Reduce, Reuse, Recycle: a mantra redefining contemporary design. It’s a triple threat when going green and it’s been incorporated throughout the following eco-friendly packaging ideas.

Globally we create more than 2 billion tons of waste every year. Much of that waste is from single-use packaging that ends up in the landfill after it’s intended use. However, as societal attitudes shift toward helping the environment, many brands are exploring innovations in eco-friendly packaging design solutions. So learn how environmentalism inspires packaging design to go green, once and for all!

Eco-friendly packaging: the consumer perspective

Eco-friendly packaging not only lessens the waste that we produce, it also tends to create less pollution during production and decomposes quicker and more naturally than traditional packaging materials. Consumers are creating a higher demand for eco-friendly practices from their favorite brands. In a 2020 study by Trivium Packaging, 74% of consumers said they would pay more for sustainable packaging. As an added benefit, by including your environmental awareness in your brand’s messaging, you’ll win the hearts of consumers!

Woman surrounded by groceries and boxes, all bearing the recyclable logo!
Feeling green with eco envy, by OrangeCrush

There are some challenges with eco-friendly packaging designs. One issue with products like biodegradable plastics being labeled as compostable is that they need to be broken down in an industrial facility and won’t decompose in your home compost heap. For many individuals these receptacles are not accessible, so consumers are left with no option but to put them in the trash, where these biodegradable plastics will head to the landfill. To truly embrace greener options, think about the entire lifecycle of your products.

Beware of buzzwords

However, some brands are intentionally disingenuous and use “greenwashing” to sell their brands. Greenwashing is the marketing technique where products and packaging are made to appear as being environmentally-friendly when in reality, they’re not.

Green Label plates
Nature’s Own Green Label paper plates are advertised as recyclable but they did not have evidence to prove it. The FTC found out and gave them a hefty penalty. Via Truth in Advertising

Some forms of greenwashing include using nature-related imagery or the color green in their branding. Other times, brands bring emphasis to how their product is promoting environmentalism, when in fact the link is irrelevant. An example of this kind of trick is branding an apple as being gluten-free or vegan.

Companies recognise that many audiences and potential customers are now actively looking to lower their carbon footprint; the easiest way to do this is to consume products that are packaged as eco-friendly and buy into brands that support environmentalism.

Many are monetising this trend, using vague brand messaging where possible and—in some cases—outright lying. No doubt this tactic could work in the short-term, but in an era of communicating brand transparency and accountability, it certainly will not result in a dedicated consumer base.

Unpacking eco-friendly packaging ideas

Luckily designers, scientists and researchers are developing new methods of packaging that maximize usage and minimize waste. This involves using sustainable materials and processes that cause at least harm possible to the environment. We’ve compiled a list of eco-friendly packaging design ideas to help you find longevity in environmentalism and get you started on a greener path.

Upcycling and multiple-use ideas

One of the cheapest ways to make packaging more environmentally friendly is finding more uses for it. Usually, packaging doesn’t have much of a lifespan past its originally intended purpose, but this doesn’t have to be the case.

Are you ready for a fun history lesson?

Back during the Great Depression in the United States and Canada, families were making-do with what little they had, so the material used in flour and feed sacks became useful fabric for new dresses and other necessities; these flour & feed sack dresses were the “hot new look”.

Ladies on feed bags
How often do you think these ladies showed up to work in matching dresses? Via Flashbak

Companies quickly caught wind and started printing patterns on their bags, competing for the prettiest design so women would buy their bags over other competitors. If your company suddenly discovers that consumers have found a new use for your packaging or product, it might benefit you to lean into it.

1948 ad
As this 1948 housewife points out, re-using the packaging is smart! Via Flashbak
Bemis Bro ad
Bemis Bro. boasts the best designs for mommy-daughter matching dresses, via Flashbak
Vintage Tom & Jerry jelly jars
Once all the jelly is eaten, toss the lid and clean the jar for a handy drinking glass! By Lakeside Vintage Shop, via Pinterest

In the 1950s, the household favorite jelly brand,  Welch, decided to completely rehaul their packaging. Printing wildly popular cartoon characters on a range of jelly jars appealed to their target audience of children so much so, they became a cultural phenomenon.

Many families had previously been using the jelly jars as drinking glasses (cue inspiration behind hip cafe using them as such today). The redesign, however, changed the appeal of the jars. They weren’t just household items anymore; they were hyped up collectibles that kids were begging their caregivers to buy them. With sales rocketing, this strategy increased the popularity of Welch as much as it did the lifespan of each jar—my family actually still have their Tom & Jerry glass in the cupboard.

You know that box is totally her favorite toy now, via Packhelp

The children’s clothing brand Monday’s Child also gives their packaging another life by designing the packaging box so that it doubles as a dollhouse once the dress has been removed. Not only does the buyer get two products for the price of one, but they also get the happiest child!

Returnable packaging

Returnable packaging is a great way to make sure the packaging never reaches the landfill. In what seems like forever ago, the milkman would deliver milk in the morning and pick up the empty bottles to clean and reuse. Many creamery companies are bringing back this practice, like Straus Family Creamery, and offering a refund upon returning the jug.

Reusableglass milk bottles by Straus
Straus uses heavy bottles made of 30% rec, via Straus Family Creamery via Straus Family Creamery
five metallic beauty products created with eco-friendly packaging designs
Loop offers a large variety of reusable containers, via Loop

Minimalist packaging design

The trend towards minimalism has been around for a while. From its 1960s origins, the art movement has expanded across industries alongside a general shift toward sustainability. One facet of this appears in the contemporary cosmetics industry as consumers seek out products with few, natural ingredients and plastic-free packaging.

NOTO
Sustainable cosmetics with a bold and minimal packaging design, via NOTO

Founder of Los Angeles cosmetic brand NOTO, Gloria Noto, says that she “saw all too clearly how the majority of cosmetics were cocktails of chemicals, fillers, and pollutants.” In response, she created products packed with uncomplicated yet high performing ingredients that are vegan and cruelty-free with sustainable practices.

She then takes their transparent and sustainable mission one step further with a minimalistic branding design in conjunction with sustainable packaging. All their packaging is biodegradable, made of recycled plastics, glass or metals while shipping materials are made of recycled paper and green cell foam.

SHEYN packaging
This eco-friendly packaging design is minimal yet intriguing via SHEYN

Austrian jewellery brand SHEYN uses memorable packaging with a minimalist, environmental style. The simple kraft mailer box is 90% recycled paper and includes a detailed single colour print design that unfolds to reveal an image of their custom pendant.

As SHEYN’s co-founder, Nicolas Gold, explains of the design inspiration, “We want to show the digital design process of our products, where each piece is portrayed as a set of three-dimensional edges. We turned these edges into a 2D pattern and used it for the design of the box. The pattern itself is zoomed in and folded, showing abstract lines.”

With eco-friendly packaging, minimalism can also relate to minimal use of materials, like eliminating packing peanuts or unnecessary wrapping, saving on cost and also resulting in reductions in production emissions and, of course, waste. Be aware that packaging needs to still protect your product and the supply chain may sometimes be inflexible in accommodating for more contemporary, eco-friendly designs.

Mono-materials

As products get increasingly sophisticated, more functionalities of packaging are needed, such as laminations, coatings and labels, all to protect the product. This is how a simple packaging can become a concoction of differing materials, but unfortunately recycling cannot deal with mixed materials. Mono-material packaging, or single material packaging, ensures that the whole package would be recyclable.

Unilever mono material packaging
Sustainable food packaging is on the menu, via Unilever

Unilever has launched a recyclable, polypropylene mono-material in Turkey for Knorr dry soup powder, produced at Mondi’s Turkish flexible packaging plant in Kalenobel. One of the main difficulties of food packaging is making sure it fits the requirements for food safety, so finding a cost-effective and sustainable packaging solution is challenging.

Biodegradable & compostable packaging solutions

Biodegradable and compostable solutions for packaging are the ultimate goal; ever-changing advancements in technology and research means that goalpost is getting closer and closer. For a consumer who prioritizes eco-friendly or sustainability with their actions, this kind of packaging makes all the difference when they’re deciding whether to invest in your brand or not. Here are some brands who are making one with mother nature and their packaging…

Banana leaf packaging
Think outside the banana for sustainable packaging via Forbes

One supermarket in Thailand is using banana leaves instead of plastic packaging for their produce. The banana leaves can decompose naturally after their use. This is also cost effective since in tropical locations like Thailand banana leaves are readily available and could be acquired for free.

Kaffeform is another companyreusing materials that would otherwise go to waste, this time by reincarnating used coffee grounds as coffee cups ready for their next brew! Their website illustrates the process as eco-friendly from the first step: “A bicycle courier collective gathers used coffee grounds from selected cafes and roasteries in Berlin and then brings them to a social workshop. There, the grounds are dried and preserved. At small plants in Germany, the material is then compounded and shaped into coffee cups.” That’s a brew for a green future.

Kaffeeform
These reusable cups are durable, light, and have a mild coffee scent—perfect for the kaffee lover! Via Kaffeeform
Kaffeeform

Not only is doing laundry a drag; it drags the environment too. The synthetic fibres that make up so much of our wardrobes release micro-plastics when spinning around in the washing machine, which then travels directly into our oceans. Then you also have the huge sticky plastic jugs of detergent that we seem to go through like nobody’s business.

gif of unwrapping an -ecofriendly packaging box by Dropps
Dropps packaging doubles as the shipping container, via Dropps

Thankfully, some brands are trying to improve things. Enter Dropps, the eco-responsible choice for laundry detergent. Not only have they eliminated the single-use plastic jugs by developing small dissolvable pods of cleaning detergent, they also use fully compostable packaging.

Your cleaning product shipment arrives at your doorstep in a sustainably sourced corrugated cardboard box, sealed with paper kraft tape, and stamped with a recyclable and compostable shipping label.

To top it off, all shipments are 100% carbon-neutral. It’s only natural that a product with sustainable values should have such sustainable packaging.

POC Seagrass Packaging
From coffee sleeves to jewelry boxes, there’s many ways to sew the seeds to a greener future. Via Felix Pöttinger

Another great example for biodegradable packaging are these baskets straight from the Mediterranean coastline. As part of his Design Products Masters’ degree, Felix Pöttinger set out to extend the durability of food, reduce food waste and reduce packaging waste. To do this, he bound together dried seagrass fibres in a cellulose-based substance, extracted from the same plant. This process resulted in this biodegradable food packaging concept, which could be easily integrated into traditional industrial methods. All in all, this design is a pretty incredible feat.

Plantable packaging

Honestly, this is my favorite eco-friendly packaging design idea! I am all for the idea that I can stick my candy wrapper in the dirt and flowers will spring from it. But there’s just a little more to creating successful plantable packaging.

Botanical Paperworks is a Canadian company that offers a variety of plantable seed paper products, including many sustainable eco-friendly packaging options, that can grow into all kinds of wildflowers, herbs, and vegetables. As their website boasts “This zero-waste plantable packaging is made with post-consumer materials embedded with seeds so it will definitely show your eco-commitment and promote corporate sustainability.” Now that’s eco-friendly branding made easy!

plantable biodegradable packaging designs
From coffee sleeves to jewelry boxes, there’s many ways to sew the seeds to a greener future. All via Botanical Paperworks
Bloom Chocolate
Bloom chocolate would be given as an everlasting gift by Connor Davey via Behance

Here’s a tasty concept: Bloom Everlasting Chocolate, the tasty gift that keeps on giving. UK Designer Connor Davey developed an eco-friendly and biodegradable design for a chocolate bar with seed-infused packaging. The range of different flavored chocolates would have a variety of seeds: the mint chocolate packaging would grow mint, the orange chocolate would grow an orange plant, the rose infused chocolate would grow roses and the chili chocolate would grow a chili plant.

Edible packaging

Some might call this the best form of recycling, because the cycle starts and ends with you—I’d really like to make a poop joke here, but it’d probably stink and cover up the sweet scent of sustainability.

Seaweed-based technology is on the rise with many brands developing inventive products, like the social enterprise Evoware. Part of the Indonesian based Evo & Co., they are a group of brands offering a range of sustainable alternatives to single-use plastic items, such as sandwich wrappers from edible seaweed. In addition to their mission of innovating more biodegradable products, Evoware aims to increase the livelihood of seaweed farmers in Indonesia.

Evoware wraps
Their mission is so good, I just wanna eat it up! Via Evoware

Get ready to EAT your water! Notpla is a team of designers, chemists, engineers and entrepreneurs based out of London on a mission to reduce global waste through innovative, biodegradable packaging using brown seaweed and other plants. Their latest showstopper is Ooho, an edible and transparent membrane to contain liquid. This means you could see it the next time you need a refreshing drink during a marathon, or when you’re reaching into a takeaway bag to dig out your favorite sauce.

Via Notpla

Designing for an eco-friendly future

Sharing the message of your sustainable product starts with a design that will say the right story. Take a look at what our 99designs designers are doing in terms of eco-friendly designs.

Labels for natural skin care line
These labels for a natural skin care line give a warm and sustainable vibe by Jelena M.
Packaging for bamboo straws
Packaging for bamboo straws by Stan Brand Design
Shampoo Bar Packaging
Wouldn’t it be neat if this beeswax food wrap packaging was made with pollinator seeds? by 55rova
Beauty label design
Minimalist design for an eco-friendly skincare brand by c h a n c e
Glass milk bottle packaging
Glass milk bottle packaging with a minimalist design consisting of white ink printed on raw cardboard by Design x Courtney
Eco-friendly packaging
Creative eco-friendly packaging by Stan Brand Design
Shampoo bar packaging
Shampoo bar packaging that is colorful and fun by Tanya Tamech
silk sleep mask packaging
Eco-friendly elegance shines through with this silk sleep mask packaging design by Advant7
Sustainable cosmetic
Tube design for a sustainable cosmetic brand by Tanya Tamech

Wrapping it up

No matter how you unwrap it, sustainable packaging is a winning solution. First off, eco-friendly packaging benefits your business by reducing material costs and gaining you positive community response as being an environmentally mindful company. Secondly, the consumer gets a sense of fulfillment knowing that they’re minimizing their carbon footprint. But the real winner here, as we all know, is our dearest Mother Earth!

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