Goodbye Single-Use Plastic, Hello Eco-Friendly Packaging

All things compostable, biodegradable, and recyclable right this way.

January 11, 2022
Photo by Rocky Luten

You might be wondering what kinds of eco-friendly packaging materials there are out there—whether you’re shipping gifts, own a small business, or just brushing up on how your favorite brands are doing in the carbon footprint game—we’re here to help.

As you may know, “eco-friendly” is not a scientific term, but merely a catch-all for brands, products, and practices that are generally more sustainable in nature than their traditional counterparts. For example, reusing glass storage containers is more “eco-friendly” than single-use plastic baggies, but glass requires energy to manufacture, and is difficult to recycle. This is to say: these products have manifold pros and cons, and by no means is this an exhaustive list of eco-friendly packaging products, just some of our go-tos.

And with that, read on for our favorite eco-friendly packaging ideas!

1. Compostable Packaging

Compostable materials are ones that are able to naturally decompose back into the earth, just like the organic matter you keep in a compost bin. These products are usually plant-based, and typically made from corn, sugarcane, or bamboo because they’re fast-growing resources. Different conditions can affect composting rates, so it’s important to read up on the product, as it should be able to break down in home compost bins within 180 days, or and 90 days in commercial composting conditions.

2. Post-Consumer Recycled Packaging

Recycled packaging refers to packing made from materials like paper or plastic (yes, plastic isn’t great, but it’s better when it’s post-consumer) that have already been in circulation, thereby giving these materials a second life. A quick search will pull up many different kinds of recycled packaging options, from mailer envelopes to standard boxes, just be sure to check what percentage of the materials are recycled—the more, the better.

3. The Humble Cardboard Box

Surprisingly, [corrugated boxes are actually one of the most recovered and recycled materials]( in the US. What’s more, most corrugated boxes in circulation are made from 50% recycled material, and nearly all recycled boxes are used to make more paper products. Think about it: when was the last time you threw away all your cardboard boxes into the trash? It’s much more likely that you squirreled them away for returns or shipping things to people, or you broke them down and sent them off to recycle. Corrugated cardboard can actually be recycled a whopping seven times before the material is no longer suitable for use.

4. Cellulose “Plastic”

Plastic is a difficult material to replicate because of its durability, flexibility, and general ability to be molded into just about anything. Naturally, the hunt for a more sustainable alternative has been ongoing for some time, and cellulose is getting close. It’s usually made from natural materials like hemp, wood, and cotton, so it’s biodegradable and compostable as well. It’s also relatively durable and moisture-resistant, making it great for food packaging.

5. Cornstarch

Cornstarch is perhaps one of the sexiest (yes, I said it) eco-friendly packaging materials since many iterations can easily break down with just water. Corn is cheap, easy to grow, and when fermented, breaks down into polylactic acid—aka, the material that makes up many to-go containers. Oh, and gone (well, we wish) are the styrofoam packing peanuts of yore—they’re being increasingly replaced with cornstarch peanuts that you can simply empty into the sink or tub, and give them a quick shower until they break down. If you’re concerned about your sensitive pipes, they can be composted in warm climates, or, even better, used for your next care package.

6. Kraft Paper

Regular paper only uses certain bits of wood, but kraft paper uses all types of wood including resinous pine, which is typically left out when creating regular paper products. Much like corrugated cardboard, kraft paper can also be made from recycled paper, as well as wood pulp. And, of course, it’s highly recyclable, especially when compared to regular gift wrap, which likely isn’t recyclable if it has glitter, foil, or lamination.

7. Reusable Materials

In terms of packaging things yourself, using reusable materials like scarves, tea towels, and tote bags is a great way make use of an item that can be repurposed for years to come and be an additional gift that your loved one can keep or pass along.

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Which materials did we forget? Tell us about your favorite eco-friendly packaging below!

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When I'm not writing & editing for Home52, I'm likely to be found DIY-ing a new piece of furniture (or restoring an old one), hanging things on the wall in my apartment, or watching hours of vintage RHONY.

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