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Environmentally friendly packaging that doesn't cost a fortune

When starting a small business, especially if you are selling products online, you must plan how to present and package goods so that it ships safely to its destination. Not only must the safety of goods be considered, but the impression the packaging makes on the customer opening the package as well.

Our research indicates that the packaging a business uses says a great deal about the business even before they see the actual item. Packaging leaves a lasting impression and overall feeling about the business even before the customer gets to enjoy the product.

Customers are also concerned about the environmental impact of packaging takes thousands of years to deteriorate.

If you’d like to find out more about the research we’ve done and what really matters to customers now, click here.

Generally, plastic packaging is easier to obtain and cheaper and so many businesses opt for plastic because they believe environmentally friendly packaging will cost them too much or not protect their products as well. We did some digging and found some great eco-friendly alternatives that will make your customers feel better about supporting your business without costing you a fortune.

Brown paper bags

Brown paper bags are a great alternative to plastic bags. They are biodegradable, compostable, heat friendly and recyclable. Surprisingly, many brown paper bags can withstand more weight than plastic ones. As a bonus, their novelty also appeals to customers. Their neutral, earthy tones present products beautifully. Simply wrap a piece of natural twine around the package and add your brand. Even adding a handwritten ‘thank-you’ note will elevate the personal element drastically. Brown paper bags can be used to package clothes, beauty products, artisan food items, jewellery, toys and more. offer some great options and it works out around to roughly R1.40 per bag. Check them out here.

Clear PLA ‘plastic’ bags

If brown paper bags are not your style, then clear PLA bags might be. They look like plastic but are not. They are made from cornstarch-based bioplastic called PLA. They are compostable and have a significantly lower carbon footprint than petroleum-based plastic. These bags work well to package dry goods like nuts, bath salts, beans, coffee beans etc. sells a pack of 100 x 1000ml bags for R89.08 making the unit price (R0.89) very cost effective. The advantage of using packaging like this is that the product can be seen clearly as the bags are transparent. They can also be packaged impressively with twine and ribbon. Check them out here.

Hessian jute bags

Hessian Jute bags are another great option for eco-friendly packaging! It certainly has character and is also very affordable. It works well as a replacement for the traditional plastic bubble wrap. The fabric can be made into a reusable and beautiful drawstring bag which offers a lovely packaging option for shoes and other products like jams, honey, coffee, or even fashion or accessories as the aesthetic is well suited to products like these.

What is so great about hessian jute bags is that they are made from plants like jute or sisal. These types of plants take between 4-6 months to be ready for harvest. This is impressive as it grows up to 3.6 metres long! The jute plant takes in large amounts of carbon dioxide making them excellent air purifiers. They are also a great packaging option for heavy products as the jute strands are strong and are not easily broken. Possibly the best thing about hessian is that it's biodegradable and become great fertilizers for soil after they’ve been used. The sky's the limit with hessian and is positively striking to the customer receiving goods packaged this way.

Box Shop and Packaging is a local supplier of hessian fabrics and bags. You can check out their products here.

Corrugated cardboard (alternative to bubble wrap)

Bubble wrap is a widely used form of protective packaging as it is very effective in preventing breakage when transporting fragile goods. This well-known form of protective packaging is, however, not good for the environment at all. It is made with polyethylene films which are toxic to the environment and it takes hundreds of years to decompose in landfills. Luckily, there is an effective (and eco-friendly) alternative: corrugated cardboard. It only takes about 3 months to decompose whereas bubble wrap takes 500 years to decompose. It is flexible and lightweight, and it does not look too bad either. It acts as an excellent shock absorber while goods are in transit and minimizes the cost considerably. Eco Warrior sells 1kg of corrugated cardboard for R27.50 (R684 for 25kg). Your customers will be impressed by this new way of packaging as bubble wrap is the default for most, and it will also open your customers eyes to the new ways of packaging that are not sore on the eyes, and works effectively to protect fragile goods.

Glass jars and bottles

There is something about glass that adds a level of sophistication and elegance to a product. It feels and looks luxurious and is way better for the environment than plastic. Customers are willing to pay more for local products if they look good and are good for the environment. Glass is quite versatile and can be used to package a variety of products. Glass is also very reusable. Glass containers can be reused as vases, preserve jars, plant propagation holders, candle holders, spice holders, and so much more! Glass, unlike plastic, does not contain any hazardous chemicals such as BPA and PVC and is impermeable to other substances. When glass is recycled, the integrity of the glass is not threatened, so glass can be recycled over and over again. There are a host of reasons to choose glass when considering packaging for your products. Sold on glass? Check out the selections offered by: Bonpak, Dalgen Packaging and Demza.

Environmentally friendly packaging does not have to cost your business a fortune and certainly goes a long way towards making your brand stand out among competitors. We hope that some of our ideas will help and encourage you to explore plastic alternatives to packaging. It is important to remember that customers notice the little things you do. Packaging says a lot about what you stand for and value and we hope that environmental consciousness is one of those things you value going forward.

Disclaimer: We are not affiliated to any of the suppliers recommended in this article. The product information and prices reflected in this article was taken in November 2020. For current products and pricing, please contact the supplier directly.

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