How to Create a Plastic-Free Packaging Game Plan

Back to the Plastic-Free Packaging Resource Center

So you've decided to go plastic-free with your packaging portfolio. Congratulations! Establishing a clear goal and vision is an exciting start.

Here, we outline two important next steps to take as you begin the process of revamping your ecommerce packaging portfolio. 

ESTABLISH A CLEAR PHILOSOPHY OR FRAMEWORK

"Plastic-free" helps you identify what you plan to move away from. But as a standalone packaging strategy, it may not be enough. It is often valuable to also decide what you do want to focus on in your packaging. Examples of components you may decide to include in your new packaging framework include:

  • Designing for recyclability: This lens will help you make a number of decisions big and small. For example, if you are using a shipper box as your main package, you may be considering void fill. Designing for recyclability would steer you away from things like crinkle paper or tissue paper. Crinkle paper is typically not recyclable. Even though it is made with paper, it is too small and will be sorted out at the recycling facility. Tissue paper is recyclable, but difficult for recycling facilities to sell because it is typically a low quality paper with small fibers. Additionally, this framework would lead you to avoid using integrated labels / packing slips, which are not recyclable.
  • Using as little material as possible: If this is critical to your framework, it would likely lead you to use a mailer over a shipping box. It may also encourage you to stock a variety of mailer sizes so each item you ship out can be packaged in as small a mailer as possible. You might opt for smaller shipping labels and choose to avoid any inner packaging protection or stickers. 
  • Using as much recycled content and as much PCW (post-consumer waste) as possible: This decision may help you decide between two paper mailers. In fact, even if two mailers are 100% recycled, you may find that one has more post consumer waste than the other.  
  • Generating as little waste as possible in your own operation: While this is not something your customer sees, the process of packaging and fulfilling orders generates waste. If you aim to minimize this, it may actually lead you to use shipping boxes instead of mailers because mailers have release liners that must be landfilled (while boxes are shipped flat and tape is used to assemble them). It can impact small decisions, such as the type of shipping label printer you purchase. Thermal transfer labels require a ribbon which must be replaced (and thrown away), while direct thermal labels do not. 

MAP OUT YOUR CURRENT PACKAGING COMPONENTS AND NEEDS

This step is important! List out all aspects of your ecommerce packaging and important characteristics you need from this packaging element. 

In this step, write down everything you can think of about each component of your packaging, even if you aren't sure if it is relevant. 

Then, go back through and rank them in order of priority. Typically, the packaging elements that use the most amount of plastic would be highest priority to tackle. However, in some instances, you may realize that making a change to one element of your packaging (even if it doesn't necessarily use the most amount of plastic) will have a broad sweeping impact on the rest of your packaging strategy. In that case, tackle this item first. 

To get you started, here is a fictional example list for a sample business: 

Poly Mailer: Sizes needed - 6x9 and 12x15. These sizes suffice for all of our 30 SKUs. This mailer serves as outer shipping package. We need packaging to be relatively easy to store and for our team to use, because we don't have room to store bulky boxes. We need this outer package to look nice and be beautifully branded. We appreciate but do not require these to be reusable for returns (25% of our shipments are returned or exchanged). We currently store these in the corner of our warehouse, and they take up about 2 pallet spaces.

Clear poly bag: Four sizes currently used. We receive packaging from our manufacturing partner in these bags. Being used by factory to individually separate, package and protect our goods. Bags are sourced by factory. They are 1.5 mil, completely clear, and have suffocation warning on them. 

Hang tags: Apparel has informational hang tags with washing and care instructions. Hang tags are made with 50% PCW paper, printed in water based inks. Affixed to clothing using plastic ties. 

Stickers: Stickers are used to brand clear poly bags. BOPP stickers being used. Not sure what kind of adhesive or ink is being used. 

Shipping labels: Shipping labels are required for shipping. Source standard direct thermal labels (4x6) from UPS. 

Packing slip: Full sheet (8.5x11) packing slips used to pick, pack and ship orders. Packing slips go into each order. Using standard, virgin copy paper for these. Printed on our standard laser printed. 

Customer appreciation card: 4x6" postcard included in each shipment thanking customer for their purchase and offering a 10% discount on next purchase. Need this to be on thick card stock, eye catching / beautifully printed image.