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July 12, 2019

7 Sustainable Packaging Ideas For Your Small Business

By: Peter Gregory

There’s no question that sustainability should be on the lips of every single business in the fashion industry. But what can you realistically do about sustainability if you’re a small business or startup? 

We’ve spent a lot of time discussing this exact problem with our customers over the years, and we’re proud to tell you that you can make your business more sustainable at any budget. 

Our customers have been kind enough to share some of the sustainable packaging methods they’ve tested out in their own businesses over the years. We’ve picked what we believe to be the 7 best sustainable packaging ideas for small businesses, and we’re excited to share them with you here!



1: Take a fresh look at see-through bags

If you sell directly to consumers online and to retailers, you will have come across cellophane garment bags. These crisp, transparent bags make clothing products look fantastic and consumers love them. Cellophane garment bags help shoppers in physical stores to make purchasing decisions — they can see the material and the colours in vivid detail. Online, garment bags still make a difference to shopper satisfaction; when a crisp garment bag arrives through the post, the clothes inside feel extra-special and ‘brand new’. 

The big problem with these transparent plastic garment bags is that they were traditionally made from single-use plastic, which is a no-no for anyone worried about their sustainability credentials. Thankfully, that has all changed.

Many of our customers have switched to garment bags made from environmentally-friendly biodegradable cellulose. This wonder material looks and feels just like traditional cellophane, but it doesn’t take hundreds of years to break down in landfill. If you would like us to put you in touch with a good trade stockist, drop us an email! We’ll be happy to help.

2: Think hard before investing in cotton totes

You need to tread carefully with cotton tote bags. Studies show that these bags are not as green as you might think.

In 2006, the United Kingdom Environment Agency published a report showing the economic impact of every type of shopping bag. Surprisingly, cotton tote bags came out as the least environmentally friendly option. For a cotton bag to have a smaller environmental impact than traditional plastic, that bag has to be re-used at least 131 times

If you’ve got a good idea for a cotton bag, by all means go for it — just remember that it’s up to you to encourage the owner to re-use that bag at least 131 times! We’ve got some cool ideas on our Sustainability Pinterest Board if you need some inspiration.

3: Shop around for eco-friendly mailing bags

Mailing bags (those plastic wallets with the a peel and seal sticky stripe built into the flap) are a really handy way to pack and ship goods out to customers. They’re durable, light and cheap. The problem is that you can’t always recycle or reuse them.

There are two ways you can make plastic mailing bags more sustainable:

  1. Pick a bag made from sustainable materials. Check that the bag can be recycled after use; if it is made from recycled materials, all the better. There are some great options out there — some plastic, some paper — so shop around!
  2. Buy bags with two sticky stripes. If your customers need to return an item and they can see that the mailing bag you provided can be re-sealed with a peel-and-stick return stripe, then they’re more likely to re-use this bag and cut down on waste that way.

4: Use cardboard bubble wrap alternatives

Cardboard’s answer to bubble wrap can’t be popped, which is a shame, but it’s much better for the environment! 

Eco bubble wrap is a paper-based wrapping material made from meshed, crimped sheets of cardboard. Eco wrap is just as good at protecting fragile items, but it’s biodegradable and — because it’s pure ‘brown cardboard’ — it can be recycled just about anywhere. 

5: Try good old-fashioned parcel paper!

Brown parcel paper is probably the most sustainable product out there! It’s usually made from recycled materials and it can be fully recycled. What’s more, if your buyers have crafty kids in their house, they’ll love having a big sheet of paper to work with! If you’ve got the counter space to hand, you’ll find that you can wrap and label a garment in parcel paper just as quickly as you can stuff a plastic mailer bag. The fact that your goods arrive hand-wrapped is great, too. 

Just remember that sticky tape can’t be recycled. For maximum sustainability points, you should use tape sparingly and tie your parcels with string if you can manage it. 

Another thing to watch out for with parcel paper is the type of paper you buy. You should avoid butcher paper, which is not recyclable. If you want to use waxed paper, you need to make sure it has a vegetable-based coating; some waxed papers have a paraffin-based coating which doesn’t biodegrade and can’t be recycled. 

6: Pick smaller packaging!

How many times have you received a massive cardboard box through the post only to find that it’s two-thirds empty? It gives customers an impression of wastefulness and carelessness … and it’s completely avoidable. 

If you can fold your garments so that they fit in a smaller package, not only do you reduce the amount of packaging that you need to use, but you could also save yourself some money on postage, too.

The one exception to this rule is if you already have a lot of packing stock. If you’ve recently invested in a lot of large branded boxes, the most sustainable thing you can do is to use up your existing packaging materials before buying anything new! If you’re concerned about consumer reactions, include a note on the packing slip or explain what you’re doing on social media.

7:  Pick sustainably-sourced raw materials!

OK, we’re cheating a little with this tip (the raw materials of your product have nothing to do with sustainable packaging) but we have to mention it, because nothing matters more to your customers

According to a recent Statistica survey, UK consumers consider it more important that a product is ‘sustainably sourced’ (72%) than anything else. The source of your raw materials is more important to your sustainability reputation than avoiding single-use plastics (65%) or buying organic (23%). (see footnote 3) It’s absolutely vital that sustainably-sourced raw materials lie at the very heart of your sustainability strategy.  

Check every textile you work with, and ask yourself how sustainable each fabric is. If the materials you’re using can’t be easily recycled, if they’re not biodegradable or if the manufacturing process is bad for the environment, spend some time coming up with alternatives. Even if you can just swap out a few of your fabrics for more sustainable options, it will help.


Sustainability: it’s all about the journey

The key to running a truly sustainable business is to look at how you do things every day. Sustainability isn’t a box you tick once — it’s something you need to look at on a regular basis. Small steps can carry you a long way over time.

Another thing: sustainability makes good business sense. There’s a growing consumer appetite for sustainable products, and it’s affecting the bottom line of businesses all over the world. In fact, a recent Harvard Business Review article showed that in 2019, one in every six dollars spent on Consumer Packaged Goods was spent on sustainable products (see footnote 4).

If you have any questions about how to make your business more sustainable, please let us know!

Thanks for reading!

– Pete

Footnote 1:

“Responsible Consumption and Production” is Goal #12 of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. You can read more about the fashion industry’s impact on our environment at the link below:

https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/12_Why-It-Matters-2020.pdf

Footnote 2:

“Paper, LDPE, non-woven PP and cotton bags should be reused at least 3, 4,

11 and 131 times respectively to ensure that they have lower global warming

potential than conventional HDPE carrier bags that are not reused.”The Environment Agency’s full report, titled “Life cycle assessment of supermarket carrier bags: a review of the bags available in 2006”, can be read in full at 

https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/291023/scho0711buan-e-e.pdf

Footnote 3:

You can read the full “Share of sustainable shopping behaviors among UK shoppers in 2019” report at the link below:

https://www.statista.com/statistics/1056522/sustainable-shopping-behavior-of-uk-shoppers/

Footnote 4:

The Harvard Business Review article on the size of the ‘sustainable goods’ market in the USA can be read at the link below:

https://hbr.org/2019/06/research-actually-consumers-do-buy-sustainable-products

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