Packaging has been a constant challenge for those building a sustainability framework for their brands and personal lives.
The packaging of a product tells a lot about the values of the brand that created it. Packaging can make or break customers’ trust, especially when talking about brands that call themselves sustainable. Still, most green-washing companies are not willing to sacrifice their profits for environmental benefits.
This article focuses on what makes apparel packaging sustainable. So, if you’re a small clothing brand wondering how to make your packaging eco-friendly or a conscious consumer who wants to get educated about the topic, this article is for you.
How Can I Make My Packaging Eco-Friendly?
“Reduce, reuse, and recycle” is an old phrase that’s more than just a saying. It’s the way we should think about our priorities when it comes to eco-friendly packaging—reducing packaging first before looking at recycling or other alternatives.
Here are a few simple steps that you can do to elevate your company’s or personal practices to a more sustainable packaging system:
- Reduce the size of your package to the minor extent possible and using as few items as possible. Consider if tags or extra items are needed. Packaging should only focus on protecting the product.
- Select materials with the smallest carbon footprint and think about circularity. Choose materials that are fully recyclable or compostable.
- Learn how to reuse and recycle packaging materials, and if that’s the case, educate your clients too.
Types of Eco-Friendly Apparel Packaging
Mailer envelopes are an excellent way for clothing companies to ship most apparel. But there’s plenty of options out there, and it can be challenging trying to find the right one – especially when being eco-friendly is your goal!
Whether it’s recycled materials or sustainable sources, there are mailers for every need. But, in general, the are three types of eco-friendly mailer alternatives:
Poly mailers, made from polyethylene film (plastic), are the lightest, least expensive, and most durable way to ship soft goods such as clothing and fabrics. It protects them from dirt and moisture and is an intelligent alternative that is easy to recycle.
If you’re debating between paper or plastic mailers, consider that 100% recycled poly mailers have a lower carbon footprint than 100% recycled paper mailers.
To make the most sustainable choice, make sure to select mailers that are 100% recycled and recyclable, reusable, and, if possible, printed with water-based ink.
If you’re looking for a plastic-free replacement to the poly mailer or a curbside recyclable and compostable mailer to ship apparel, then you can go for paper-based mailers.
Paper-based envelopes, typically made from Kraft paper, can protect the clothing almost as well as a poly envelope, providing the functionality of a shipping box with the simplicity of an envelope.
We recommend that you go for a 100% recycled option, made with thicker stock than regular paper mailers, yet allowing it to conform to apparel and other soft goods.
Compostable mailers are the best of both worlds: They’re biodegradable as paper but share the same properties as poly mailers regarding lightness, durability, and water resistance.
Most compostable envelopes are made from PBAT, a bio-based polymer, and PLA made of plant materials. If composted correctly, compostable mailers return to the earth and leave no harmful residues behind.
Lightweight and durable boxes are usually made out of corrugated cardboard. This clever little moldable, shapable packing material is something that most people would not consider throwing away quickly. Unless it is water-damaged or totally out of shape, it is the only time it finally goes into the trash. That, in itself, is already helping the environment.
The best thing about cardboard boxes? They are compostable and can be recycled 5 to 7 times. We recommend selecting cardboard boxes that haven’t been laminated or wax-coated because they’re easier to recycle.
Cardboard boxes can protect anything from glass to several articles of clothing; they’re both an old and new way of ensuring the clients get their items in good shape while being eco-friendly.
Adding tissue paper to your eco-friendly boxing experience is the best way for your package to look as sharp as the product inside. Tissue paper packaging enhances the presentation of the parcel, giving it an added value.
Also, laying over or wrapping the item in custom tissue paper gives it an extra layer of protection or cushioning that makes it look attractive.
When looking for your custom tissue paper, take a look at the features that make it eco-friendly. Select materials that are compostable, recycled, and recyclable. Additionally, you can look for the paper to be FSC-certified, acid-free, and printed with soy-based inks or similar.
Using plastic packaging tape is a reliable way of sealing your package. However, it still needs to be removed to recycle the container, either a box or a mailer. And just like any other plastic material, small increments can add up to a mountain of non-biodegradable waste carried over to the landfill.
If you want to take your eco-friendly packaging to the next level, opt for using eco-friendly tape.
Usually, eco-friendly tapes are made out of Kraft paper and need plain water to activate. But you may be able to find more advanced, fully compostable options nowadays, like tapes made from cellulose.
When selecting a tape, make sure that the paper, the ink, and its sticky side can readily be recycled, and there’s no need to remove them when recycling the box. The adhesives and material used must help your packaging be easily recycled at the end of its life.
Labels & stickers
Your product label is the cherry on the cake when it comes to presenting your products. And, as well as all the other packing items mentioned above, these can be eco-friendly as well.
Look for recycled paper that is printed with non-harmful ink, such as soy or water-based. Also, avoiding having a top coating layer on the label or sticker will make recycling easier.
Environment-friendly stickers are easy to apply on tissue paper, mailers, boxes, and others. You can confidently put your brand’s logo anywhere you want, knowing that you are doing your best to avoid environmental damage.
Clothing Brands with Sustainable Packaging
Lastly, to leave you with a bit of inspiration, here’s a list of some of the brands that are famously integrating sustainable packaging into their supply chain.
PrAna is one of the brands pioneering sustainable packaging in the fashion industry. They started to reduce plastic in their packaging back in 2010.
A premium lifestyle clothing company, Prana uses soy-based ink and recycled paper to build its packaging. They also use raffia palm tree strips to tie the package. Prana became 80% polybag-free in 2016.
PrAna’s goal is to eliminate plastic from consumer packaging by 2021, eliminate the use of materials from ancient and endangered forests by 2022, and virgin forest fibers by 2025.
Apart from setting the above internal goals, PrAna leads a Sustainable Packaging Movement, inviting other fashion brands to join. They recognize that change is not going to be achieved by a few companies only. PrAna provides training, guidance, networking spaces, and even a social media tool kit for brands that join the movement.
PVH, which owns brands like Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger, has made it their goal to achieve 100% of their products and packaging to be ethically and sustainably sourced by 2025. Also, all PVH offices, distribution centers, and stores aim to achieve zero waste and eliminate single-use plastics by 2030.
As stated in their 2020 responsibility report, PVH partnered with Fashion for Good to facilitate a collaborative “Circular Polybag” pilot. By testing technology that de-inks and removes adhesives from the polybags, the pilot aimed to recycle collected polybags into polybags made with 80% post-consumer recycled content.
PVH also urges its customers to help save the environment by providing instructions on the label on how to recycle packaging materials. It gives customers tips on choosing between finding a local recycling program or dropping it off at participating retailers’ recycling boxes.
One of the more popular online fashion stores is based in the UK, asos.com currently serves clientele globally. This company has mother earth in mind as they have created a system that reclaims and reuses returned packaging and puts it back in circulation.
In 2019, they signed up to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s New Plastics Economy. As part of that commitment, they pledged to eliminate unnecessary packaging by 2025.
Since then, they’ve removed more than 40% of unnecessary packaging items. By constantly switching to the smallest possible packaging option, they can cut the average carbon footprint of mailing bags by 27% and mailing boxes by 33%. They also said goodbye to 25 million tags and 75% of shoeboxes from their ASOS DESIGN lines.
Asos is also taking significant steps to increase their recycled content by delivering boxes made from 100% recycled and recyclable materials, and their bags are made from 80-90% recycled plastic.
MatchesFashion, a global luxury retailer based in London, prides itself on its beautiful boxes. Their packaging became part of why they have gained so much loyal following in the fashion industry.
The challenge was how to reduce the environmental impact of their unique packaging while keeping its overall aesthetic appeal. MatchesFashion solved that problem by pledging recyclability and certified materials.
Their signature Luxury boxes are made using FSC-certified materials with a water-based finish, avoiding unnecessary plastic and maximizing recyclability. And the Eco-Luxe boxes are made of recycled and responsibly sourced materials and are 100% recyclable.
Your packaging is as crucial to your brand as the product itself. A genuine eco-friendly company will always ensure their products are packaged sustainably, from the type of materials used down to how it’s disposed of or recycled and reused. What do you think? Leave us a comment with what sustainability means to you!