Implementing Sustainable Packaging for Small Businesses

Jane Marsh - March 8, 2023

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Whether you currently own or run a small business or intend to do so in the future, you might be thinking about using sustainable packaging for small businesses in your operating model. Luckily, there are numerous ways to do this. Start with these tips.

Think About How You’ll Use Sustainable Packaging

Begin by thinking about how sustainable packaging will become a part of your business. Does using it mean you’ll use bags made of recycled materials? That’s a common strategy. Also, depending on what your small business sells, you might offer a program where people can bring their empty packaging to your enterprise to have it refilled or recycled.

You can also buy sustainable packaging for small businesses that suits your shipping needs. For example, there’s a growing market specializing in reusable packaging. Consider Boox, which offers such boxes with QR codes inside. People can scan them to find the nearest place to drop the boxes off for reuse. Alternatively, customers can print off mailing labels and send them back to the company. 

If you sell consumable goods, like cups of coffee, another option is to encourage customers to buy your reusable cups and bring them back for refilling on every visit. Another primary advantage of that approach besides sustainability is that you can sell branded cups that act as free advertising for your business if people are out and about in their communities while using the cups. 

Engage With Companies Offering Sustainable Packages for Small Businesses

It’s also wise to have in-depth discussions with numerous representatives from companies specializing in sustainable packages for small businesses. Find out what types they provide, whether you must buy minimum quantities and all other necessary specifics to help you make informed choices and start to compare the various options. 

This stage is a good time to think about your branding and how the packaging companies might fit into it. For example, can you get bags or other containers in various colors or designs? How much more would a company charge for you to have your logo on the container? 

Always have a general idea of how much you can afford to spend before starting these discussions with packaging companies. Representatives will want to know your budget so they can steer the conversation in the right direction by not suggesting possibilities that are far out of your price range. 

At the same time, try to have an open mind and a bit of flexibility in your packaging budget if possible. Sometimes, you might end up spending more than you initially intended because doing so allows you to take advantage of a bulk discount or avail of a specialty option that fits with your business strategy. 

Think about what information the packaging might contain, too. If you run a salad bar and buy compostable containers from a packaging company, such packaging might just have your business name, or you might opt for non-branded containers if you’re on a tight budget and hope to scale up later. 

Find out about your packaging supplier’s sourcing practices, too. After all, sustainability does not begin and end with your business. It includes everyone you rely on to operate. 

Consider How to Reduce Waste 

Thinking about sustainable packaging for small businesses also means investigating how to eliminate unnecessary waste. One way you can do that is to prioritize using materials that will quickly decompose in landfills. Many people don’t realize that Styrofoam takes about five centuries to break down, making it a poor packaging choice from an environmental standpoint. 

Another great way to cut down on waste is to ensure the packaging used is the right size for the product it holds. Amazon often gets a bad rap for putting tiny items in huge boxes with lots of padding. That’s bad for the planet, and it’s not a good use of your company’s resources. 

You can also encourage your customers to reuse your packaging in whatever ways they see fit. That might mean washing out an empty lotion jar and using it to store spare change. Many people may also reuse the boxes you ship things to them in, especially if the exterior has a cool design or inspiring phrase. 

Another aspect of sustainable packaging for small businesses that often gets overlooked is the tape or other adhesive. Paper tape is widely available, and it’s a sustainable option that people can recycle. 

Pennsylvania-based American Box & Recycling Co. caters to businesses and makes waste reduction a major part of its operating model. It pays companies for their used boxes, then sells them to other businesses. The organization currently has 80 entities buying those secondhand containers. This approach has resulted in an estimated $27 million worth of diversion efforts so far as the containers get used again instead of tossed. 

Don’t Be Afraid to Think Creatively

Most of the time, sustainable packaging for small businesses centers on priorities like waste reduction and recycled materials. Those are excellent places to start. However, some enterprises go further and use a commitment to sustainability to fill a market need. 

Such was the case with Cleverbox, based in New Zealand. This small business provides plastic containers that people can use instead of moving boxes. Jill Wong-Stratford, the director of this small business, said she saw from experience how unsustainable moving can be due to the boxes required and how people typically just crush them after use. 

Customers rent the number of boxes they need, and they get peace of mind from knowing that the company sanitizes them before arrival. In addition to Wong-Stratford’s role as director, the company has two part-time workers and two drivers. However, that small team doesn’t stop them from tackling big jobs. One recent example occurred when representatives from a school requested 100 for an upcoming move. 

Of course, it’s totally understandable if you start with simpler options first. It’s just important that you also know what’s possible within the realm of sustainable packaging for small businesses overall. 

Sustainable Packaging for Small Businesses Matters

Operating a small business can be challenging, and it’s important that you have aspects that help you stand out from competitors and get people interested. These tips show how you can make packaging a selling point while simultaneously supporting the planet’s future. 

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About the author

Jane Marsh

Starting from an early age, Jane Marsh loved all animals and became a budding environmentalist. Now, Jane works as the Editor-in-Chief of where she covers topics related to climate policy, renewable energy, the food industry, and more.