For millions of eCommerce businesses, packaging is an oversight. Yet, it’s becoming increasingly important not only as a fulfillment expense but also for regulators, stakeholders, and even your customers. These parties increasingly care about sustainable packaging, both for the product and shipment. 

If you’re looking to increase the sustainability of your eCommerce operations, a great place to start is your packaging. It’s easier (and less expensive) than adopting an electric or hybrid delivery fleet and contributes to a more eco-friendly last-mile delivery. 

To navigate the myriad of available options, this guide will walk you through different types of  sustainable materials to help you choose the best kind for your products and your profit margins. 

What makes packaging sustainable? 

Seeking sustainability is a gradual process that reduces the impact of your eCommerce business on the environment over time. It often bleeds into social and governance impact as well. In most cases, this boils down to: 

  • Recyclability: Is the packaging recyclable? Is it already recycled? Can you reuse it? What will happen to it when the customer receives their shipment? 
  • Environmental impact: How much water is used to produce the packaging? How much land usage? What about its carbon footprint? The lower these numbers, the better. Often, recycling is the best way to lower your environmental impact. However, switching to natural materials like coconut husk or wood shavings for dunnage can have a greater effect. 
  • Product preservation: Does the packaging protect your product well? The environmental cost will skyrocket if you frequently have to replace products due to inferior packaging. 
  • Quantity: Minimizing packaging increases sustainability. You can accomplish that by taking extreme steps like doing away with packaging entirely (as in the famous example of the Lush shampoo bars) or more simply by packaging products together, using right-size boxes, and reducing dunnage used to protect items in transportation. 
  • Biodegradability: Does your packaging biodegrade? What happens if a customer dumps out the dunnage? Will it rot? Or, will it pollute the environment? Consider investing in biodegradable options or include an insert with reuse or recycling instructions if that’s too expensive.

How to choose suitable materials 

Many packaging materials qualify as “sustainable.” However, not all of them are suitable for an eCommerce business. When considering your options, be sure to look at: 

  • Reliability and accessibility: Your packaging material needs to be available on demand, at whatever volume you need. That often necessitates having a reliable source that can supply your required volume per year and can scale up according to your demand. 
  • Cost efficacy: Sustainable packaging materials cost more than plastic and paper options, so it should be a reasonable increase that you can offset. It doesn’t matter how happy customers are with the packaging if you’re running at a loss. To protect your margins, consider buying in bulk or sourcing from your 3PL, if applicable. 
  • Product fit: Does your packaging suit the product you’re selling? Packing material must be a good fit for the product’s weight, size, shape, fragility, shelf-life, etc. If not, you’re wasting money. 

Research and test multiple options to ensure you’re making the best choice. See how well it works in your pick and pack processes, how it affects fulfillment costs (i.e., weight, ease of packing, storage costs), and how it’ll feel to customers. 

Embrace other sustainable practices

Sustainable eCommerce is about more than choosing recycled cardboard to pack your products. It also encompasses your actions regarding delivery, fulfillment, and the customer experience. You can make your business greener by adopting tactics like:

  • Reduce packaging by right-sizing boxes. A 3PL like MyFBAPrep can help strategize the best packaging options for your products so you always use the right size and thus minimize dunnage and waste. 
  • Employ the smallest parcels available, switch to envelopes for products that allow it, and assemble bundles and multi-packs with right-sized packaging. Again, services like MyFBAPrep can take on these tasks for you. 
  • Leverage smarter fleet solutions. For example, by using your own fleet and last-mile delivery strategies, you ensure your product handling and delivery are sustainable all the way to the postal point nearest the customer. Switching to sustainable solutions like fleet rental can also make your fulfillment as sustainable as your packaging. 
  • Maximize the recyclability of your packaging and inform customers about it so they dispose of it correctly. If you advertise your recyclability, you must guarantee your products are fully recyclable under U.S. law. 
  • Refine your prep procedures so your customers receive perfectly packaged goods, whether you use FBA, retail outlets, or a 3PL. Smooth prep means your products are packed, shrink-wrapped, right-sized to boxes, and ready for shipment so your customers receive uniform packaging. As a result, you won’t have to worry about Amazon rejecting your packaging or shipping products back to you, which further improves your sustainability. 

Wrapping up — Make your fulfillment greener with sustainable Ppackaging

If you’re making the switch to sustainable packaging, do your research, make sure your new packaging options protect your products while lowering your carbon footprint, and are right-sized for each product, bundle, and kit. MyFBAPrep can help you compare and choose packaging options, source the selected materials, and then prep your products in robust, compliant packaging before you ship them to the end distributor.

This is a guest post by Tom Wicky, CEO of MyFBAPrep. Learn more about My FBAPrep here!

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