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Sustainable Packaging for E-commerce: Challenges and Solutions

The rapid growth of e-commerce platforms has transformed our shopping habits as we seek unparalleled convenience and accessibility. As more products are required to travel for longer distances across continents, these products are covered in multiple layers of packaging to protect them from harm during transport. This has led to a surge in packaging waste, posing significant environmental challenges everywhere around the globe.


E-commerce retail sales don’t seem to be slowing down any time soon and are expected to increase up to more than USD 8 trillion by 2027. Thus, the need for sustainable packaging solutions become increasingly critical. Traditional packaging often relies on single-use plastics and non-recyclable materials, contributing to pollution and environmental degradation.


So, why is it so hard to mitigate the impact of this surge in single-use packaging? What can and should be done to decrease the negative impacts it brings as e-commerce continues to grow in popularity?


A woman packing her products with bubblewrap
Photo: Freepik

Unique Challenges of Sustainable Packaging

Before delving into what should be done, we need to acknowledge the types of challenges that exist before fully incorporating sustainable packaging into our lives. Traditional packaging is beloved for its durability, barrier properties, affordability, and ease of access. Finding the right replacement for that kind of convenience will take some time to research, manufacture, and sell.


While the term packaging itself is synonymous with the box or poly-mailer that we rip apart upon getting our packages, it also includes other additional components. Tape, product inserts, pricing labels, shipping labels, and secondary packaging from your favorite shipping company also count as packaging. There might or might not be a sustainable and affordable alternative to these additional components, making it harder for retailers and small businesses to fully go without plastic in their packaging.


Another main concern for many is durability. Packaging must protect products during transit, which involves multiple handling stages and exposure to various environmental conditions. Sustainable materials sometimes lack the durability and barrier properties of conventional plastics. Scaling sustainable packaging solutions to meet high-volume demands also tends to be difficult. This can pose a financial threat to smaller businesses in many parts of the world.


A person packing coffee beans in resealable bags
bublikhaus / Freepik

Sustainable Packaging Solutions for All

The best way to reduce packaging waste is by having no single-use plastic packaging whenever possible. However, for most e-commerce brands, removing plastic altogether might not be a viable option. Still, reducing single-use plastic and replacing some of their packaging materials with eco-friendly alternatives is a better option than not doing anything at all.


Another option is to source packaging materials from companies that produce eco-friendly materials. Argha, for example, has adopted the mono-material concept to produce its flexible packaging. The films they produce contain one type of polymer at a time, increasing the film’s recyclability and promoting a circular economy. Despite using a single material at its core, these flexible packaging films still retain many features of traditional packaging such as elasticity and high tensile strength. Single-material films can be mechanically recycled, making it an ideal option for developing countries without modern recycling systems.


For small businesses, using paper and card mailers may be the easiest way to provide sustainable packaging for your clients. It’s affordable, easy to obtain, and is one of the easiest materials to recycle and compost. Paper is also customizable, printable, and can even be used to create ample cushioning for your products.

Sustainable packaging for e-commerce is not without its challenges, but the solutions are within reach. As awareness and demand for sustainable practices continue to grow, e-commerce has the opportunity to lead the way in sustainability and ensure a greener future for all. If you’re interested in a more sustainable flexible packaging option for your business, be sure to check out PT Argha Karya Prima Industry Tbk (https://arghakarya.com).

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