Sustainable e-commerce through sustainable packaging

Sustainability is on everyone's lips these days, and it is no longer just a trend. Customers also expect sustainability to be taken into account in e-commerce. One way to do justice to this aspect is to use sustainable packaging. Here we give you tips on how you can pack your products ecologically and score points with your customers.
Christian Kautzsch  |  08.07.2024  |  Time to read 8 Min
Table of contents

Ecology as a given

Customers react sensitively when it comes to sustainability. They expect - and rightly so! -that companies act ecologically. Of course, this also includes environmentally friendly delivery when they order products online. For you as an online retailer, the simplest and most effective way to deliver sustainably is to use environmentally friendly packaging.

Reliable sustainability is important

The term "greenwashing" will probably ring a bell. As a quick reminder, this means that companies use marketing and PR to give themselves an ecological image - but without taking effective measures to achieve sustainability. In other words, a deceptive package.
It is not easy for consumers to judge the real sustainability of a company. What is true? But what is fake? Therefore, if you want your online shop to be truly sustainable, you not only need the right products, but also environmentally friendly delivery and packaging. Because: Sustainable packaging is conquering the markets!

What does sustainable delivery mean?

When customers say they value sustainable delivery, they mean sustainable packaging. For example, in a survey conducted by Nosto in 2019, 75% of those ordering fashion items said that they wanted less packaging - and above all more environmentally friendly packaging.

Of course, this statement does not only apply to the fashion industry. According to the IPC Cross Border E-Commerce Shopper Survey, 47% of all customers want recyclable packaging.

Discover our whitepaper for practical tips and tricks for environmentally conscious shipping. We show you the impact of your packaging on sustainability and how you can implement sustainable logistics with our measures.

What exactly is sustainable packaging?

So far, so good: we now know that e-commerce customers want sustainable packaging. But which ones are there? What are they suitable for? Read on: We bring light into the darkness.

Methoden für eine nachhaltige Verpackung

There are various ways in which you can make the packaging process more environmentally friendly. This is where the three zero-waste keywords come into play: Reduce, Reuse and Recycle!

  • Reduce: Reduction of the packaging material
  • Reuse: Reuse of the packaging
  • Recycle: Recyclability of the packaging

Point 1: Reduce - because reducing is best

Logically, anything that is not needed does not need to be recycled - or worse still, thrown away! - be thrown away. That's why reducing packaging material is the 1-A solution.

If you optimise the outer packaging of your shipment, you can save and reduce the amount of inner packaging material.

Customers are annoyed when they receive the products they ordered in an oversized Parcel. They compare the ratio of the product size to the packaging size and immediately realise that unnecessary raw material has been wasted here instead of using sustainable packaging. And this immediately casts your company in a negative light. Your customers fear that you are greenwashing.

If your customers then have to throw away all the packaging, they will be even more annoyed. In addition to the sustainability issue, they will also have an additional expense and, if the packaging cannot be recycled, even additional costs.

Pro tip:

Reduce the packaging material to the absolutely necessary size and show your customers that you care about the environment.

Pro tip:

Reduce the packaging material to the absolutely necessary size and show your customers that you care about the environment.

If you reduce the packaging, you win too. This is because smaller Parcels weigh less, which reduces shipping costs. When shipping small goods, save fuel and money by using sustainable packaging.

Point 2: Reuse - because it is effective

Breathing a second life into a product is something we know from our private lives. Makes us feel good, doesn't it? This also applies to packaging! There are various ways in which packaging can be reused along the value chain.

Let's start right at the beginning of the value chain. The goods you receive from your supplier are delivered already packaged. The first thing you do is remove the packaging - and throw it away.

Think about whether you could still use the packaging for further shipping. Of course, you need to take a good look at the packaging: Is it still intact? Does it still protect the product sufficiently? Depending on the packaging material, it may or may not be possible to reuse it. If, for example, the boxes from your returns are still in good condition, you can reuse them and thus ensure truly sustainable packaging.

Do it yourself: make your own filling material

Do you know the packaging padding machine? We'll briefly explain what it is: with a packaging padding machine, you can make your own padding material from old cardboard boxes - padded padding mats as well as flat ones. A packaging padding machine is great for online shops! This is because the quantity of filling material can be quickly adjusted according to demand.

The high procurement costs of the machine may seem a little daunting at first glance. But if you can produce the padding material yourself, you can save money in the long term.

Other exciting options for sustainable packaging

Another innovative way to reuse packaging material is with Karopack cushioning pads. There are also companies that offer reusable outer packaging for e-commerce. One example of this is RePack. This is how it works: the goods are delivered to the customer in the reusable packaging and the customer sends it back empty by post.

Pro tip:

If you are committed to recycling packaging material, this is not immediately obvious to your customers. That's why you should definitely promote your commitment to sustainable packaging. True to the principle: Do good and say so!

Pro tip:

If you are committed to recycling packaging material, this is not immediately obvious to your customers. That's why you should definitely promote your commitment to sustainable packaging. True to the principle: Do good and say so!

Point 3: Recycle - because you can also make it without plastic in e-commerce

We all know what plastic is doing to our oceans and their creatures. Society is therefore extremely sensitive to plastic.

Most customers turn up their noses at plastic packaging materials because they contradict the goal of sustainable packaging. But there are alternatives! We will now show you which are the most common packaging materials and how you can replace them with more environmentally friendly materials. We differentiate between inner and outer packaging.

Environmentally friendly inner packaging

As we have shown above, the perfect size of the outer packaging is important so that you don't need any unnecessary filling material. This is because filling material goes straight into the rubbish bin. However, you can hardly do without padding material altogether. Here we show you frequently used filling material for inner packaging and environmentally friendly alternatives. Ready? Go!

Polystyrene chips (packaging flakes)

Polystyrene chips are used to fill cavities and are used to absorb shocks. However, the products must also be wrapped in plastic bags or bubble wrap to prevent the chips from damaging the goods.

Polystyrene chips are made from plastic. They are therefore only suitable for sustainable packaging in e-commerce to a limited extent. Theoretically, these chips are recyclable, but firstly customers don't realise this and secondly many recycling stations don't even accept them.

Many customers also see polystyrene chips as an environmentally harmful and superfluous packaging material. This does not reflect well on your company.

However, there are more environmentally friendly alternatives: Filling material made from corn, potato or wheat starch. These fulfil exactly the same purpose, but are 100% biodegradable.

Energie sparen dank nachhaltigen Ressourcen

The Bavarian Institute for Applied Environmental Research and Technology in Augsburg and the ifeu Institute in Heidelberg have compared the life cycle assessment of the two materials and have come to the conclusion that organic packaging flakes are preferable to polystyrene chips - if they are not reused. You can find the article here.

Pro tip:

The protective plastic bags can be replaced by environmentally friendly paper mailing bags.

Pro tip:

The protective plastic bags can be replaced by environmentally friendly paper mailing bags.

Wood wool

This environmentally friendly packaging material has nothing but advantages:

  • It is 100% biodegradable.
  • It is easy to process.
  • It is inexpensive.


Air cushion padding: the unsustainable solution for your e-commerce

Air cushion pads are also used to fill cavities. They provide particularly good protection against impacts. Air cushion pads are often made of plastic, but they are also available in recyclable materials such as HDPE film. But here too, recyclability is more of a fairy tale. Many recycling centres do not accept this type of plastic at all.

The positive aspect of the air cushion pad is certainly its lightness: it consists of 99% air. This saves weight and therefore transport costs. In addition, the actual waste is extremely low.

The problem: customers do not perceive air cushion padding as environmentally friendly and therefore not as sustainable packaging. Therefore, use recyclable material and promote the fact that it is ecological - and how it can be recycled.

Crumpled paper/newsprint

A recyclable alternative filling material is crumpled paper or newsprint. Crumpled paper is available for small, light goods, but also for heavy goods.

Bubble wrap

This material is particularly suitable for wrapping smaller items and cushioning them for shipping.


Füllmaterial für Pakete


A good alternative to this is corrugated cardboard. It fulfils the same functions, but is recyclable and is much more suitable for sustainable packaging.

Environmentally friendly outer packaging for your e-commerce

Once you have chosen the right size of outer packaging, you have taken the first step towards cost-saving, sustainable packaging. The second step is to implement "cardboard instead of plastic"!

Parcels made from cardboard are even better than those made from recycled cardboard. Incidentally, Swiss Post offers these in various sizes.

Umweltschonendes Karton für ökologischen Transport

If you are sending goods that are sensitive to temperature, Swiss Post offers ThermoCare packaging. They enable temperature-controlled shipping without additional cooling systems. Would you like to find out more? You can find an explanatory video on this page.


Gekühlte Sendungen versenden in nachhaltiger Verpackung

Another advantage of this special material: ThermoCare boxes are reusable and can be fully recycled at the end of their service life.


Adhesive tape

Parcel tape is mainly made of plastic film, PP or PVC, which is coated with a chemical adhesive.

But here too there is an ecological alternative! Namely, adhesive parcel tape made of paper, which is coated with resin and can be easily recycled. Two different types are available:

  • Classic version
  • Moist version: The adhesive tape is moistened and then bonds firmly to the cardboard. This method adheres very well and is very safe for shipping.


A small disadvantage of the paper tape is that it is not transparent.


The most important facts about sustainable packaging in a nutshell

Have you read the whole blog? Great! We've summarised the most important information about sustainable packaging for you at a glance:

  • Your customers want ecological packaging.
  • This is the quickest way to achieve your goal:
  • Minimise the packaging material to the bare minimum.
  • Use material that has already been used for packaging.
  • Use biodegradable or recyclable materials for packaging.
  • Sustainable packaging is not always obvious to your customers. Make them aware that the shipping is sustainable. #zerowaste

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