Ten Sustainable Packaging Tips

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We’ve seen an increase in client requests for sustainable packaging over the past year.

What is sustainable packaging?

These are a few of the attributes of sustainable packaging, according to the Sustainable Packaging Coalition, a membership-based collaborative:

  • Is beneficial, safe, and healthy for individuals and communities throughout its life cycle
  • Meets market criteria for both performance and cost
  • Is sourced, manufactured, transported, and recycled using renewable energy
  • Optimizes the use of renewable or recycled source materials

Visit the Sustainable Packaging Coalition website to see the full list of green packaging attributes.

Sustainable packaging approaches

Looking at the sustainable packaging work we’ve done for our clients, most can be grouped into one of these categories:

  • Use materials that are curbside recyclable
  • Use materials that the receiver can re-use
  • Create or use fewer materials
  • Eliminate or minimize production process waste

Here’s a list of 10 ways you can practice sustainable packaging.

1. Box within a box? Eliminate the outer box.

Recently, Premier Press created new student welcome kits for the University of Oregon. The kits contained a number of branded items, which were personalized with the student’s name:

University of Oregon Welcome Box Swag

If the box holding the welcome kit materials is not sturdy enough, brands will often place it inside another box. Being more sturdy, the function of the outer box is to ensure safe transport.

In this project, Premier Press made the welcome kit sturdy enough to ship without the risk of damage. No need for an outer box! And less packaging material used:

UO Duck Welcome to the Flock! Box

2. Use void fill paper instead of peanuts

Looking to secure fragile items inside the box? “Peanuts” are a material commonly used for this purpose. The problem is that some plastic peanuts (and worse, styrofoam peanuts) are not curbside recyclable, which means that they must be disposed of via landfill.

crinkle paper sustainable packaging
Photo credit: Uline

Try using void fill crinkle paper, which is curbside recyclable. Premier Press has used crinkle paper from Uline for some projects to make environmentally friendly packaging.

3. Avoid “sample waste” in influencer marketing campaigns

Many influencer marketing campaigns involve sending influencers an array of product samples for them to test and try out. If influencers try only 10% of the samples, that means that 90% of the influencer package was wasted.

This happens a lot with “beauty influencers,” where samples of eye shadow, eyeliner and mascara may never be used due to preference, skin color match or other factors. One solution to this challenge is to send customized packages that incent the influencer to try a higher percentage of the samples. Another idea is to provide options for the influencer to return or donate the unused samples.

In some of the influencer campaigns they manage for clients, Premier Press asks influencers to select colors of beauty products they’d like to sample. They are then sent the selected colors, with a few additional selections the company wants to highlight.

4. Avoid acrylic for securing items

Acrylic is a transparent plastic that is frequently used to secure items within the packaging because it’s easy to fabricate. Acrylic is not recycled easily, however, and often cannot be curbside recycled.

Instead, use corrugated cardboard or other recyclable materials to secure items inside the packaging. Here are examples created by Premier Press where the packaging elements are 100% curbside recyclable:

sustainable packaging murad beauty sleep
sustainable packaging milk do your skin

5. Select green packaging elements that the consumer can re-use

Let’s think outside the box, shall we?

What if we were to use packaging elements that consumers can use in their everyday lives? On one Premier Press project, the client placed shipped items inside a branded tote bag. The bag became a reusable item that consumers then used for shopping or for transporting items from place to place!

6. Use laminates that are curbside recyclable

In general, the laminate film that adheres to paper is not curbside recyclable. The paper must be separated from the laminate in order for the paper to be recyclable. With most laminate, however, this is hard to do.

Check with your provider of laminating films and equipment. According to one Premier Press partner, 1.5 mil laminate is curbside recyclable. In addition, a company called NoW Technology has created laminated papers that it claims are recyclable and sustainable.

7. If you must use plastic, ensure it’s curbside recyclable

China has created ripple effects throughout the world of recycling as it is no longer accepting the world’s plastic.

Premier Press’ recycling partners now only accept clear and transparent plastics for recycling. All other types of plastic are not accepted. If you must use plastic in your packaging, do research to determine which types of plastics have a higher likelihood of acceptance by curbside recycling companies.

8. Use printing equipment that creates less waste

According to Premier Press’ Feryn, conventional offset printers can produce a lot of waste. For example, offset printing presses typically require printing up to 400 sheets in order to get up to the correct color. If a customer’s order is for 400 sheets, the result is 50% paper waste.

Newer technologies, such as digital offset and inkjet printers and wide-format printers, do not require set-up sheets. These digital technologies provide offset quality printing with zero set-up waste. With a digital press, a 400-sheet order requires zero set-up sheets.

9. Choose partners and providers who practice sustainability

Shipping a package comprises an entire supply chain, so there’s more to sustainability than the packaging itself. Find partners in the supply chain with comprehensive sustainability practices.

For instance, Premier Press is documented and audited as a sustainable printing company and operates as a 100% wind-powered business. Premier Press was certified as the West Coast’s first Full-Service Printer by the Sustainable Green Partnership (SGP) and uses low environmental impact materials for maximum recycling and recovery.

According to Chris Feryn, President, Premier Press, “As an avid hiker and backpacker, I’m passionate about protecting the environment. At Premier Press, our goal is to be a forerunner in the battle for true sustainability. We look for partners who share the same commitment to the environment. I’m happy to see the growing interest from our customers in sustainable packaging.”

10. Create a sustainable packaging initiative in your industry

Spearhead sustainability initiatives by leading the way in your industry.

SPICE is an initiative that aims to shape the future of sustainable packaging in the cosmetics industry. SPICE stands for Sustainable Packaging Initiative for Cosmetics and was co-founded in 2018 by L’Oreal and Quantis, an environmental sustainability consulting firm.

According to the press release announcing its creation, “The initiative now counts 11 current members, including cosmetics companies such as L’Oréal, Clarins Group, Coty Inc., LVMH or Shiseido, who will work together to develop and publish business-oriented methodologies and data to improve the environmental performance of the entire packaging value chain.”

Learn more at the SPICE website.

A TEDx collaboration that put Portland on the map.

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The offspring of the world-famous TED talks, TEDx events are independently organized local events all over the globe. This is the story of a Portland-grown partnership that has made our town’s TEDx different from all the others.

In 2013, its third year in existence, TEDxPortland was already a success. They’d doubled the attendance over the first two years, sold out in a week, and had moved to a larger space.

But when cofounder/curator/host David Rae was leaving the venue, he was disappointed to see that people had left their event programs behind. In the trash.

As he was mulling over the problem, he happened upon a beautiful hardbound Nike year-in-review product book, and asked what world-class company had produced it. The answer was Premier Press. A family-owned business right here in Portland, Oregon.

David arranged to meet with us and see our facility. When he described his grand, pull-out-all-the-stops ambition for the upcoming event book, we realized what our partnership could mean. As sponsors, we had the opportunity not only to support, but to be a tangible part of an event we loved. So we said, “Let’s do it.”  

And we did. TEDx and Premier Press, together with design firm Enjoy the Weather, created a 160-page book so extraordinary that it won the prestigious 2014 Benny Award.

Since then, we’ve tried to outdo ourselves every year, using all our best materials, techniques, and technologies. But it’s not only a thing of beauty to cherish; it’s a way to keep the TEDx inspiration alive. The book has ample space for note-taking so people can go back and reflect on the impressions they had at the time.

One year there was an indented section in the book – and A-to-Z guide to Portland with a perforated checklist on heavy stock. Attendees have taken up the habit of collecting autographs from the speakers on their respective bio pages. And this year’s book includes a blank postcard, on which attendees can write a letter to their future selves, drop it off as they leave the event, and receive it in the mail next year.

David says, “This book is a treasure. When you receive it at the beginning of the event, it sets the tone for a first-class, one-of-a-kind experience. Each year, you can add a new volume to your library. And afterwards, for years to come, it’s something you can pick up, touch, feel, reread, and be transported back to an experience in your own personal history. That’s something you’re not going to do on Instagram.”

“This book is a treasure. When you receive it at the beginning of the event, it sets the tone for a first-class, one-of-a-kind experience.”

David Rae

Now in the 7th year of our partnership, David says:

“We’re so lucky to have the whole team at Premier. Their level of professionalism is incredible. My production manager, Andy Gordon, answers my emails at 1am, and is my operational magician. I call him ‘Commissioner Gordon.’

“Account director Eric Farrara is my caped crusader. And none of it could happen without the support of the ownership team, Juli Cordill and Joni Feryn. Over the years, we’ve become like family. I can say with supreme confidence that there’s no other TEDx event in the world that does what we do here in Portland with Premier Press. Not New York, not Tokyo, not Milan. Not even the original ‘Big TED’ organization in Vancouver, B.C.”

That said, any city that wants to copy us is more than welcome to do so.

After all, that’s what TED is all about: ideas worth spreading.