9 steps to use less plastic packaging

9 steps to use less plastic packaging in your business

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Despite our best efforts to tackle ocean plastic by reducing the plastic waste we generate, we’ve noticed large volumes of plastic keep sneaking into our lives with our purchases, especially when we place online orders.

Online shopping has exploded over the last decade. In 2016 UK online sales reached £133 billion (up 16% on the previous year) and despite the current challenging economic climate, online retail performance looks set to grow as shoppers continue to look for convenience and bargains.

However, this upward trend is not good news for our oceans. The majority of online orders arrive encased in plastic packaging, and recent research suggests that a staggering 32% of plastic packaging escapes collection systems and enters our natural environment.

Whilst effective packaging is important to ensure the safe delivery of goods, given the harmful and long-term effects of plastic on the environment, particularly our oceans, it’s clear we need to radically rethink the prolific use of plastic packaging.

Surfdome is a forward-thinking, ocean-loving online outdoor fashion retailer that’s leading the way reducing their environmental impact by using less plastic in their packaging.

They recently carried out an audit of their business processes and identified several areas where significant reductions in plastic usage could be made, many of which resulted in cost savings too.
We’re excited to have teamed up with Surfdome to create our latest easy-to-implement infographic to help other businesses learn from Surfdome’s experiences and hopefully feel inspired to make positive changes too.

9 steps to use less plastic packaging in your business…

1. List plastic packaging you currently use

Start by listing out all the plastic items of packaging your business currently uses. This may include sellotape, bubble wrap, plastic envelopes, jiffy bags, polystyrene, etc. You might be surprised at how much you unconsciously use without having questioned it in the past.

Try to estimate the weight of plastic you currently use monthly and annually to package your online orders. Take of this as your starting point that you aim to reduce. It’s also helpful to visualise this weight as a pile of plastic water bottles – for example 14 tonnes of plastic is the equivalent of a whopping 650K plastic water bottles.

2. Reduce costs by identifying resources you can reuse

The great news is that some significant cost savings can be instantly achieved by reducing the amount of new packaging that you invest in, and identifying resources your business already has access to that can be reused. Be creative!

For example, cardboard boxes coming into your business via deliveries can be reused to send orders out. If you are worried about this looking professional, invest in an ink stamp or some labels to highlight that as part of your drive to be sustainable your business reuses packaging wherever possible. Also feature this on your website. Boxes can also be shredded to provide ‘free’ void filling. If your business doesn’t have direct access to reusable resources, ask around. Another business nearby may have excess resources they are happy for you to reuse for free to save their recycling/waste disposal costs.

At Less Plastic we send most of our orders out in unbranded, lightweight cardboard shoe boxes that a nearby online shoe retailer receives their stock in before transferring to branded boxes. These would be otherwise be considered as waste by that business, but are the perfect size/weight for most of our orders and provide a free supply of packaging for us whilst being efficient with our planet’s resources. Look for similar win-win opportunities.

surfdome use less plastic packaging


3. Be economic with box sizes and use of gum tape

One area where Surfdome has made some significant cost savings is by investing time in identifying a selection of appropriately sized boxes for the various products they sell that also are economic when it comes to postage charges which are calculated by size as well as weight. Training all staff to select the right-sized box will save you significant amounts over time, as well as being more environmentally-friendly – although cardboard biodegrades naturally if it ends up in the environment, it is manufactured using precious resources so it’s best not to be wasteful.

Likewise, when Surfdome switched to plastic-free, compostable gum tape, they set up a process to measure the exact lengths required to minimise wastage, for and cost benefits.

surfdome use less plastic in their packaging

4. Protect goods with recycled paper or shredded cardboard

It’s not necessary to resort to bubble wrap or polystyrene to protect goods – the environmental cost of using such harmful products is just not worth it. Instead items can be protected with recycled paper or shredded cardboard – even fragile items will be perfectly safe as long as you wrap them carefully and ensure the void is filled properly.

Even better, keep hold of paper/shredded cardboard that you receive in packages and reuse in packaging you send to others to keep resources in circulation.

5. Reinvest savings into innovations, e.g. mushroom packaging

So far all the steps have involved cost savings, however it’s true to say that some of the most innovative packaging solutions entail higher investment than standard disposable plastic.

Be creative and do your research. Many new sustainable packaging solutions are emerging such as mushroom packaging, seaweed packaging, edible food packaging, and even plantable seed packaging. In nature, all waste is able to biodegrade safely – sustainable businesses can strive to achieve this too.

Be aware that ‘compostable plastic’ packaging may not be the solution it seems as it requires compost conditions to breakdown, and if it ends up in the ocean it’s just as harmful as normal plastic.

6. Explore returnable packaging schemes

Despite being an investment upfront, returnable reusable packaging will save costs in the long-run avoiding the need for regular re-orders. However, it will be easier for some businesses to implement than others. Preferred options will depend on what you sell and the longevity of your relationship with customers, it may be more suited to B2B, for example returnable plastic crates that will last for years and cut out disposable plastic. If made from recycled marine plastic, you get extra sustainability points!

Veg box schemes have also had success with returnable packaging. This area is set to grow as more businesses get on board with the circular economy.

7. Calculate annual plastic savings made

A vital step in the process to highlight the impact of your efforts. Surfdome found that by eliminating plastic envelopes, bubble wrap, sellotape and disposable ink cartridges – they achieved a total reduction of 14 tonnes of plastic per year – which to put in context is the equivalent of 650,000 plastic water bottles (500ml) not being used/thrown away.

Measuring your achievements is important, both to highlight your successes and also areas where you may be able to make further improvements. Surfdome is currently researching suitable and sustainable options for protecting individual garments to avoid spoiled goods. Despite not cracking this area yet, they did not delay taking action in the areas they could impact. Celebrate your annual plastic savings – both internally with staff, and externally with customers, suppliers and press/social media – to inspire others to follow your lead.

8. Ask your suppliers to follow these steps

If you act in isolation to reduce plastic in your packaging, your impact will be limited and you will continue to receive deliveries of unwanted plastic waste into your business, which can be disheartening.

Amplify the results of your hard work by asking your suppliers to go through these 9 steps too, or you can go one step further and draw up official guidelines for supplier deliveries to ensure they make the effort to use less plastic too.

how to use less plastic packaging

9. Share eco messages with your customers

Surfdome share the #2minutebeachclean message with their customers to support a cause close to their hearts – plastic-free waves are more fun to surf. You can choose to pick an eco cause or message that is appropriate for your brand and customers, or simply shout about your business’ successes in your journey to reducing plastic waste.

Customers today strongly believe that doing something good for the world should be part of a company’s core business plan.

Reducing plastic waste generated by your business will deliver obvious benefits for the environment as well as several knock-on benefits for your business too – including cost savings, enhanced brand reputation, more engaged employees and increased sales from a growing tribe of eco aware customers.

Find out more about Surfdome’s awesome work reducing plastic in their packaging, or browse their handpicked collection of sustainable gear.

Get in touch to discover how to use less plastic in your business.

Support our work and help spread the word about ocean plastic.

You can order printed copies of our posters and postcards to display at your workplace, school or in your community, or to hand out to friends, or use as educational materials.

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