We use website cookies to ensure that you receive the best experience. If you’re happy and would like to carry on browsing, click ‘Accept’, or find out more about our Cookie Policy

What is sustainable packaging?

Written by

As the planet’s population continues to grow, carbon emission levels increase and the impact of global warming becomes ever more obvious, sustainability is an increasingly salient issue for businesses. For this reason, organisations in all industries are looking for ways to reduce their carbon footprints and adopt a ‘greener’ company culture. 

Of course, these changes in culture have also come about as a reaction to altering customer behaviour trends. According to a recent Deloitte study, a significant 32% of consumers are now ‘highly engaged’ with adopting a more sustainable lifestyle. With this is mind, combined with the fact that the UK government is also set to implement a new plastic packaging tax (PPT) from 1 April 2022, one of the changes businesses are looking to make is switching to more sustainable package design

However, what is sustainable packaging design? Why is it so important? And how can adopting a circular economy bring environmental and financial benefits? This handy guide will answer all of these questions and more as 1HQ takes a closer look at sustainable packaging.

Why is sustainable packaging important?

It is believed that 79% of all plastics produced over the past 70 years (approximately 8 million tonnes each year) have been thrown away without being recycled, while in the UK, plastic packaging alone accounts for nearly 70% of all plastic waste. 

As governments around the world take action by banning single-use plastics, large sections of society, including businesses, have grown increasingly conscious of how consumption of products and their packaging impacts the environment. This has led to environmentally-friendly, innovative package design becoming a priority for many businesses. 

While initially only adopted by a small number of businesses, sustainable packaging design has now become the norm in many industries, leading to a situation in which sustainable packaging is now expected by consumers. This, combined with increasingly strict government rules and guidelines, makes sustainable packaging a crucial issue that is not going away anytime soon. 

How to make sustainable packaging

As a rule, sustainable packaging is packaging that is made from either biodegradable or recyclable materials. However, there are also two other ways of making your packaging more sustainable. Below we outline all three methods: 

  •  Using biodegradable or recyclable materials

It almost goes without saying, but the most effective way to make your packaging more sustainable is by changing the materials you use to make it. You can either introduce packaging made from materials that can be easily recycled, such as paper, cardboard, or aluminium, for example, or you can strive to introduce more innovative packaging materials. This may include the use of biodegradable materials such as bamboo or cornstarch.

  • Reducing volume

While it may be more expensive to design initially – as packaging will usually have to be made more bespoke – packaging that is tailored to not only protect and market a product successfully, but also to fully optimise space and reduce waste, can lower shipping costs and increase efficiency. This could mean that shipment sizes/weights are lower, leading to lower carbon emissions. 

  • Designing for reuse

Designing and producing packaging that has more than one function is a good way of preventing it from simply being thrown away once a product has been opened. This can be done in two ways. Firstly, by making the packaging reusable, for example, sustainable ‘bags for life’ used by supermarkets that have replaced traditional one-use plastic bags. Secondly, this can be done by giving your packaging a second purpose. For example, H&M’s conceptualised shopping bags that turn into clothes hangers and Samsung’s television boxes that can be converted into tables, magazine racks and even pet houses.

Sustainable packaging in a circular economy

Put simply, a circular economy is a formulaic approach businesses can choose to implement that is designed to ensure their output not only benefits themselves, but also society and the environment more widely. In a successful circular economy, all products and items of packaging are made to be either reused, recycled, repaired or allowed to naturally biodegrade. With this in mind, so-called circular packing solutions have to incorporate these principles of the circular economy into their design and manufacture. 

According to European Parliament, 45% of all CO2 emissions are caused by the production of materials, including those for packaging. In theory, if every business adopted a circular economy approach to the design and manufacture of just their packaging, the amount of materials we need to harvest could drastically decrease, which could improve biodiversity and reduce carbon emissions. This is to say, one of the easiest ways for a business to take their first steps into adopting a circular economy mindset and becoming more eco-friendly is through the implementation of sustainable packaging design.

References: Deloitte, Global Compliance News, NS Packaging, Newprint, EcoEnclose, Nature Fresh, Tech Centre, Learn, Circule, Wrap, Luminite, National Geographic


Content includes:

All in
How can we foster and learn in order to create an inclusive and diverse culture in design?

Cultural diversity in design
Brands that cater to the widest range of people will not only be rewarded by consumer spending, but by elevated status in competitive markets too.

Design for a better world
Noteworthy brands who are innovating for a more inclusive world.

How do brands create cultural relevancy through compelling storytelling?
It’s not whether you stand up for a social issue, it’s how.

Why shouldn’t grass be purple?
Designing for colour blindness.


All In.


Fresh thinking from 1HQ