The Whole Package

Market for Eco-Friendly Materials for Product Transport Opens Up.

With an increasing number of cities and municipalities eliminating the use of plastic bags and Styrofoam at retail, both consumers and companies are thinking more about how they package and transport products. At the Active Collective NYC tradeshow in January, I chatted with several brand reps about this phenomenon. Jessica Laursen, creative director at eco-friendly studio clothing brand Avocado, spoke, ironically, about following a company making biodegradable plastic out of avocado pits.

Sustainability was also top of mind for brands including Lole, Splits59, Thrive Societe and the Upside, which ships some items in reusable washbags. At NiyamaSOL, a luxury yoga lifestyle brand, 84 percent of fabric is made of recycled plastic bottles. Owner Allison Hart has been researching sustainable packaging, however, the roadblock is price. One option she looked into was four times more expensive than the brand’s current packaging, which is a stopping point.

Packaging Industry Players

Saloni Doshi, CEO of recycled packaging firm EcoEnclose, has heard the woes of small companies before. To accommodate, “we offer packaging at very low volume bundles and custom branding starting at just 500 mailers and 250 boxes,” she commented. EcoEnclose offers 100 percent recycled, 100 percent recyclable packaging in both paper and poly mailers and works with about 3,600 apparel, footwear and outdoor companies per year including Fjallraven (transitioning to sophisticated, barcoded 100 percent recycled poly mailers) and Bedrock Sandals (using sustainable algae ink). “We were excited with the results from the first batch (of algae ink) and have been using it ever since,” commented Bedrock marketing exec, Matt McAdow.

While poly mailers offer functionality (weatherproof, thin, lightweight, flexible) at a low cost, EcoEnclose’s Paper Apparel Mailer is made with thicker stock than other paper mailers, but is thinner and more pliable than the company’s Rigid Mailers to conform to apparel and other soft goods. The mailer also expands into a three-dimensional, polybag-like shape when filled with product. One potential hiccup, however, is that the texture of the recycled paperboard can be difficult to adhere to, so firm pressure must be applied across the entire length of the adhesive. Offerings from EcoEnclose are typically 5 percent under and up to 15 percent above a standard mailer of the same size and thickness.

Using upcycled billboard vinyl, LimeLoop has created a “lightweight, durable, returnable smart shipper to get us one step closer to making e-commerce a zero-waste, circular economy,” noted Ashley Etling, the firm’s CEO. Brand partners rent the shippers from LimeLoop, mail out products and attach a prepaid shipping label to return to the shipper for reuse. For every 20,000 shipments, about 132 trees are saved, along with 400 gallons of oil, compared to conventional packaging. Etling said she saves small brands up to 40 percent on packaging costs and when calculating in the return of the shipper, it is on average cost-neutral. The monthly subscription and low minimums help smaller brands with cash flow, according to the exec. The firm works with Turtle Fur outdoor headwear, Upchoose organic baby clothes, as well as Toad & Co., where shoppers can select LimeLoop at checkout.

According to ShipMatrix, Inc., a software provider that analyzes shipping data, consumers received 8.6 billion e-commerce packages in the U.S. last year, up from 7.6 billion in 2018.

“Packaging serves as an opportunity for companies to demonstrate corporate responsibility and display it.” — Adam Gendell, associate director, Sustainable Packaging Coalition

Packaging has truly changed with the growth of e-commerce. “Traditionally, items were shipped to stores, unpacked, put on shelves or otherwise merchandized in store. Today, online shopping means packaging not only transports the product, but it also has to be part of the unboxing experience,” explained Rachel Kenyon, SVP of non-profit Fibre Box Association, which serves the corrugated packaging industry. Corrugated packaging represents a traditional form of boxing that works in today’s society considering it is made from a renewable resource and has a very high (96 percent in 2018) recovery rate. A corrugated package can be any size, shape or form, allowing creativity in box design while maintaining supply chain performance, Kenyon said. Additionally, box-making is a local business. Most box plants are built around manufacturing hubs and serve a 150-mile radius, making them a part of local communities. There are approximately 1,150 corrugated manufacturing facilities domestically.

Because corrugated options have been around for 150 years, Kenyon admits that sometimes brands need to be reminded of its sustainability story. Therefore, the industry has embarked on a communications program. “Boxes. The most extraordinary thing in the world” is a campaign sharing attributes of packaging that goes unnoticed. Similarly, the Paper and Packaging Board launched its “How Life Unfolds” campaign in 2018 highlighting the relevance of paper packaging in our lives and our industry.

Coalition Comments

Despite the newly forming plethora of promising sustainable packaging options, there are growing pains. “There’s a learning curve that every company must navigate,” commented associate director of the Sustainable Packaging Coalition, Adam Gendell. “For instance, there are plenty of well-established frameworks for responsible paper sourcing, but implementing a new procurement policy can be an immense undertaking, requiring new suppliers, cost models, packaging designs and new corporate culture – it takes will, determination and coordination to make change at scale,” he said.

The upside is that consumers are already gravitating toward purpose-driven brands and “packaging serves as an opportunity for companies to demonstrate corporate responsibility and display it, quite literally, on the first tangible interaction the customer has with their product,” the exec noted.