noissue Recycled Mailer by @indikonstories

If you don’t have a sustainable packaging solution in place yet, now is a great time to start.

Nielsen has found 66% of global consumers and 73% of millennials are willing to spend more for sustainable goods, while 48% of consumers are willing to change their consumption habits to lower their environmental impact.

Put simply: your customers really do care about your ecommerce business making responsible choices, and will champion your business as brand advocates when they know you are doing the right thing.

Your ecommerce packaging is the first physical touchpoint your customer has with your brand. First impressions are everything, so consider your packaging an opportunity to showcase your brand values through the materials you select.

Not only is it the right thing to do – it also shows your customers the care and consideration you’ve taken with your business practices by minimizing waste.

This is why using eco-friendly packaging materials can have such a big impact. If you’re not sure where to start with the circular material you select, we explain it all in our guide below.

What are circular packaging materials?

Circular packaging materials follow the principles of the circular economy. Instead of the traditional ‘take-make-waste’ linear model used in commerce, these materials are designed to be either reused, repurposed or disposed of in a responsible way that has a lower impact on the planet. This designs out waste from customer journey, rather than businesses using single-use packaging that’s sent to landfill after use.

What kinds of circular packaging materials are available?

noissue’s packaging fits into one of three frameworks: all of our products are made from either compostable, recyclable or reusable materials. Here is a breakdown on the benefits of each type of material.

Compostable packaging

noissue Custom Compostable Mailer by @weareknitters
  • Is made from virgin (new) plant-based materials like corn or wheat and bio-polymers.
  • These materials help the packaging break down naturally in a compost, returning to earth and leaving no traces behind.
  • To be certified compostable, compostable packaging must break down within 180 days in a home compost and 90 days in a commercial compost.
  • Common compostable packaging items include compostable mailers, tissue paper, cards, stickers and shipping labels.
  • Out of all the circular packaging materials, compostable packaging requires the biggest lift on the customer’s end because it must be disposed of in a home or commercial compost or it will lose its sustainable value.

Recyclable packaging

noissue Recycled Mailer by @endofjunevintage
  • Is made from previously used materials, like single-use plastic bags, bottles, and paper.
  • These materials are processed at recycling facilities and put back into circulation, doubling or tripling their lifespan.
  • While recyclable packaging is made of materials considered damaging to the environment like plastic, it is a sustainable option because it uses already existing materials, conserves natural resources, prevents pollution, and reduces the collection of new raw materials.
  • Common packaging examples include recycled plastic mailers, boxes, tissue paper, and tape.
  • Recyclable packaging is a great option for customers because it is a straightforward process. There are good curbside recycling facilities worldwide, which makes it easy for the customer to fulfill its end-of-life disposal.

Reusable packaging

noissue Reusable Custom Tote Bag by @designedbyorbit
  • Is designed to be used more than once and has a built-in secondary (or ongoing) use.
  • On top of being reusable, the manufacturing process also often uses ethically and responsibly sourced materials.
  • It’s also designed to be durable and easily cleaned to promote reuse, like a tote bag made from Organic Cotton, which can be washed and reused.
  • Commonly used examples include reusable mailer bags, drawstring bags or tote bags.
  • Reusable packaging is popular with shoppers because it’s valuable in other areas of their life. They can reuse the products for other activities like going shopping at the grocery store.

Is compostable packaging or recycled plastic packaging more sustainable?

noissue Compostable Mailer by @creamforever

This is a nuanced topic, because there are pros and cons of the sustainability of both materials in each step of production. It helps to fully understand the strengths and drawbacks of both before making a final decision. Let’s break it down!

Material sourcing

Most compostable packaging is made from either paper or bioplastics like polylactic acid (PLA) that are derived from plant extracts like cornstarch or sugarcane. This material is carbon-neutral, edible and biodegradable. It’s a more natural alternative to fossil fuels, but it’s also a virgin (new) material that has to be extracted from the environment. A crop of plants, such as corn, is grown and then broken down into starch, protein and fiber to create PLA. This is resource-intensive, and can take space away from crops grown for food production to feed people.

Recycled packaging is made of plastic that’s derived from fossil fuels such as petroleum and gas. This is a more harmful extraction process for the environment than PLA. However, this plastic has already been extracted and been in use in society, so it makes sense to extend its life cycle through using it as a material in packaging – otherwise it will be heading for landfill. This conserves natural resources, prevents pollution and reduces the need for new raw materials.

🏆  Winner: It’s a tie (pros and cons to both)

Carbon emissions

Compostable packaging has a smaller carbon footprint than traditional plastic. The bioplastics used in compostable packaging produce significantly fewer greenhouse gasses over their lifetime than traditional fossil-fuel produced plastics.

As well as this, when compostable packaging breaks down, there is no increase in carbon dioxide because the plants that bioplastics are made from absorb the same amount of carbon dioxide as when they grew. Microorganisms break the packaging down into biomass, inorganic compounds, water and carbon dioxide, leaving no toxic residue behind.  

🏆  Winner: Compostable packaging

End-of-life disposal

Compostable plastic packaging needs the right conditions in a home or commercial compost in order to be able to break down and complete its end-of-life cycle. If a customer does put them in their rubbish or recycling, they will end up in a landfill and may release methane. This greenhouse gas is 23 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Bioplastic materials can also contaminate recycled plastic and harm recycling infrastructure.

Recycled plastic packaging is a lot easier to dispose of as it can be curbside recycled, and good recycling facilities are available worldwide.

🏆  Winner: Recycled plastic packaging


Traditional plastics can take 1000 years or even longer to decompose, whereas bioplastics break down much faster and leave no nasty chemicals behind.

⚡  How fast? noissue’s Compostable Mailers are certified to break down in six months in a home compost and three months in a commercial compost.

🏆  Winner: Compostable packaging

As you can see, compostable packaging might have a bit of an edge on recycled plastic packaging in some aspects. However, there is a strong argument to put some of the plastic already in use towards a useful cause, and packaging is a great solution for reuse.

How do I choose the best eco-friendly packaging material to use for my business?

noissue Recycled Tape, Compostable Sticker and Recycled Hangtag by @frecklstudio

The truth is that there is no right or wrong answer. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution, and it will be unique for every business depending on where they want to have the most impact and the behavior of their customers.

Start by considering your own values as a business and where you’d like to make an impact. Is it through reusing previously unsustainable materials that are already in circulation, like recycled plastic? Or is it through packaging that has a smaller carbon footprint and can be fully broken down relatively quickly after use, like compostable packaging?

It's also a good idea to gauge the easiest option for your customers, as they are the ones responsible for the packaging’s end-of-life.

You could conduct a customer survey through an email or on one of your social channels to see how they feel about recycling or composting packaging. It can be as simple as using the yes/no vote feature on Instagram stories and asking questions like, ‘Do you use a compost at home or use compost facilities available to you?’

You should also educate your customers on end-of-life care so your circular packaging has its desired effect. Share the best practices for disposing your packaging on a custom insert card that’s sent out with each order or in an email. The more knowledge you pass on, the better, as there is a lot of confusion around how to dispose of packaging correctly.

Wrapping It Up

We hope this guide has helped you on your packaging journey! It’s easy to get caught up in the details of different types of circular packaging materials, but if you’re making an effort to minimize waste where you can in your business, you’re doing a world of good.

For ecommerce businesses looking to make the switch, we suggest researching the pros and cons of each sustainable material carefully, working in sync with your packaging provider, and educating your customers on end-of-life disposal.

Ready to get started with circular packaging materials and minimize your packaging waste? ♻️  noissue’s range of packaging products are all either reusable, recycled, or compostable. This includes our custom products so you can stay on-brand while reducing your impact. Browse our circular packaging options by industry here!