Over the last few decades, the ecological toll of traditional packing materials has become increasingly apparent. Historically, plastic-based packaging like bubble wrap and packing peanuts have been made from materials that are environmentally hazardous. Fortunately, growing environmental awareness has led to significant advancements in eco-friendly, biodegradable packaging materials that are functional and cost-effective.
Sustainable Packaging Strategies
In order to keep product packaging as environmentally friendly as possible, sustainable design concepts have helped shipping companies find ways to “go green” that still remain cost-effective. One approach is to reduce the amount of packaging. There’s no real reason to ship an item wrapped up in more layers of plastic than is absolutely necessary. Reducing the mass and volume of typical packages also decreases shipping costs, making it financially beneficial for companies. Recycled or reusable packaging is another eco-friendly packing option. Items like cardboard boxes and even bubble wrap can be made at least partly from recycled materials, reducing its environmental footprint. Another way of “going green” is to reduce the use of materials like Styrofoam and certain plastics, which are often neither biodegradable nor recyclable.
Packing Peanuts and Bubble Wrap: Two Common Products with Greener Alternatives
Styrofoam has long been a staple of product packaging, especially for cushioning and securing items for shipping. Unfortunately, it’s bad for the environment. The process of manufacturing it releases harmful emissions, many of which function as “greenhouse gases” that can impact the Earth’s global climate. Another problem is that Styrofoam packing peanuts don’t break down naturally when discarded and sent to a landfill. They either build up indefinitely on land, or float forever in the sea. Furthermore, Styrofoam may also be harmful to human health. Polystyrene is composed of benzene and styrene, two compounds known to be carcinogenic. Factory workers have even suffered health problems as a byproduct of manufacturing polystyrene. On top of all of that, it can’t even be recycled efficiently.
These problems have led to the development of alternatives to traditional Styrofoam packing peanuts. Notably, many companies are replacing them with equivalents made from biodegradable materials instead. These are often made out of natural starches instead of polystyrene, and can even be made partly from recycled materials. Although they serve the same purpose as packing peanuts, and are more or less equivalent, they wreak far less havoc on the environment. Biodegradable packing peanuts are now manufactured and sold by several companies.
Bubble wrap, traditionally made from clear plastic, is another problematic packing material. Although it can be reused to a certain extent, it’s often made of plastics that are difficult or impossible to recycle. As with packing peanuts, greener alternatives to bubble wrap have been developed and are now widely available. Environmentally friendly packaging equivalent to bubble wrap is available inexpensively, and is just as effective as the traditional plastic variety.
For companies concerned about their environmental footprint, switching to greener packaging materials is an excellent eco-friendly best practice. There are many alternatives to plastic or Styrofoam materials like bubble wrap and packing peanuts, which are just as effective but far more environmentally friendly. Products like starch-based packing peanuts or paper-based alternatives to bubble wrap can go a long way in reducing the volume of needless waste cluttering up the world’s landfills and oceans. In the future, materials like Styrofoam may even become a thing of the past.