Sustainable Fashion Packaging Alternatives for Eco Businesses

Olivia Gecseg Monday, 15 July 2019

 “Choose to refuse” is this month’s mantra - and if you’re participating in the Plastic Free July campaign, you’ll understand just how many obstacles there are to choosing a sustainable, plastic-free lifestyle.

In many ways, recyclable plastic is "fantastic" (as Professional Members will remember from the lesson, Chemical & Mechanical Plastic Recycling). With lightweight, waterproof, flexible, transparent and recyclable properties, it's no wonder it's the fashion industry's go-to for packaging garments and textiles for transport. If discarded in landfill, however, a polythene bag takes 1,000 years to degrade, and when it does, it releases toxic chemicals into the earth and atmosphere. Add to that the use of non-renewable fossil fuels in its creation and ridding plastics comes top on eco-friendly fashion business agendas.

It’s our responsibility as business owners to help consumers say “no” to single-use plastics. We believe that working within circular systems that aim to reduce, reuse and recycle is the most sustainable and practical approach. 

Read on to discover your options for the alternatives to single-use plastic packaging:


Audit your waste

Our top tip to follow before embarking on any change to your business is to assess your current situation. In the case of packaging and waste, start with a bin audit. Once you know what you and your customers are throwing away, you can start building a strategy and objectives to help you cut down on waste. 

Take stock of the following areas to prevent sneaky plastics cropping up in unexpected places:

In-store:

  • Shopping bags - businesses in England with over 250 employees are by law required to charge 5p for a carrier bag. If you’re a smaller business, how about offering an incentive for customers who bring their own bag? 
  • Tags and plastic or elastic ties - consider switching to paper/fabric tags and twine ties.
  • Hangers and displays - wooden hangers, or even cardboard are much better. 
  • Jewellery hooks or cases.

Supply Chain:

  • Lightweight poly bags - in large scale companies, garments are often wrapped and rewrapped several times
  • Polystyrene packaging 
  • Mini poly bags for spare buttons, etc. 

Online Orders:

  • Outer and inner poly bags for shipments
  • Packing tape
  • Sticky Labels
  • Return labels

Now you've identified how much - or little! - plastic you are using, and how much is being discarded (by yourself and your customer), you can start to put together a plan to find appropriate solutions for your waste streams. 

Recycle! 

When you need all the functional benefits of plastic (lightweight, waterproof, flexible), choose recycled - and recyclable! - plastic packaging. 

Even the big-name brands are getting in on the recycled action and a good job too, because recycling promotes a circular system by creating demand. The more we promote it, the more waste will be recycled because manufacturers only buy recyclable commodities in bulk.

Goods made from recycled materials almost always require fewer resources and have a lower carbon footprint to manufacture, because the raw materials have already been extracted and converted into usable inputs.  

Choose biodegradable materials

Bioplastics are one option in this category, but what do we mean by that term? Breakthrough technologies have allowed companies to produce flexible, durable, transparent, printable packaging emulating all the benefits of plastic as a material, but with one key difference: they’re fully-compostable. In some cases, end users can use their own compost bins and the products can be industrially composted. Make sure you ask any supplier of biodegradable packaging all the right questions: “How long does it take to biodegrade?”, “What’s the shelf life?”, “Is it waterproof?”, “Under what conditions will it break down?" Professional Members, please remember to watch this super informative live Q&A, which includes vital information you need to remember when printing bioplastic packaging.

Professional Members - learn about bioplastic packaging here.

You don’t have to get technical to find biodegradable packaging options. Paper bags make a great alternative to the interior bag for online orders and lend an added textural layer synonymous with luxury. Although not waterproof, paper will protect from dirt and dust.

You can also try rolling your garments and securing with a paper band or a raffia tie.

Make packaging reusable 

Reuse scraps from your collections and reduce waste in your cutting room and in your packaging by turning them into cloth bags, perfect for delicate jewellery or lingerie products. Use a fabric-based packaging solution (such as ReWrap), where the packaging becomes a product in itself - a scarf, or bandana for instance. Professional members - watch this Masterclass on fabric packaging solutions.

Choose a solution-based packaging company like LimeLoop or RePack for online orders, which customers can send back after their product has arrived. Check within your supply chain to see if there is an option for reusable sacks that can be returned to the supplier once your order has been delivered. 

Professional members - check out this interview with RePack for their suggestions on business packaging!

Use less

Technically, using thinner plastics means using less, but it’s likely you’ll want a more long-term sustainable solution.

Think about what you're wrapping and how you can approach it with less packaging. For instance, the smaller you can make your product (e.g. the tighter you can roll it), the less packaging you will need. If you’re switching to a more expensive biodegradable or recyclable solution, this will help keep your costs down.

And finally, consider whether you need packaging at all? Is it necessary to package each and every item?

Resources [Professional Members]

For help and information on where to start with sustainable solutions for packaging your products, check out the Masterclass, "Eco-Packaging for Your Sustainable Brand".

And, if you're ready to make the switch, why not check out our handy matrix of eco-packaging suppliers.

Further Reading:

Plastic Free July: For Businesses

Finding an Alternative to Clear Poly Bags