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Less is More: Do’s and Don’ts of Responsible Packaging

According to the 2020 CGS US Consumer Sustainability Survey, 73% of consumers say that sustainability factors into their buying decisions. Many toy companies are attempting to capture this segment of consumers – and do right by our planet – by designing more eco-friendly packaging, as single-use packaging is one of the largest contributors to purchase waste. However, developing eco-friendly packaging, or true zero-waste packaging, as an independent designer or small company can be a daunting task. 

So as part of sustainability month, we want to share some do’s and don’ts of decreasing your packaging’s footprint, inspired by the “Less is More: Creative Solutions for Sustainable Packaging” WiT Webinar by Kristin Bautel. Kristin is the Art Director at Epoch Everlasting Play, and has been a leading sustainable packaging designer for over 15 years. Keep on reading for the complete list of takeaways from the webinar or click HERE to watch the video.

Don’t rely heavily on plastics in your packaging. If plastics end-up in nature, they don’t biodegrade, causing harm to wildlife. Sadly this happens to 19% of plastic worldwide, according to a McKinsey report on packaging sustainability. Only 16% of plastic gets recycled. The majority goes to incineration (25%) or landfill (40%), with 7 billion of the 9.2 billion tons of plastics produced from 1950-2017 ending up that way. And while already-recycled plastic does seem a more sustainable packaging option – using-up waste and boasting a much lower carbon footprint than new plastic – given the above statistics, we must be mindful of where it will end-up after its short lifetime. 

Do consider ways to reduce plastics by using old-fashioned cardboard and paper – or new alternatives, such as bio-PET – instead. Bio-PET is a bioplastic made from agricultural waste. Being made from plants makes it renewable and carbon-neutral (in contrast to petro-PET). And bio-PET is a “drop-in” bioplastic, molecularly identical to petro-PET and so can be recycled along with it – bio-PET does not require special recycling facilities.  

Don’t use packaging that combines different materials together. Oftentimes, separating the different materials for recycling is too difficult or time-consuming, so the whole package goes to general waste instead. 

Do try to design a solely foldable dieline that requires no additional materials, and thus can be easily recycled. There are many resources available online for clever solely foldable dielines, or you can even try taking apart other products’ packaging to find new dielines to use. 

Don’t use blister packs or additional packaging, such as plastic twist ties. These additional materials end up in landfills and only bring further frustration to the consumers opening the package.

Do use a snug-fitting box for your products to have a better product to packaging ratio. Another new trend is designing packaging that can be used as part of the product, or can be reused with a separate purpose, such as a playmat. It allows all parts of the packaging to be reused, and ideally also eventually recycled. 

Don’t use UV coating – the really glossy coating common on cardboard packaging. It’s plastic, so has a high carbon footprint, doesn’t decompose if it ends-up in nature, and composite materials (like cardboard bonded to UV plastic coating) are hard to recycle.

Do ask your trusted printers if they offer acquiesced coatings, which are water-based rather than plastic-based, allowing them to decompose and be recycled more easily than UV coating.  

Don’t use traditional petroleum-based inks, which contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs). VOCs are released when these inks dry. The EPA says they are bad for our health and contribute to smog.

Do use plant-based inks, such as soy, which contain a lot less VOCs than petroleum-based inks, and have a lower carbon footprint. 

As an industry, we must be more aggressive in our approach to addressing sustainable packaging, not just to meet consumer expectations, but to protect our planet. Although it can be intimidating to know where to start, we hope these tips give you some knowledge and inspiration to move forward.

This blog is inspired by Kristin Bautel’s WiT Webinar ‘Less is More: Creative Solutions for Sustainable Packaging’. Watch the webinar on WiT’s Webinar archive HERE.  



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