Packaging being designed for a product

The Ultimate Guide To Sustainable Packaging

  • 9th December 2021
  • 13 min read

As the Plastic Tax deadline creeps forward, businesses across a wide range of industries need to start reviewing their packaging processes and materials in order to ensure they’re not stung with a hefty tax bill. 

This tax applies to any plastic packaging components including compostable, biodegradable, oxo-degradable and bioplastics that aren’t made from recycled materials. This tax “is charged at £200/tonne for all plastic packaging components with less than 30% recycled content.”

The following types of plastic packaging are exempt from tax:

  • Packaging that contains 30% or more recycled plastic.
  • Immediate packaging for the human medicinal product.
  • Packaging that is directly exported (deferred for up to 12 months or tax credit application).
  • Packaging that is permanently set aside at production or importation for a non-packaging function.
  • Transport packaging that is used to import goods into the UK.

It is important to note that just because your packaging is compostable or recyclable, it doesn’t necessarily mean it is exempt from the tax.

If you want to avoid the possibility of paying over the odds for this new tax, you should speak to plastic tax packaging consultants as soon as you transition to sustainable packaging.

Plastic machine with roll of plastic

What Is Sustainable Packaging?

The purpose of sustainable packaging and processes is to have a minimal impact on the environment.  

According to the World Packaging Organisation, “sustainable packaging must meet the functional and economic needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

Sustainability can be achieved by looking at the lifecycle of packaging and making improvements throughout the process. This includes the supply chain, transit, the function of packaging, marketing and lifecycle assessment (LCA). 

A business’s packaging can be eco-friendly in a number of ways, including: 

  • Materials and ingredients made from recycled or raw materials.
  • Packaging that creates a circular economy through usability and extended lifestyle. 
  • Efficient supply chain, production process and reduced carbon footprint.

The benefits of sustainable packaging

  • Reduced carbon footprint.
  • Compostable or biodegradable.
  • Reinforces brand image and ethos.
  • Reusable or recyclable. 
  • Versatile.
  • Good for brand ethos and messaging.

Different types of sustainable packaging

There are different types of sustainable packaging, from biodegradable paper to recycled plastic and recyclable cardboard. If you’re at the beginning of your packaging journey, find out about closed-loop recycling and how to choose the right packaging for your product. 

Recyclable packaging 

Materials such as cardboard, paper and metal can be recycled and then re-used after processing.

Closed-loop recycling 

Closed-loop recycling is where packaging such as tin, cardboard or plastic is used, recycled and then made into a different product over and over again. As a result, it never enters landfill. 

More and more brands are putting measures in place to bring closed-loop recycling into their packaging process. For example, department store company John Lewis, partnered with the Aldersgate Group in a bid to reduce wastage in their packaging and close the loop. However in their Corporate Responsibility Report, they recognise there is still more to be done. 

Corrugated cardboard 

Corrugated cardboard is the most recycled type of packaging. 84% of corrugated cardboard is recycled right here in the UK. Made from paper, lining layers and fluting, corrugated cardboard can be cut into a wider range of shapes and sizes. Plus, it can easily display any designs and both customer and tracking information. 

If you’ve ever ordered from multinational eCommerce giant, Amazon, you’ll have come across a range of corrugated cardboard packaging in different sizes. For example, BDCM1 (Bulk Distribution Carton Metric) boxes are the industry standard for clothing manufacturers and retailers, whereas cardboard pallet boxes are used for fragile or bulky items that may get damaged during transit. Find out how to choose the right packaging for your product.

Corrugated cardboard sheet

FSC certified cardboard 

Choosing an FSC (Forestry Stewardship Commission) certified corrugated cardboard supplier will improve your sustainability efforts. When you opt for FSC accredited paper and cardboard, the material comes from renewable resources and meets high environmental and social standards. Most suppliers in the UK are FSC accredited or are buying from a chain of FSC certified suppliers. 

Corrugated cardboard is a quick, cost-effective way to send your products and can be easily stored due to its flat-pack capabilities. Find out more about our corrugated cardboard boxes

How easy is packaging to recycle or reuse? 

Recycling rules vary across counties in the UK. If you’re a local business selling products in a specific region, you should find out what materials are recyclable in your county and make a decision based on this. 

Choosing reusable or recyclable materials is just one part of the battle. The next part is getting your customers to recycle or repurpose said packaging. You should add clear instructions on the packaging and universal symbols that are easy to understand. You can even go that extra step and include instructions on how to recycle, reuse or repurpose the packaging in any email confirmations and receipts.


This is something fashion retailer FatFace started doing a few years ago. Their Mindful Wrapping campaign talked about how wrapping paper isn’t recyclable, because of the lamination, inks and glitters used. To offset this, they designed three bags that can be repurposed and used as wrapping paper or to make Christmas decorations. They also created a supporting video and blog, demonstrating how to reuse their paper bags. Check it out here.

Credit: FatFace and Craig Eves Design

Compostable packaging 

Compostable packaging is designed to break down over time and return to the earth as carbon dioxide, biomass and water. 

If you work in B2C, you should check whether the material is home compostable or industrial. Not all compostable packaging is suitable for home composting. 

Compostable packaging such as polyethylene wrap is usually made from recycled and plant-based materials, and is designed for industrial composting. You should include clear instructions so that the end-user can effectively dispose of it. 

If you want to close the loop on your packaging, it is also worth weighing up the benefits of recycling in comparison to composting. For example, recyclable polythene wrap will go back into the supply chain, whereas degradable plastic won’t. 

Polythene packaging

Used in the food industry, polythene packaging is a popular alternative to other plastics and paper because it is lightweight, adaptable, durable and offers excellent protection against adverse weather conditions. Plastics can also help food last longer and remove the need for preservatives. 

Polythene weighs much less than other packaging materials such as plastics, paper, metal and cardboard, meaning it uses less energy to transport (and costs less). According to NI Assembly, a single lorry can transport the same amount of polythene bags as seven lorries full of paper bags. 

What’s the difference between compostable and biodegradable packaging? 

The terms compostable and biodegradable are often used interchangeably, but they are not the same. For example, compostable packaging doesn’t emit toxins as it breaks down, giving the earth more nutrients as it deteriorates, whereas biodegradable packaging releases toxins as it breaks down. Compostable materials also break down much quicker. 

Packaging made from recycled materials 

If you need to use bubble wrap, void fill packaging and cushioning, packaging that’s made from raw materials such as mushroom roots, paper or recycled material is a great option. Void fill packaging and cushioning is often used to fill in the gaps in boxes. This is usually used in conjunction with protective packaging such as bubble wrap.

In the UK it is estimated that out of the five million tonnes of plastic used every year, half of it is packaging.  

Using packaging made from recycled plastic can help reduce this figure - especially if the packaging is then recyclable or compostable. This also falls in line with the UK’s plastic tax that aims to increase the use of recycled material in plastic packaging. 

Don’t discount plastic 

All too often plastic is vilified and blamed for clogging up landfill, destroying wildlife and being the root cause of all evil on the planet. However, plastic does have its place in the world and isn’t the villain. 

Contrary to popular belief, a lot of plastic packaging is recyclable. Those iconic black and white ASOS packages or bright pink Pretty Little Thing Low Density Polyethylene (LDPE) plastic bags that fill up the Royal Mail’s trolleys can be recycled, helping these big fashion brands move to closed-loop recycling. 

Plastic film

Materials versus footprint 

Practising sustainability in your packaging requires much more than just utilising materials that can be recycled, reused or composted. 

You need to think about the bigger picture. For example, you may come across packaging that looks green but the carbon footprint required to transport the materials may outweigh the benefits of the packaging itself. 

Tian Packaging can help you offset this footprint by ensuring your packaging is from local manufacturers, minimising both transport costs and carbon footprint. It’s also worth considering the amount of material being transported;  looking at how to maximise deliveries, for example providing full truckloads to reduce unnecessary road journeys.  

Choosing lighter grades of materials also will take up less space in comparison, so you can transport more- this applies to corrugated, paper and polythene. 

How to transition to sustainable packaging 

It is difficult to deny the benefits of sustainable packaging, and with the plastic packaging tax coming into play in April 2022, business owners need to make the leap and use eco-friendly packaging. 

Consider your core goals

Before you start the transition, you need to think about your business’s goals. Do you want to save money and utilise less energy? Or ensure all your packaging is compostable? This will help you determine your next steps. 

Empower your employees

If you want this change to be felt throughout your business, it needs to become part of your company’s culture. You should empower your colleagues so that they can take charge - this way it will become part of your ethos.

Design with sustainability at the forefront

Your packaging should be designed with the aim of reducing harm to the environment, but you could go a step further and design packaging that suits multiple purposes. For example, Primark’s Christmas bags are designed to be used as wrapping paper.

Shout about it to your customers (but don’t greenwash!) 

Choosing recyclable, biodegradable or reusable packaging is great, but if you’re not telling your customers that your packaging is recyclable or can be repurposed, your efforts may be wasted. It is up to you to clearly label your packaging and instruct your customers on how they can reuse or dispose of the materials. 

If you’re making efforts to become more environmentally friendly, don’t forget to shout about it! But you should avoid greenwashing. 

What is greenwashing? 

Greenwashing happens when a company or individual takes an all talk and no action approach when it comes to sustainability. Whether this be intentional or not, they mislead their customers by spending more time and money on talking about how sustainable they are, rather than putting things in place to minimise their impact on the environment.

cardbroad boxes for recycling

Think about the materials

From the material of the packaging itself to the tape, adhesives, strapping and staples used, you should try to use packaging that not only fulfils its purpose but is sustainable. 

Size DOES matter (for packaging) 

It’s true what they say… size does matter when it comes to the packaging you use. 

You don’t want to end up getting shamed on Twitter by an eco-warrior if you’ve sent a tiny product in a giant box. However, for some companies, buying and storing several different sizes of packaging isn’t feasible, so it is best to find two or three sizes that will work across your product range.

Find out how to package your product

Don’t forget about quality control

The quality of your package is just as important as the quality of your products. Replacing or refunding items that have been broken during transit takes time, can be costly and damaging for brand reputation. You need to make sure your product and the packaging it arrives in gets to its destination unscathed.  

A well-planned quality control process will help you remain compliant and reduce any errors. It can also help promote long-term sustainability as you’ll be ensuring your packaging is right the first time.

Speak to Titan Packaging today 

Sustainable packaging starts with business owners and managers. It’s up to you to make positive changes in your packaging process, and you can do so much more than just opt for green material. 

At Titan Packaging, we help our customers find local manufacturers, identify cost-effective, sustainable materials and improve their overall processes. 

We believe in giving our customers cost-effective and high-quality packaging that reflects a company’s brand values, has minimal impact on the environment and offers exceptional customer experience. 

If you want advice on how to effectively package your products and ensure the materials and processes you use are sustainable, get in touch with the packaging consultants at Titan today.

Sam
Written by: Samantha Hanson Procurement Director

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