How optimised packaging can lower your carbon footprint

Recent posts

Have you ever considered how packaging factors into your business’ carbon footprint?

Carbon emissions are the primary driver of climate change. In fact, CO2 is at its highest concentration in the atmosphere for millions of years.

So, it makes sense that responsible businesses are looking for ways to cut carbon emissions from their operations and committing to Net Zero targets. This is further influenced by Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) in the UK and incoming Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive in the EU. Regulations like this are driving more sustainable investments and encouraging businesses to further tackle their carbon emissions.

In this blog, we’ll look at the background behind the climate crisis, consider the challenge of consumer perceptions and discuss how optimised, sustainable packaging can play a role in lowering your carbon footprint.

reduce your carbon footprint with packaging

The importance of reducing your carbon footprint

It’s a no-brainer that businesses and households across the world need to contribute to reducing carbon emissions. Human activities have warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land producing widespread and rapid changes to the plant’s eco-systems.

Essentially, we are facing the interlinked emergencies of climate change and biodiversity loss. The WWF’s Living Planet Report highlights how these two critical issues impact each other significantly. Climate change is a direct contributor to biodiversity loss and in turn biodiversity loss means the planet is less able to absorb carbon emissions, fuelling climate change. It is a vicious cycle.  

But what does this mean for businesses and their packaging? Well, given the dual nature of the climate crisis there are two key challenges we need to consider: packaging materials in the environment and the role of packaging in throughout the supply chain and its associated carbon emissions.

reduce your carbon footprint with packaging

The challenge of consumer perceptions when it comes to eco-friendly packaging

One of the biggest challenges facing businesses when it comes to eco-friendly packaging and reducing carbon emissions is consumer perception.

The “Blue Planet” effect means that consumers largely focus on plastic being a bad packaging material to use. In fact, when it comes to climate concern, a YouGov poll shows that on average Britons believe reducing the number of plastic items they purchase would be the third most effective way to reduce emissions. In contrasts, the same poll reveals buying and using less plastic it is one of the least effective ways to lower emissions – removing just 0.3 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalents per person per year…

So, why is this a problem? Consumers demand that businesses reduce or eliminate plastic from the supply chains – on the face of it, this doesn’t seem a bad thing, because reducing plastic use does help lower land and sea pollution…

BUT plastic reduction projects should not come at the expense of overall carbon emission reduction.

This can happen when businesses swap for other packaging materials that are sustainable but weigh more or generate higher emissions during manufacturing compared to plastic – for example glass or even paper. Plastic can sometimes prove the best packaging solution for overall carbon reduction – for example by taking weight out of shipments.

What this means is that when we’re considering the carbon footprint and sustainability of packaging, we need to look beyond just the material solutions are made from and consider their entire design and lifecycle – taking into account not only material but factors like weight, size, damages, recyclability or reusability and more.

Overall – it is important that businesses opt for packaging solutions that are right for their products and the environment (be it paper, or plastic based) – considering the total CO2e of their packaging when selecting solutions. With this in mind, how can optimised packaging lower your carbon footprint?

reduce your carbon footprint with packaging

How optimised packaging can lower your carbon footprint

Packaging has an important role to play in product protection, but it needs to be designed, used, and disposed of properly to minimise its impact on the environment.

Several factors can influence your carbon footprint – from the type of packaging material you use through to the weight, shape and size of your packaging solutions. On top of this, if your packaging isn’t providing sufficient protection, damages and returns can play a big role in adding to the greenhouse gas emissions associated with your packaging. Let’s take a look at these factors in closer detail…

The carbon impact of your packaging materials

Using packaging solutions that contain recycled content, are reusable or recyclable helps reduce your material waste and lower your carbon emissions.

In particular, opting for recycled content packaging can support efforts to reduce your carbon footprint because it:

  • Helps conserve natural resources and reduces emissions during manufacturing
    • Can help divert packaging waste from landfill
    • Supports a move towards a more circular economy that considers the packaging lifecycle.

For more information about how recycled content packaging can support your sustainability goals, click here.

There are some great swaps available on the market that will help you become more eco-friendly and enable you to you reduce your emissions. Here are a few examples:

  • AirSpeed Renew® air cushioning – this air pillow product is made from 50% recycled content and is a great void filling option, suitable for blocking and bracing too. The bags are recyclable and recycled content in the manufacturing process means less waste goes to landfill and contributes to a circular economy
  • Paper tape– this is an excellent, eco-friendly alternative to standard packing tape. It is not only recyclable and biodegradable, but also offers an improved transit protection for your products. Once applied to the box, paper tape creates a strong bond, making it difficult to remove discreetly. Paper tapes significantly improves the appearance of parcels and you only need to apply one strip to seal your box, a great way to reduce your material costs and packaging waste!
  • Flexi-Hex® bottle packaging – if you use polystyrene bottle packs to ship your products, consider swapping to Flexi-Hex® – a biodegradable, fully recyclable bottle packaging solution, made from up to 85% recycled content. It provides increased protection in transit, helping to avoid product damage and, therefore, reduce the environmental impact associated with processing and shipping returns.  The Flexi-Hex sleeve is also adaptable to protecting other products too, like electrical devices and cosmetics for example.

Using lighter, optimised packaging to cut fuel use and transport emissions

If your packaging is too big or too heavy, it can have a carbon cost. Even a few millimetres can make a big difference.

Imagine a cardboard box is 3mm too big. That could impact how many boxes can be stored and shipped on a pallet. If you optimise the size of the box and take out the surplus material you can increase the number of boxes on a pallet. This could reduce the number of trips taken to ship them and the associated emissions. Further down the supply chain, when the optimised boxes are in use, reducing the material used will mean boxes are lighter and therefore more economical to ship and will need less fuel to transport them. In addition to this, using smaller boxes minimises the volume of void fill you need to use, further lowering the pack weight and material waste.  

In essence, smaller, lighter packaging will help you maximise the amount of goods you can fit in your vehicles, reducing the overall weight of your shipments without compromising product protection. This helps generate operational cost savings on your material, transport and storage costs while helping protect the environment.   

A great way to ensure you use the right size pack and an adequate amount of packing material to protect your products, while reducing waste is packaging automation. It provides complete control and gives you a consistent pack every time.

Cutting carbon emissions by minimising damages and returns

Inappropriate packaging puts your products at risk of damage, which can increase the number of returns and costs associated with their processing. Re-shipping may require additional packing material, labour, fuel and truck runs, all of which adds to your carbon footprints. Choosing packaging that is optimized and fit for purpose will help reduce the risk of product damage, reduce costs and improve your green credentials.

Ensure your packaging is the right size for your products – if it’s too small, your parcel may burst open during transport; too big and its contents may rattle inside causing damage, or you will need excess protective material to fill the void.  

Multi-depth boxes are a good, relatively inexpensive solution to tackle this problem. They are pre-creased at specific heights, allowing you to cut them to a size that fits your product. This eliminates the need for excessive cushioning, helping you use less packing material and maximise transport space in your vehicles.

reduce your carbon footprint with packaging

Support optimising your packaging to protect the environment

If you need help optimising your packaging to lower carbon emissions, contact Macfarlane Packaging today.

Our unique tool, the Packaging Optimiser, can show you what your packaging is costing you and the environment, and demonstrate how different packaging solutions can lower your carbon emissions.

With our tools and expertise, you can be confident that we can help you find the right, eco-friendly solutions suitable for your products, budget and requirements.