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10 Simple Steps to Implementing a Zero-Waste Packaging Strategy for Your Business

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recycling logo made from cardboard boxes

Implementing a zero-waste packaging strategy should be a priority for any business and the reason is simple: adopting such a strategy brings with it a considerable number of extensive benefits.

A zero-waste approach will diminish material consumption and signal the end of the scourge of over production. It will play a key role in combatting unsustainable levels of rubbish and, at the same time, prevent the depletion of natural resources and the associated damage to the environment. It will combat the issue of water scarcity and drastically reduce green-house gas emissions.

Closer to home, it will enable any business - both big and small - to achieve maximum cost efficiency, at the same time creating a more resilient, streamlined operating model.

Here’s how to go about it:

1. Assess Your Current Packaging Process

assessing packaging processes - image of clipboard and spyglass manufactured out of corrugated cardboard

First things first, don’t rush in where angels fear to tread. Do it right and avoid costly mistakes.

As a starting point, take the time to assess your current packaging process. Evaluate all aspects of your packaging, from the materials used to processes in place and then, additionally, take a close look at consumer trends and habits.

It’s vital to identify waste points and inefficiencies – however small - in your current system. This might come down to box size, box variety (i.e., too many) and unnecessary void fill. Inefficiencies, however, are also caused by inadequate packing stations, lack of proper training and equipment or resources that aren’t fit for purpose. Sometimes, the stumbling block is that there’s an unwillingness to reassess and innovate. Maybe there's a less than optimal relationship with customers fed up of over packaging or packaging that isn't fit for purpose.

This is where conducting a specialised audit can pay dividends. An audit will provide an unbiased, data-driven overview and is pivotal in assisting a business reduce their packaging waste footprint. At the same time, it helps obtain levels of operational efficiency previously thought out of reach.

2. Choose Recyclable and Biodegradable Materials

Recycling factory made out of recycled cardboard boxes

Opting for materials that are recycled and easily recyclable is fundamental on the drive towards zero-waste. This is because, currently, there are highly effective waste management systems in place for cardboard and paper-based packaging so it makes sense to use these materials. Instead of being thrown away (or best case scenario, composted), they can instead re-enter the supply chain to be used repeatedly.

Not to be ignored on the quest for zero-waste are compostable plastics and other biodegradable materials: packaging made from seaweed, mushrooms and even edible coatings. Labelled as packaging trends for 2024, we’d beg to differ. These options aren’t a temporary fad. As they continue to gain traction, hitting the mainstream, their popularity will grow as their viability is recognised and they, too, will help significantly reduce the amount of waste taking up space in landfill

3. Minimise Packaging Material Usage

Small box inside a big box, representing wasteful packaging practices in ecommerce

Implementing right-sizing techniques and using software tools to determine the optimal size and amount of packaging needed is one way of going about decreasing the problem of over packaging. 

Today, we’re lucky. We have the expertise as well as the technology to be able to tailor packaging to the exact dimensions required. Features can be incorporated easily into basic net designs to include security tabs, pop-up mechanisms, folding wings and cardboard zips. Smart design eradicates the necessity for layers and void fillers and it doesn’t necessarily cost more. If you want to see an example of smart design in action, take a look at The Packaging Club's FlyPak.

4. Implement a Return and Reuse Programme

image of two people made out of cardboard, one of them is handing a cardboard delivery box back to the other. The other is wearing a cardboard mail man outfit.

In their quest to adopt a zero-waste strategy, an increasing number of businesses are adopting return and reuse programmes, as well as offering repair or collection services.

Return and reuse doesn't just work with electrical components, furniture or clothes, it also works for packaging. Though not without challenges, pioneering circular packaging initiatives are having increasing success, especially amongst eco-savvy customers and those given incentives to participate in returning their used boxes and envelopes, or those offered the choice as to whether they want to opt for returnable packaging or not. Get people used to an idea and before long, there will be a sea change.

Return and Reuse programmes do rely on customer buy-in (as well as other obstacles – sanitising being just one), but with customer buy-in comes customer collaboration and greater levels of communication and loyalty and it's widely recognised that these programmes are “an effective instrument towards a zero-waste future.”

5. Optimise Warehouse and Storage Solutions

Warehouse and forklifts made out of corrugated cardboard and cardboard boxes.

In the battle for zero-waste thought should be given to how warehouse space is used. Poor inventory management as well as holding onto excess or seasonal inventory translates into squandered storage capacity and high holding costs.

Reducing the amount of inventory (in this case, packaging materials) kept at any one time by tracking consumer consumption habits, as well as ensuring that the packaging that is on hand is the right sort for the job, is hugely important when it comes to reducing levels of waste, as is using the best storage practices, for example stackable and reusable storage containers. 

6. Educate and Train Your Team

Training room full of cardboard cutout people

Ensure that staff are trained to pack in the most efficient way possible. This might entail specialised training, or it might mean investing in packaging automation machines which dispense exactly the right amount of material needed and not a millimetre more.

It’s not just those doing the packing that need to be trained. Educate your whole team on zero-waste practices and the importance of sustainability. Empower employees at every level so they feel actively encouraged to suggest improvements and innovations. Maybe a green team could be established specifically to oversee waste reduction initiatives, both big and small.

7. Partner with Sustainable Suppliers

cardboard models of wind farms, solar panels, electric vehicles, surround by plants, trees and nature

If you’re serious about zero-waste, then reassuring yourself that your suppliers adhere to sustainable practices is vital. Select those who offer eco-friendly packaging materials and if your current suppliers can’t or won’t, choose ones who do and will. It might also be wise to review and audit their practices from time to time to make absolutely certain that you continue to be on the same zero-waste page.

It’s possible to develop long-term relationships with partners who share sustainability goals, consequently building up whole supply chains based on the circular model. Sustainable supply chains benefit everybody, ecologically and financially. Socially responsible practices - or as they have come to be known, corporate social responsibility - improve the quality of the environment and people’s lives and moreover, they support the long-term growth of an equitable global economy.

8. Utilise Packaging Consolidation Techniques

Image showing one box replacing 2 boxes, resulting in consolidation, cost saving, material reduction and improved efficiency.

Consolidation is the name of the game when it comes to zero-waste. Combining multiple items into a single package is one of the best ways in which to reduce material use.

Consolidation can be achieved in two ways. Firstly, bundling strategies can be implemented in order to minimise the number of packages shipped thus saving materials and reducing CO2 emissions. 

Secondly, packaging can be utilised which has been designed to transport items of different shapes and sizes safely and securely, whether at the same time (i.e., bundling) or as a ‘one type fits all’ package for a variety of products.

Finally, packaging can be designed with multi-use purposes in mind: transport then storage, for example. The internet is awash with frivolous examples (a box containing tins of cat food that transforms into a playhouse for cat), but behind the frivolity there is a serious message: Don’t throw it away, repurpose and/or reuse it.

9. Enhance Material Recyclability

illustration depicting lots of cardboard boxes being recycled into other paper products

As businesses, it is our responsibility to help customers reuse and recycle by labelling packaging with the appropriate recycling information and making sure that it is clear, accessible and easy to understand. 

The main thing is to use materials in the first place that are widely accepted into waste management programmes and to avoid mixed materials that are difficult to separate and recycle. But if packaging is a little harder to recycle, provide instructions on how to go about doing so. If necessary, this could be detailed on a company’s website accessed via a QR code printed on the package itself.

10. Monitor, Measure and Improve

3D growth chart made from cardboard boxes, with a corrugated cardboard arrow depicting improvement

If you aren’t able to achieve zero-waste in one fell swoop, rest assured that small steps add up. At the same time, be honest with your customers about both your limitations and the direction in which you’re heading. This can reap its own rewards in a marketplace where transparency and integrity are proving more important to consumers than ever before.

Once a state of zero-waste has been achieved, then resting on laurels is not an option. Optimising then minimising packaging and eradicating waste is just the tip of the iceberg. Continuously tracking how your packaging is performing, noticing shifts in consumer habits as well as keeping an eye on recycling rates will ensure that zero-waste becomes a viable constant rather than a trendy phase.

Set measurable goals and regularly review your progress, then, based on hard data and feedback, adjust your strategy accordingly to improve continually.


Of course, implementing a zero-waste packaging strategy is all about saving the environment, but just as importantly, it's about protecting and benefitting your business, maximising its financial potential and viability now and in the future.

If you follow these ten steps, not only will you reduce your waste footprint, but you’ll also appeal to eco-conscious consumers, cut costs and re-energise your operation. And however far along you are on the zero-waste road, the cumulative effect should never underestimated.

There's zero excuse. Start today. Make a positive impact on the planet and your business and if you want to know how exactly The Packaging Club can help you take meaningful steps towards becoming zero-waste, call us now. We would love to be one of the sustainable parts of your supply chain. Don't throw away the opportunity to use our experience, expertise and contacts to your benefit.

This article was written by...

Jo Hilton

I studied at the University of St. Andrews and have an MA in French and German. For a number of years, I worked for a Swiss financial institution and lived in Hamburg, London, Zürich and NYC before retraining as a primary school teacher and settling with my family in Cambridgeshire. When I'm not at school, I write content for various blogs and edit academic research articles for clients at ETH Zürich and the University of Munich. I'm also in the process of completing a Masters in Crime and Thriller writing at the University of Cambridge, so behind me you'll find a trail of fictional dead bodies and actual biscuit wrappers.

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