Achieving sustainability in luxury packaging requires a multi-angled approach. Follow our six principles to ensure your packaging is certifiably sustainable.

1. Make your packaging mono material

The first principle is also the simplest: don’t mix materials. A product made from 100% paper is far easier to recycle. If you stick to responsibly sourced, paper only packaging you’re onto a winner.

As soon as paper is coated in plastic or foil for example, it is be much harder to recycle; increasing the likelihood of it ending in a landfill or being incinerated. Many mixed-material packaging is rendered completely unrecyclable due to this misunderstanding in the design process.

The same principle applies to other materials such as wood, metal and plastic. If materials are going to be mixed; make sure they are as easy as possible to separate out to aid the recycling process.

PAPER

This bag is only made of paper so can be recycled with paper products. Therefore is a mono material.

PAPER + PLASTIC + FOIL + PLASTIC HANDLES

These bags are made of paper laminated with plastic and have a metal foil print with plastic handles. It is very difficult to recycle.

2. Use certified sustainable materials

We’ve been conditioned to assume that certain words denote sustainability, but this is not necessarily true. Check where your materials were made and by whom. Their sustainability credentials are easy to spot, if you know what to look for.

FSC stands for Forest Stewardship Council. An FSC ‘ tick tree’ logo means that wood-derived products are certified to come from forests that are managed for longevity with a traceable chain of custody. FSC certified products belong to brands that are Independently audited and inspected annually. Another one to trust is the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification, PEFC.

FSC logo PEFC logo

‘ Organic’ as a term can’ t be trusted. Look for third party independent certifiers and check their credentials. For example; “ organic cotton” is typically certified by two independent companies (OCS or GOTS) but their definitions of organic vary considerably with GOTS certification addressing the environmental issues during processing as well as social issues.

OCS logo GOTS logo

Recycled: Not all recycled materials are good especially if the original material contributed to deforestation. It’ s important to know where the original material came from, how it was made and how it was recycled. Look for closed-loop recycled products to guarantee sustainability status.

REACH. This stands for Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals. REACH addresses the production and use of chemicals and their potential impacts on human health and the environment. To be REACH compliant, manufacturers must document information on chemicals they use up and down their supply chain.

Biomass plastics: typically made using oils derived from bamboo, corn or soya, biomass plastics are being heavily touted as the ideal petroleum plastic replacement. Yet how were these plants grown? How much water was used? Did the soya come from a diverted food source? Make sure you know.

If in doubt, the golden rule is to ask for supply chain documentation from your supplier.

3. Manufacture your packaging responsibly

Check the details of the factory where your products are made. It is important to note that each factory should be taken on merit. There are no standards automatically linked to specific countries.

A good starting point is to look for ISO14001 certification, which specifies requirements for an effective environmental management system in manufacturing. These facilities must prove they use water more efficiently and a certain amount of green energy. Be mindful that this certification can make production methods more expensive. As a rule, ethical manufacture can be 30% more expensive. But research shows that consumers are willing to pay more for sustainable brands.

ISO Carbon

4. Avoid petroleum plastics and especially virgin plastics 

Plastics are getting a particularly bad press at the moment and in many cases, this is justified. There are some plastic products that are both bad and unnecessary and should be avoided in packaging completely. Below is a summary of the various plastics that can be used to make your packaging and where possible should be avoided;

If plastic is an essential part of your packaging, research sustainable options. Biomass plastics made from sustainable corn, bamboo or soya are rising in popularity and are already suitable for many types of packaging.

As a last resort, use closed-loop recycled plastics. It’s possible, for instance, to use plastic ribbons made from recycled plastic bottles.

Biomass plastics: typically made using oils derived from bamboo, corn or soya, biomass plastics are being heavily touted as the ideal petroleum plastic replacement. Yet how were these plants grown? How much water was used? Did the soya come from a diverted food source? Make sure you know.

If in doubt, the golden rule is to ask for supply chain documentation from your supplier.

Plastic derived from biomass materials such as sugar, bamboo, corn or starch is regeneratable. They are often carbon neutral and therefore don’t contribute to global warming.

5. Address waste as a design flaw

Avoid excessive outer packaging. Always ask: is it really necessary? Is fancy packaging really a stronger message to your market than sustainability?

Reusable, sustainable packaging is now being incorporated by some brands as a selling point. Paul A Young, for example is producing wooden advent calendars that can be used year after year. Only the chocolates need replacing.

The supermarket chain, Budgens, meanwhile, has gone plastic-free. They are advertising this fact on their new, sustainable packing, optimized not to waste any pallet space in transit.

6. Ensure your packaging is bio-degradable

The last principle brings us, in a closed-loop, back to the first. The ultimate test of sustainability is whether your packaging can easily biodegrade in a natural environment.

Beware of claims of biodegradability: what does it degrade into? And under what conditions? True biodegradability means if you leave your packaging outside and ignore it for a few months, the wind, rain and sunlight alone will break it down into harmless waste.

Would you be happy to put your product onto your compost heap and use it to fertilize your food in a few months?

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