How to Reduce Shipping Costs by Adopting Sustainable Packaging Solutions in 2021

by | Apr 21, 2021

6 min read

In 2020, consumers in the United States spent $861.12 Billion on online shopping. That’s nearly triple the spend in 2019! 

It’s great news for the ecommerce sector.

But, what’s concerning is the drastic growth of plastic usage and the increasing carbon footprint of the packaging industry.

This signals two major threats:

  1. Increased plastic production leading to increased carbon emissions
  2. An increase in printing, packaging, and shipping costs for companies due to robust ecommerce growth

D2C and ecommerce brands can bring down their shipping costs while reducing their carbon emissions by choosing sustainable packaging solutions.

Do away with universal plastic packaging


Sustainable packaging starts with gradually reducing, and eventually eliminating plastic packaging. Especially in the food and beverage industry.

The idea of eliminating plastic as a packaging medium may sound complex and unimaginable at this point. But it’s not impossible. 

Mineral water brands like Open Water opted for BPA-free, aluminum packaging instead of plastic bottles because recycling aluminum cans is more climate-neutral and efficient compared to plastic bottles.

It takes 95% less energy to manufacture a beverage can from recycled aluminum than to make it from virgin ore.

Unlike plastic, aluminum packaging is infinitely recyclable. 

[Note: Learn how sustainability is part of the new era of shipping and how it impacts customer service]

Benefits of using material like aluminum to package and ship beverages:

  1. Aluminum cans are much lighter than glass bottles. This reduces shipping and transportation costs significantly.
  2. Aluminum is more compact and less susceptible to damage than glass or plastic bottles.
  3. Only 10% of plastic produced since the 1950s has been recycled so far. The other 90% is out there – polluting our planet. Whereas aluminum is indefinitely recyclable with a lesser transportation footprint if proper post-consumer disposal measures are followed.

Make the most of your packaging

The EPA says that U.S. residents use more than 380 billion plastic bags and wrapping every year. According to experts, it takes approximately 12 million barrels of oil to produce this much plastic. 

Not just that, most of the packaging comes stuffed with polybags – which is unnecessary. The problem with plastic is – it’s not only dangerous for marine life, but it also causes pollution in ways we’ve not imagined. 

Littered plastic collects water. But did you know that this collected water becomes a breeding ground for mosquitoes and pests? And, did you know that it takes just one bottle cap of water for mosquitoes to multiply?

[Quick Fact: Over 1 million marine animals (including mammals, fish, sharks, turtles, and birds) are killed each year due to plastic debris in the ocean.]

As an ecommerce company, you might not be able to completely eliminate the use of plastic at this point. But you can take strategic steps to make the most of your packaging. 

A few simple ways to reduce the size of your packaging are:

  1. Shipping in bulk
  2. Using flexible packaging instead of rigid packaging material like glass or plastic

Bulk cargo reduces the need for individual packaging which is not only eco-friendly and sustainable, but also pocket-friendly for companies. You’re significantly reducing the packaging, shipping, handling, and transportation costs involved in large-scale trade.

Look for ecological mono-material packaging to increase recyclability 

Unlike composite packaging material, mono-material flexible packaging is made of multiple layers of just one kind of raw material. 

When you reduce the number of raw materials used, you’re increasing the recyclability of your packaging, offsetting your carbon emissions and reducing packaging/production costs.

In January 2018, Unilever collaborated with Mondi to replace multi-material laminate packaging with a recyclable mono-material film alternative. The new mono-material packaging not only preserves the shelf-life of the food product and is good for the environment, it also doesn’t impact the runnability of the production plants – eventually keeping the company’s overall costs low.

How to switch to sustainable packaging and avoid shipment errors in the future

The first step in switching to sustainable packaging is opting for lightweight packaging.

Lighter the packaging, the lesser it costs you to ship your products. 

Ecommerce giants like Amazon have come under public scrutiny for poor shipment management and wasting packaging materials.

Amazon packaging

More and more supply chain companies are streamlining their packaging methods and switching to light-weight, size appropriate, eco-friendly alternatives because consumers are actively campaigning for far-visioned, sustainable brands that care for the environment. 

Earning the trust of your consumers boosts business in the long run while helping the environment.

Not just that, in 2018, the International Maritime Organization took a gigantic step towards a carbon-neutral future. According to ECSA, European shipowners are expected to achieve the global IMO CO2 reduction targets by 2030. This requires shipowners to adopt several short, medium, and long-term climate-friendly strategies to stay compliant. The maritime cluster and supply chain is aiming to completely decarbonize the industry and look for low or zero-carbon marine fuels to achieve this target.

One of the short-term solutions towards eco-friendly shipping and trade is to adopt lightweight, renewable, biodegradable packaging.

[Quick fact: Did you know that mushrooms are now grown to produce 100% biodegradable and renewable packaging material with minimal energy use? This carbon-neutral, “up-cycling” packaging method is called Mushroom Packaging. Mushroom packaging is slowly replacing styrofoam and many other synthetic plastics which in turn brings down carbon dioxide emissions by a significant margin.]

Report: Sustainable packaging is financially viable in the long run 

Around 2018, the UK government has pledged to eliminate plastic waste by 2042.

This has forced brands and retailers to rethink their current product packaging strategies and adopt sustainable packaging to avoid penalties and a possible slowdown in sales.

Raconteur says, 43% of businesses cite cost as being one of the biggest obstacles in adopting sustainable packaging. Sustainable packaging *seems* expensive because plastic is still produced at a large scale and is therefore abundantly available – which makes it a cheaper option. 

However, with the surge in eco-aware brands and proactive governments, sustainable packaging solutions like bioplastics are quickly gaining popularity and replacing polymers rapidly.

Bioplastics are versatile biodegradable plastics made of cornstarch and sugarcane that display plastic-like attributes, thus making them an easy alternative to plastic.

 The bottom line is – sustainable shipping and greener packaging are not expensive or inaccessible. 

All you need to do is track, analyze and measure your shipment costs and emissions. A Logistics Intelligence software like Sifted can help you model out the impact of packaging changes and their impact on your bottom line. 

Ready to see the positive impact sustainable packaging can have on your business? Request a free demo. 

Next Read: How Kendra Scott received more than $240,000 in parcel saving refunds by using Sifted’s proprietary Logistics Intelligence technology: Case Study >>

Topics: Shipping Costs, Sustainable Packaging

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