The rise of recyclable and reusable packaging in online shopping

Merchants are building towards a more sustainable future by onboarding recyclable and reusable packaging systems for online shopping. This trend is keeping pace with environmental regulations and consumer preferences, simultaneously establishing the foundations for long-term growth.
Deidre Olsen
June 18, 2024

It’s hard to believe four years have passed since the COVID-19 pandemic began. While much of our daily lives have gone back to “normal,” some things have changed forever. People are no longer hoarding toilet paper, but their shopping habits have fundamentally shifted.

Amid lockdowns, government restrictions, and travel bans, everyone started to buy everything online. Worried about the risk of infection, folks became hesitant to purchase anything in-store. Since 2020, attitudes toward healthy eating, personal hygiene, self-protection, and spending have drastically altered.

Years later, there are few restrictions left and the supply chain is back up and running. Nowadays, people prefer ecommerce and contactless payment systems. These options are more widely accepted and available, offering consumers greater ease, flexibility, and convenience. 

However, with so much being delivered to our front doors, packaging waste has proliferated. In 2021, the average EU resident generated around 188.7 kg of packaging waste. That’s why merchants, especially those championing recurring commerce, are increasingly seeking out more sustainable ways to do business. 

The world is shifting towards recyclable and reusable packaging

Microplastics have been found in the furthest reaches of the Earth, from deep ocean trenches to mountaintops. Every day, there seems to be an alarming discovery about these tiny debris. 

The environmental pollutants are even in clouds and can affect rain and alter weather patterns. They can transfer from items used every day and wind up in our organs, whether we consume them or breathe them in.

That’s all to say that recyclable and reusable packaging is more important than ever before. In fact, the European Union, as part of its circular economy action plan, has a plastics strategy (alongside specific strategies for other materials). This initiative aims to transform how plastic products are designed, produced, used, and recycled.

On September 23, 2023, as part of this strategy, the EU adopted measures that restrict the intentional adding of microplastics to products. This will prevent the release of around half a million tonnes of microplastics into the environment. The EU has set a target of reducing microplastics pollution by 30% by 2030.

By taking these important steps, the EU wants to support safer and more sustainable consumption and production patterns. Not only this, but also lessen the environmental impact of marine litter, greenhouse gas emissions, and dependence on imported fossil fuels. 

And guess what? Sustainability isn’t only top of mind for the EU. It is a main priority for consumers too.

Consumers place their trust in businesses that deliver on sustainability

A waste-free future is achievable only if businesses transition away from single-use materials. This shift not only benefits the environment but also aligns with consumer preferences. Sustainability is no longer optional; it is essential. 

A study by the Harvard Business Review involving over 500 brands across 30 sectors found that highly trusted businesses can outperform their competitors by up to 400% in market value. The best way to build trust? Sustainability. 

Consumers trust businesses that commit to and achieve eco-friendly goals. While all consumers value quality and consistency, younger generations particularly appreciate brands with positive, ambitious goals.

Millennials and Gen Z are more likely to purchase products and services from businesses that show a commitment to people and the planet. This dedication to humanity and transparency reflects good intentions. 

When these generations rate a brand highly for transparency, they are 30% more likely than older generations to spend more on it and 20% more likely to choose it over a competitor. This means a dedication to sustainability is not only environmentally friendly but also profitable.

Sustainability is good for people, the planet, and business

Merchants that commit to sustainability are not only keeping up with EU regulations and consumer preferences, they are building the foundations for long-term growth. 

With recent inflation, people are being more intentional and selective with where and how they spend their money. According to PwC, despite economic concerns, more than four-fifths of consumers are willing to pay more for sustainable options. 

In today’s world, the sustainability efforts of businesses are what sets them apart. By adopting recyclable and reusable packaging, merchants can differentiate themselves from their competitors. This demonstrates to prospective and existing customers that they are innovative and eco-conscious, resulting in positive word-of-mouth reviews and repeat business. 

If a consumer receives a package and it is extremely wasteful, this will affect their perception. Wherever possible, reducing excess waste that is generated by oversized or unnecessary packaging is mission-critical.

When merchants make the effort to not only cut down on packaging waste but also design it to be recyclable or reusable, this has a psychological impact. It shows a duty of care to people and the planet, simultaneously humanizing the brand and demonstrating its value.

Often, the initial upfront costs that come with setting up recyclable and reusable packaging systems can be significant. However, when consumers use, for example, reusable containers over and over again, this expands the lifecycle of existing packaging. As well, the need for repeat purchases of single-use packaging is reduced.

According to Upstream, the average savings for a small business can range from $3,000 to $22,000 USD due to decreased packaging waste and lower disposal costs. Not only this but the number of packaging items can be eliminated to the tune of 110,000 to 225,000.

On top of this, recyclable and reusable packaging systems have the power to streamline supply chain operations. This is because they are more durable and reliable, which lowers the risk of damage to products in transit. 

Put simply, sustainability is crisis-proof. It can aid businesses in navigating the ebbs and flows of the economy. 

How plnktn. is championing sustainable products and packaging

Merchants are becoming increasingly imaginative with recyclable and reusable packaging. Take our merchant, plnktn., for example. This business aims to introduce marine phytoplankton into the human diet while promoting responsibility and transparency in the food and supplement industry.

In particular, plnktn. discovered that algae oil could replace fish oil, as both contain high levels of omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids, typically found in oily fish, are known to protect against cardiovascular disease and lower blood pressure.

Given these demonstrated health benefits, there is mounting demand for omega-3 supplements. However, deriving this fatty acid from fish often involves unsustainable production and extraction methods. Additionally, the breeding of fish in captive industrial fish farms continues to proliferate.

With all this in mind, plnktn. has developed high-quality, plant-based supplements and food alternatives using algae as the foundation. These products, available in capsule, powder, or oil form, can be purchased on a subscription basis, powered by Firmhouse.

Three years ago, plnktn. extended the spirit behind its products to its packaging. The business encountered another startup, Notpla, which champions the versatility of algae.

Based in the United Kingdom, Notpla is inventing new forms of packaging that dissolve in water and disappear back into nature without a trace. Using seaweed, Notpla creates everything from food containers and rigid cutlery to energy gel pods, laundry sachets, and food oil pipettes.

After discovering Notpla, plnktn. decided to onboard the startup's innovative packaging solutions. As plnktn. operates on a subscription model, it sends customers a new stock of algae supplements every few weeks. This generates a significant amount of packaging waste, as plnktn. mails out 70% of its total parcel volume via letterbox parcels.

Altogether, this amounts to tens of thousands of packages per year, resulting in a considerable environmental impact. By using Notpla's packaging, which incorporates algae making up 30% of the cardboard, plnktn. has significantly cut down on packaging waste. This ratio is the best thus far to ensure the right balance of quality and sustainability. Per package, the environmental impact is 70% lower compared to conventional cardboard.

By embracing sustainability, we are shifting commerce for good

As demonstrated by plnktn, recyclable and reusable packaging systems in online shopping are helping build toward a more sustainable future. Merchants are adapting to keep up with environmental regulations and consumer preferences. In doing so, they are setting themselves up for long-term growth.

Sustainability doesn't have to come at the cost of a merchant's bottom line. It can result in higher quality products and improved consumer satisfaction. Altogether, this creates resilience amid fluctuating economic currents. Merchants can contribute to a healthier planet while simultaneously developing more robust business practices.

At Firmhouse, we are shifting commerce for good. We love to help our merchants build, launch, and scale recurring commerce models. Together, we are creating the foundations for a tomorrow in which sustainability and growth go hand in hand.

Curious how you can get up and running with your own recurring commerce business? Book a personal demo today.

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