As e-commerce becomes a way of life, people across the globe are receiving more packages than ever. Thankfully, bubble wrap and the dreaded styrofoam packing peanuts are less and less common as businesses turn to sustainable packaging.
You’ve probably experienced this scenario before. A long anticipated package arrives. The box is a bit larger than expected, which is weird, but you push that thought aside and slice it open. You open the box to a sea of white packing peanuts. You dive your arms deep to find your goods as peanuts escape the box, scattering all over the floor. The single product you ordered is finally here, yet now you have an unexpected mess to deal with. You think to yourself, “What do I do with all these peanuts? Why’s the box so big?”
Fortunately, packaging is evolving. Even Amazon has issued new Frustration Free packaging guidelines with three main requirements: easy to open, 100% recyclable, and fully protective according to ISTA standards. Each of the options on the following bubble wrap alternatives meet ISTA protection standards and leave a smaller carbon footprint.
PLA air cushions are cheap, convenient, and effective, but ultimately, it’s still plastic. Even though they’re labeled as biodegradable, PLA plastic may require industrial conditions for proper breakdown. For a truly green alternative, there’s a kraft paper version. Most are made from at least 85% FSC Certified recycled paper and can be thrown away with curbside paper recycling.
But how does kraft paper stay inflated? The interior is lined with a thin plastic film made from biodegradable starch. Paper-PLA plastic combinations have been known to interfere with recycling streams, but this film is thin enough to quickly dissolve in paper pulp processing plants.
One of the cheapest and easiest solutions, kraft paper is as simple as cut and crumple. It comes in a roll, it’s usually made from recycled paper, and it’s easy to recycle in virtually every curbside program. Kraft paper gets the job done for most products, and companies can use the surface to print branding or messaging.
Imagine kraft paper that reproduces one of nature’s most advanced architectural wonders. The honeycomb structure stretches and expands, adding lightweight protection even for fragile products made out of glass or ceramic. Since this innovative material also comes in rolls, it’s easy to store on warehouse shelves and grab for convenient usage.
Have you ever received a box with ciabatta roll shaped air bags? These little pillows go a long way in protecting goods, and they are now available in biodegradable PLA plastic. Fulfillment centers like the ease of air cushions because they store flat. Feed them through a specialized machine to puff them up as needed.
5.Biodegradable Packing Peanuts
Made from starchy natural materials like corn, biodegradable packing peanuts were first introduced in the 1990s. Unlike other biodegradable packaging, you can be sure these actually break down. Just run them under water and watch as they quickly dissolve while emitting a smell reminiscent of burnt popcorn. For a cheap solution for light to medium weight products, stock up on biodegradable packing peanuts.
Using only cardboard and a thin layer of plastic, this method actually suspends the product within the box to protect from impact as well as shifting in transit. It’s an effective solution for heavy products including electronics like cell phones, laptops, and tablets. The mechanism requires some package design to match the goods inside, but assembly is a breeze, and the cardboard-plastic can last for multiple shipments. You can further minimize the carbon footprint with biodegradable polylactic acid plastic film (PLA), derived from sugar cane or corn starch.
Just like suspension packaging, retention packaging protects products with strategically designed cardboard and a thin layer of plastic. It’s a popular choice for shipping wine and other glass bottles, allowing for slight movement to disperse pressure throughout the bottle and package.
8.PLA Thermoform Trays
From snacks and food containers to small parts and tools, thermoform trays are used in every industry that needs packaging. Inexpensive and easy to produce, they are made by heating a thin layer of plastic to the point where it can stretch and form to a custom mold, similar to the molded pulp process. Now that PLA is becoming more cost-effective, the biodegradable version is a viable solution for moving towards a more eco-friendly strategy.
Eco-friendly Shipping: Something for Everyone
With so many bubble wrap alternatives available, there’s an option for every type of e-commerce business. When making the final decision, consider how much protection your products need, fulfillment time, shipping costs, branding placement, and of course, the customer unboxing experience. For more information, check out our recent blog on building an e-commerce packaging strategy.