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Environmental Impact: The Carbon Footprint of Packaging

Sure, we need packaging—it keeps our goods safe and makes shipping possible. But let's be real: do those tiny items really need to come in giant Amazon boxes? Packaging takes on a major role in the modern economy, facilitating the storage, transport, and sale of goods. Its downfall is that it significantly contributes to carbon emissions, fueling climate change.
This article explores the carbon footprint of packaging, strategies to reduce it through design, and eco-friendly alternatives. By understanding these aspects, businesses and consumers can make informed decisions that promote sustainability and help mitigate environmental impact. At Noramble, we believe that every package can tell a greener brand story.
7 min read
20 May 2024
Environmental Impact The Carbon Footprint of Packaging

How Packaging Contributes to Carbon Emissions

Packaging’s carbon footprint starts with raw material extraction. Extracting petroleum for plastics and cutting down trees for paper requires huge amounts of energy. This process releases significant greenhouse gases, contributing heavily to global warming. The extraction stage is energy-intensive and environmentally damaging, making it a primary source of carbon emissions in the life cycle of packaging.

Next, we move to the manufacturing phase. In this stage, factories mould, print, and assemble packaging materials. These processes are highly energy-intensive and often rely on non-renewable energy sources such as coal and natural gas. As a result, they emit large amounts of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. This phase of production significantly contributes to climate change, as the energy used in these factories comes from fossil fuels. The manufacturing process is a crucial area for implementing changes to reduce the overall carbon footprint of packaging.

Environmental responsibility

Reducing Carbon Footprint in Design

Now it’s not all bad. There are ways around it that will help reduce the environmental impact. Take a look

Lightweight Packaging

One way to cut down on packaging’s carbon footprint is by designing lightweight packaging. Think of it as putting your packaging on a diet. Using less material without compromising protection means reduced material use, lower transportation costs, and fewer emissions. It's a win-win.

Material Selection

Choosing the right materials is key. Renewable, biodegradable, or recyclable materials is another game-changer. Examples include recycled paper, bioplastics, and plant-based materials. These options are on-trend in the packaging world—strong, sustainable, and here to save the planet.

Efficient Manufacturing Techniques

Implementing energy-efficient production methods can make a big difference. Imagine a factory powered by renewable energy sources, like solar or wind – better for the environment and your wallet.

Optimised Packaging Design

Creating designs that maximise space utilisation and minimise waste is key. For example, IKEA, known for its flat-pack furniture and optimised its packaging design to reduce plastic waste and improve space utilisation. By redesigning its packaging for specific products, IKEA managed to reduce packaging volume by up to 50% in some cases. This not only cut down on the amount of material used but also allowed for more products to be transported at once, reducing transportation emissions.

The Cane toothbrush stands out environmentally by using sustainable bamboo materials, unlike traditional plastic toothbrushes, which contribute to landfill waste. Cane's packaging, designed by Noramble, utilises biodegradable cardboard and bamboo pulp, further reducing environmental impact.

Cane Packaging 1
Cane Packaging 3

Eco-Friendly Alternatives to Traditional Packaging

Biodegradable Packaging

Biodegradable packaging materials decompose naturally without harming the environment. Examples include cornstarch packaging and mushroom-based materials

Recyclable Packaging

Using materials that can be processed and reused, like glass, aluminium, and certain plastics, helps reduce the carbon footprint. Recyclable packaging supports a circular economy, minimising the need for new raw materials.

Reusable Packaging

Packaging design for multiple uses before disposal, such as refillable containers and returnable shipping boxes, significantly cuts down on packaging waste and emissions.

Innovative Materials

Emerging alternatives, like edible packaging and seaweed-based wraps, offer exciting possibilities for the future of packaging design. These innovations reduce reliance on fossil fuels and decrease waste, aligning with a more sustainable future.

Case Studies and Examples

These examples show how sustainable packaging solutions can improve a company’s carbon footprint and enhance customer perception. It’s proof that going green can be great for business.

Lush Cosmetics is renowned for its commitment to sustainability. They use minimal packaging and prioritise recycled, biodegradable, and reusable materials. Their innovative naked products, like shampoo bars and solid lotions, eliminate the need for packaging altogether.

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Clothing brand Patagonia is a leader in environmental responsibility. They use recycled materials for their packaging and have implemented a take-back program to recycle used garments. This approach not only reduces waste but also strengthens their eco-friendly brand image.

Saltwater Brewery, a craft beer company, created edible six-pack rings made from barley and wheat remnants. These rings are not only biodegradable but also safe for marine life, setting a new standard for eco-friendly packaging in the beverage industry.

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Puma has introduced the Clever Little Bag, a reusable shoe bag that replaces traditional shoeboxes. This innovative packaging design reduces cardboard usage by 65%, lowering the brand’s carbon footprint and generating positive customer feedback.

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Cleaning product company Method uses 100% post-consumer recycled plastic for their bottles and has even developed a bottle made from plastic waste collected from the ocean. Their commitment to sustainable packaging reinforces their brand’s eco-friendly ethos.

Packaging plays a major role in our economy, but its environmental impact is undeniable. From raw material extraction to manufacturing, traditional packaging contributes significantly to carbon emissions. However, by adopting strategies like lightweight design, sustainable material selection, and efficient manufacturing techniques, businesses can substantially reduce their carbon footprint. The future of packaging design will be greener!

Get help from a packaging design agency! At Noramble, we are passionate about helping brands tell their green stories through thoughtful brand strategy, innovative design, and sustainable packaging solutions. If you’re ready to make a positive impact and stand out in the market, head to Noramble for expert brand strategy, brand design, and packaging design services. We also offer a free brand review to those who don’t know where to start. Let's create a greener future together.

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