How to Reduce Packaging Waste

As more and more companies have started using sustainable packaging materials, it has become easier than ever for people to reduce their packaging waste.

By Maryruth Belsey-Priebe

Fact checked by Sander Tamm

Reduce Packaging Waste
Reduce Packaging Waste / Ecolife / Sander Tamm

How to Reduce Packaging Waste and Choose Sustainable Packaging Alternatives

Some of us get a certain kind of pleasure from unwrapping a new dress shirt and peeling back the plastic and cardboard on a package of makeup. But whether or not you’re a sucker for neatly wrapped retail products, you’ve likely already realized how wasteful the problem of overly-packaged items is. This article not only highlights the issue with packaging , but how you can reduce your packaging consumption and start looking for more sustainable, eco-friendly alternatives.

Problems with packaging

  • There are three types of packaging: transit (wooden pallets, plastic wrapping, etc used to transport large batches of goods), secondary (cardboard and plastic used to wrap larger cases of products), and primary (the packaging you find on the product you bring home).
  • In the EU, 31,8 million tons of paper and cardboard packaging waste was produced from 2008 to 2018.
  • Packaging represents wasted resources (petrochemicals, trees, chemicals, water) as well as transport emissions (the heavier the product, the more greenhouse gas emissions emitted).

How to reduce packaging waste

Packaging materials can be made from metal, glass, plastic, paper, cardboard, and other mixed materials, with paper and cardboard making up the largest portion. Luckily, we are now seeing product packaging regulated on a regional level – for an example, feel free to read the official EU rules on packaging waste.

Now, not every region has strict regulations on the packaging. It is not possible to rely only on the governmental level when we make decisions. As such, use the following tips for reducing packaging waste:

  • Look for unpackaged consumer goods: Many companies have put in a lot of effort to reduce their packaging to zero. When the option is available, take it! Just be aware of greenwashing.
  • Bring your own containers: Whether you’ll need a water refill while at the park or are looking for ways to take your restaurant leftovers home, you can reduce packaging waste by bringing your own reusable containers like glass water bottles, stainless steel coffee mugs, and collapsible food containers.
  • Select products in refillable containers: Some personal care products and food items can be purchased in refillable containers like glass jars and reusable plastic bottles.
  • Buy in bulk: Real bulk items are those in a single large container (refillable is even better) that holds many individual servings. Don’t confuse bulk with many individually-wrapped items bundled together in one large palette, though.
  • Look for recycled packaging: Wrappers and boxes made from post-consumer recycled materials are definitely better than virgin-made packages, though this option should come only after you’ve looked for ways to reduce your packaging waste.
  • Choose lightweight packaging: Minimal packaging is always the best and can significantly reduce the materials needed for packaging, the fuel needed to transport an item, and the energy needed to make it.
  • Seek out biodegradable packaging: Biodegradable packaging is made from renewable materials, like plant-based and compostable plastics that can break down into natural substances in a short period of time. These types of packaging are becoming more and more common and should always be preferred if at all possible.