How small businesses can help tackle the ecommerce packaging crisis from scratch


This article is sponsored by Sendle.

The thrill of online shopping usually begins the moment the package arrives at your doorstep. From a simple grocery delivery to a shipment of your favorite jeans, the unboxing experience is full of anticipation and excitement.

But as online shopping grows in popularity, so does the heap of packaging waste generated by shipping. The United States Environmental Protection Agency estimates that plastic and other packaging accounts for about 30% of the nation’s annual waste. After the largest 18 months of e-commerce growth in history, that number is only expected to increase.

In the early days of e-commerce, retailers invested in attractive packaging to attract consumers who did not go to a physical store. Research now shows that consumers are increasingly aware of the problem of packaging waste, and it turns out that what interests them is not the beauty of the packaging – that’s what it is. they feel when they sort it in the trash.

You might ask yourself, “Why is a parcel delivery service writing about the e-commerce packaging crisis?” Well, as the first 100% carbon neutral shipping carrier in the United States, Sendle cares deeply about the environment. Sendle offers small businesses a sustainable approach to shipping that can save them money and retain their environmentally conscious customers.

Consumer attitudes are changing on packaging

Ahead of the launch of the Sendle compostable mail store in 2020, at the height of the coronavirus-induced e-commerce boom, we conducted a consumer survey (of non-Sendle customers) focused on packaging. The results clearly showed that people are thinking about the environmental impact of their purchases.

  • 56 percent of respondents said that climate change had caused them somewhat or completely to re-evaluate their purchasing habits, and nearly 70 percent said they set goals to buy more sustainable products.
  • 46 percent said packaging is not taken into account in their purchasing decisions, while 57 percent said they were frustrated with the amount of packaging for the products they ordered.
  • 64 percent of consumers said they would be more likely to make a purchase from a retailer that offers compostable packaging, especially if it didn’t cost more.
  • 52 percent said they would be more willing to make repeat purchases or take out a subscription from a retailer with more sustainable packaging or shipping options.

While large retailers are often blamed for packaging waste, small businesses are also contributing to this plastic, paper and polystyrene crisis. It’s easy for small businesses to say that green packaging options are just too expensive and hurt their bottom line. But with growing consumer awareness and the proliferation of small businesses and scammers selling online, tackling the e-commerce packaging crisis is essential no matter the size of your business.

The good news is that we can all take action to reduce our environmental impact. There are so many simple solutions to the packaging crisis, many of which can be found at the humble fruit and veg stand.

Lesser-known alternatives to plastic packaging

Here are five examples of materials small businesses can look for use in their sustainable packaging.

1. Pineapple

The Philippines is the world’s second largest producer of pineapples. To use the industry’s excess pineapple leaves, Filipino researchers created “pinyapel,” a tree-less paper made from discarded pineapple leaves.

The word pinyapel plays on the spicy fruit and the Filipino word for paper, papel, and it’s used to create everything from coffee mugs to shopping bags.

Pineapple leaves are naturally water resistant, so there is no need for a bag or plastic wrap, which makes the Pinyapel product ideal for food packaging.

Pineapples decompose faster than other paper products, and certainly plastic, and the manufacturing process does not require cutting down trees.

2. Mushrooms

Mushrooms are an ideal replacement for plastic because they mimic the material in many ways. They have an elastic texture and are often used in shipping boxes as an alternative to packing filler and styrofoam, which takes thousands of years to decompose.

Mushroom materials have great diversity and are completely biodegradable. This means that once your “mushroom” wrap has served its purpose, it can be thrown into the garden or compost where it can biodegrade in a matter of weeks, unlike polystyrene.

Ecovative Design in New York is a small business using mycelium, a threadlike structure that grows under fungi, to provide a natural alternative to polystyrene packaging materials.

3. Coconut

Coconut shells have been on the sustainable materials list for some time. You will typically find this thick, natural, non-toxic, and 100% biodegradable material in mattresses, futons, and upholstery.

But they can also be molded with organic adhesive to form cartons for eggs and other fresh produce, or cushioning material for use in packaging systems.

A number of companies such as Compadre and Whole Tree Inc. are testing coconut shell materials to make packaging that goes inside boxes and fits around products such as glass to protect them during. transportation.

4. Corn

The polylactic particles extracted from corn are called corn plastic. This substance is increasingly used in packaging and textiles. Cornstarch can be used to make biodegradable packaging peanuts and compostable husks that look and feel like plastic.

The mailers that Sendle offers for small businesses are made from corn starch, PLA (made from corn) and PBAT (polybutyrate adipate terephthalate) and decompose in the compost or worm farm within 90 days.

They are an ideal packaging solution because they are waterproof, stretchy, tacky, tear resistant, strong and durable.

5. Prickly pear cactus

Sandra Pascoe Ortiz, a research professor at the University of Valle de Atemajac in Zapopan, Mexico, created a biodegradable plastic from the juice of nopal, or prickly pear.

The chemical properties of nopal have enabled Ortiz to develop a non-toxic, biodegradable plastic by mixing it with other natural substances.

The material decomposes after a month in soil and a few days in water. So if it heads to the ocean, it will simply dissolve there, instead of being discovered 50 years later at the bottom of the ocean.

While experimentation is still ongoing, Ortiz says a number of companies have expressed interest in using the new material.

How Going For Sustainable Packaging Will Help Win Customers

With consumers increasingly aware of the impact of plastic waste and seeking a guilt-free online shopping experience, now is the perfect time for small businesses to explore eco-friendly packaging. environment. Instead of packaging products in excessive amounts of old-fashioned materials, it only takes a little research and commitment to switch to recyclable, biodegradable or compostable packaging.

The United States achieved a record 44% e-commerce growth in 2020, nearly triple the rate of increase seen in 2019. At Sendle, we shipped the equivalent of vacation package volumes every month of April to December 2020. While this is great for the economy and the success of small businesses, all this excess plastic, coated cardboard and polystyrene has been bad for the environment.

Fortunately, cost effective and environmentally friendly alternatives exist, and the day will come when consumers will expect it as part of their unboxing experience, so that they can feel good about their purchases without feeling guilty about the environment.

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