Unless you’ve been living on a different planet these past few years, you’ve likely come across the term “circular economy.” This is the phrase used to describe an economic model that aims to eliminate waste through the continuous use of resources. A circular economy can come in many forms, but the most common models are: recycling, composting, and reusing materials.
Unlike the traditional linear economy, which has a “make, use, dispose” model, a circular economy strives to keep products or materials in use for as long as possible in order to conserve resources.
Circular Economies in Retail
This economic model can be applied in numerous fields, but retail, in particular, is an industry on which circular economies can have a massive impact. This is because retailers are responsible for literally tons of products that are packaged, sold, and purchased.
Unfortunately, a lot of those materials — in particular, the plastic that’s used for shipping and packaging — end up in landfills and oceans. According to research, by the year 2025, there will be one metric ton of plastic for 3 tons of fish in the ocean. And to make matters worse, the United Nations states that by 2050, there will be more plastic waste than fish.
That’s a lot of waste and pressure to put on the planet, which is why industry players need to minimize their impact on the environment.
One way to accomplish this is to incorporate circular economic practices into your business.
And product packaging is a great place to start because pretty much every retailer out there uses it in some way, shape, or form. Being environment-friendly with your packaging can go a long way in promoting sustainability and reducing waste. So, let’s explore some of the ways that you can do just that.
1. Compostable Packaging
This is a popular option for brands that want to swap their plastic polymer bags, stickers, and wrapping with something more sustainable. Compostable bags are an excellent alternative because they can be broken down and be decomposed by bacteria and other living organisms (i.e., the ones found in compost.)
noissue offers 100% compostable mailers that can be composted both at home and commercially. Made from a combination of bio-based polymer and plant materials, noissue’s compostable packaging has been proven to break down within 90 days in commercial compost and 180 days in domestic compost.
Struck Apparel, a retailer that sells breeches and sportswear, is one example of a brand that strives to minimize its environmental footprint through compostable packaging. Struck recently switched to noissue’s compostable mailers in an effort to be more sustainable.
"It’s so easy to get lost in amazing packaging, tags, and branding, but we forget about the impact that it has on our planet," the company wrote on Instagram. We’re trying to minimize our footprint, so we’ve switched over to these 100% biodegradable mailers (they’re made out of corn… so cool!). They fully degrade in 6 months, so no gross plastic in our landfills!”
Another great thing about Struck’s packaging is that the mailer quite literally speaks for itself. Having the line “Hey! I'm a 100% Compostable Mailer.” immediately sends the message that the brand cares about sustainability — which earns them points with shoppers. Plus, it tells the customer that the packaging is compostable, so they can dispose of it properly.
2. Recyclable Packaging
Recyclable packaging is exactly what it sounds like — it’s a type of packaging that’s made out of materials that can be recycled. Corrugated cardboard is one of the most common examples of this type of packaging. The fibers that come from corrugated containers are easily recyclable, as they can be efficiently compressed and transported. These boxes are loaded into a hydro pulper — a piece of equipment that cleans and processes the material. From there, it can then be repurposed into new paper and fiber products.
Corrugated boxes are a great option when you need durable shopping supplies that won’t bend during transport. They’re also quite cost-effective, so they won’t put a dent on your budget; plus they’re versatile and you can easily tailor these boxes to fit your brand’s look and feel.
If you decide to use corrugated boxes (or any other type of recyclable material), be sure to let your customers know. Much like how noissue’s mailers proudly state that they’re compostable, having a “recyclable” label on your packaging sends a clear message to your customers that you care about the environment and it reminds them to chuck the box in the bin that’s specifically for recyclable materials.
A great example of this tactic in action comes from Maelove Skincare, which has the words “This box is 100% recyclable” printed on its boxes.
3. Reusable Packaging
Encourage customers to keep waste out of oceans and landfills by getting them to reuse your packaging. Instead of single-use plastic or boxes, consider using high-quality and practical cases, pouches, or containers that serve a purpose beyond just carrying your products.
One company that does this well is the skin, hair, and body care brand Aesop. The company places its products in reusable cloth pouches that are perfect for travel and for storing various small items.
A bonus of having reusable packaging is that it can keep your brand on the radar of your customers. By giving them something they can reuse again and again, you can stay top of mind, and potentially drive repeat purchases.
Being part of the circular economy should be a no-brainer.
Every business — from Fortune 500 companies to mom and pop stores — should do their part to help the environment. We only have one livable planet (that we know of), so protecting it should be a priority.
Whether you’re just starting in your sustainable journey or you already have several CSR initiatives in place, there are always steps you can take to be more eco-friendly.
One thing you can do right now? Evaluate your packaging and shipping materials to see how earth-friendly they are. And if you don’t have the most sustainable practices, consider using compostable, recyclable, or reusable packaging instead — your customers and the planet will thank you for it!