paper, or metallic foil on paper) because they are more challenging to recycle and can't be composted.

Aim for Simplicity

"The big thing is simplicity," notes Rob Nathan, product director at footwear brand SOLE and member of the Outdoor Industry Association's eco-working group in charge of packaging. According to Nathan, materials to avoid include:
    •    Mixed materials
    •    Glues
    •    Foils
    •    Inks that have restricted chemicals
    •    "Anything else that will reduce recyclability"

Provide Accountability

Russell McCann, president of supply chain material tracking software firm Actio Corp., says that packaging suppliers should provide material disclosure so that users have the tools to make sustainable decisions. "People want to know if their paper is recycled, or from renewable forest resources (Forest Stewardship Council certified)," says McCann. "They don't want to be surprised to find out their packaging is denuding the rainforest." The supply chain must provide accountability, he says.