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Ideas for sustainable packaging for start-ups

Businesses are being encouraged to do all they can to tackle climate change.

The Government has pledged that the UK is committed to becoming a net zero nation by 2050 and has enacted legislation such as the Plastic Packaging Tax opens in new window to reduce the use of plastic within packaging.

Consumers are also looking for businesses to reduce their use of plastic packaging.

A study by the Chartered Institute of Marketing opens in new window found that 88% of adults think their shopping uses more packaging than needed.

Around 80% of consumers want to see companies do more to promote sustainable packing, and 36% of UK adults judge a brand’s ethics on its packaging.

From reducing packaging space to assessing the sustainability credentials of supply chains, here is how your start-up can develop a sustainable packaging strategy.


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Discover more about managing people with our free Managing and managing people course opens in new window, with teaches you managerial effectiveness, the skills required and how to develop management skills.

As part of our Learn with Start Up Loans opens in new window partnership with The Open University, our online course is free to join, delivered by experts and includes a free statement of participation on completion.


How to create a sustainable packaging strategy

There are a variety of quick fixes and sustainable packaging alternatives to plastic that start-ups can use.

This encompasses packaging for shipping products to consumers, as well as B2B transport and logistic packaging as part of a supply chain.

The Sustainable Packaging Coalition opens in new window has a helpful guide to what sustainable packaging is and how to define it – from its use of recycled source materials to being designed to optimise materials and energy use.


Assess your existing packaging

Examine all the packing materials and processes your start-up currently uses.

You should examine the packaging you use when sending products to customers and the packaging suppliers use when sending materials to you. You should assess:

  • Volumes – How much packaging do you use, and how much of it is sustainable?
  • Materials – What materials is the packaging made from? Are these easily recycled, compostable, or reusable?
  • Transport – How is packaging used in transport? How effectively is space used? How bulky is it?
  • Disposal – How is your packaging disposed of? Are customers clear on how to recycle packaging effectively?
  • Regulations – What regulations could impact your packaging, such as the Plastic Packaging Tax?


Set packaging goals

With measurements complete, set some goals for replacing and switching to more sustainable packaging. These can include:

  • goals such as the percentage of your packaging that can be recycled, reused, renewed, or composted.
  • goals that encourage more effective use of packaging space, resulting in less packaging needed, fewer transportation costs, and carbon emissions.

Try to ensure your goals are easily and consistently measurable.


Plan and act

Involve your team, customers, suppliers, and investors in your packaging plan and ask for their ideas on switching to more sustainable packaging.

Ask suppliers to source alternative materials and consider switching to new suppliers that use more sustainable packaging materials.

Regularly measure your performance and chart your progress, so you know which areas are effective.


Sustainable packaging examples

Your start-up can take plenty of approaches to switch to more sustainable packaging.


Using less mixed packaging

When deciding what material to use for your packaging, stick to just one if possible.

Using mixed packaging can lead to issues for your customers further down the line with recycling.


Be clear on disposal

Make sure that customers know how to dispose of your packaging.

Include recycling instructions and advice, such as removing non-recyclable tape and advice on composting it.


Use non-toxic water-ink

If your start-up needs to print packaging labels, eco-friendly water-based inks are considered less harmful than plastisol inks.

Plastisol ink has damaging environmental effects, as they’re made of toxic materials such as plasticisers and polyvinyl chloride (PVC).

Water-based inks are more environmentally friendly with fewer chemicals than plastisol inks.


Use alternative packaging materials

There are lots of alternatives to plastic packaging that are readily available, including:

  • cardboard – used worldwide as a cheap and readily available packaging material. It’s easy to recycle and an inexpensive alternative for your packaging suppliers to manufacture.
  • biodegradable packing peanuts – instead of lining your packaging with plastic bubble wrap, use biodegradable packing peanuts. Traditional packing peanuts are made from polystyrene, and, according to Swiftpak opens in new window, they can threaten waterways and natural ecosystems once they’re disposed of.
  • bioplastics – have similar properties to plastics but are usually made from natural materials such as the sugars in corn starch, cassava or sugarcane.
  • compostable packaging – this is packaging that is biodegradable. Plant-based and natural materials form the basis of compostable packaging.
  • corrugated packaging – according to the CPI opens in new window, corrugated packaging is sourced from sustainable forestry resources, is non-toxic, and is easily recyclable.


Learn with Start Up Loans and help your business get off the ground.

Thinking of starting a business? Check out our free online courses in partnership with The Open University on sustainability in the workplace.

Our free Learn with Start Up Loans courses opens in new window include:

Plus free courses on climate and sustainability, teamwork, entrepreneurship, mental health and wellbeing.


Reference to any organisation, business and event on this page does not constitute an endorsement or recommendation from the British Business Bank or the UK Government. Whilst we make reasonable efforts to keep the information on this page up to date, we do not guarantee or warrant (implied or otherwise) that it is current, accurate or complete. The information is intended for general information purposes only and does not take into account your personal situation, nor does it constitute legal, financial, tax or other professional advice. You should always consider whether the information is applicable to your particular circumstances and, where appropriate, seek professional or specialist advice or support.

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