Rootree’s Guide to Eco-friendly Packaging
So, you’re in the market for some sustainable packaging options. We’re happy you’re here! You may have some questions about all the different eco-friendly packaging options, and which one is “the best.” While that is a common question, there are rarely any clear-cut answers in the world of sustainability. Good news — we have the low-down on what eco-friendly packaging solution might be right for your brand.
If you’re interested in sustainable packaging and reducing your brand’s environmental impact, you’re likely familiar with two common eco-friendly practices which can help prevent unnecessary items from going to the landfill: recycling and composting. Trying to choose between recyclable and compostable packaging? Let’s break down the differences between the two and get to the bottom of all your sustainable packaging questions.

Recyclable packaging

Rabbit Hole Roasters Recyclable Packaging
Image by Rabbit Hole Roasters via
Recycling is the process of converting waste materials into reusable materials. A lot of companies choose to use recyclable materials for their packaging because they want to minimize their environmental impact or reduce their landfill waste output. Unfortunately, as our global population grows, the stress on our existing landfills increases, thus prompting the need for additional landfill area or alternative materials for products.
Recyclable packaging comes as one solution; like other recyclable products, this packaging can be sent to a recycling facility where it is sorted, cleaned, and processed, emerging as a reusable material. A recyclable package’s production process can also have many eco-friendly benefits, such as reducing carbon emissions, saving raw materials, and limiting energy usage in manufacturing. This type of packaging is well-suited to a variety of products, making it a popular choice for brands.
Unfortunately, many plastics that go in the blue bin may not actually be recycled when they reach a recycling facility. Regulations and processes sometimes limit which items can be accepted for recycling, depending on their material and condition. Luckily, there are specific programs emerging that address these products lacking recycling. For example, Terracycle’s new Ethical Bean Recycling Program recycles all flexible coffee packaging with their free mail-in solution. Programs like this one help increase the likelihood that a package will be recycled. Legislation such as producer responsibility is also a huge stride towards reducing environmental impact across the entire product management lifecycle.

Compostable packaging

Compostability refers to the ability of organic materials to decay into compost, a purely natural byproduct. Compostable materials require far less carbon to manufacture, reduce the number of resources needed to make the actual packaging, and reduce the overall amount of waste sent to landfills. Does it make you wonder why all brands don’t use compostable packaging? Compostable is sometimes not the best option for brands because of cost, availability in the market, limits in styles of packaging, and a product’s specific shelf-life needs. Rootree is making some exciting advancements in the realm of compostable packaging in order to address some of these concerns – sign up for our newsletter to stay informed about the relaunch of our compostable line of products!

The compostable packaging industry has come a long way in recent years, and there are now metrics that are measured in order to determine compostability. Made from renewable and bio-based materials, compostable packaging is suitable for industrial composting and sometimes backyard composting. While “organic” materials — food waste and yard waste — are inherently compostable, bio-based materials must meet certain criteria in order to be certified compostable under ASTM D standards. Specifically, 90% of the material must not remain after 180 days, and the resulting material must be below certain ecotoxicity and regulated metal constraints.
Birds and Beans Compostable Packaging
Image by Birds and Beans via

The Difference Between Compostable and Biodegradable

…On a very important side note, compostable and biodegradable packaging are not necessarily the same thing!

“Biodegradable” is a catch-all term and does not have the same meaning as “compostable.” The term “biodegradable” can be misleading to consumers and may create the belief that the item is made from organic matter and is therefore compostable, however, this is not always the case.
“Biodegradable” refers to a material’s ability to break down into small micro pieces, but it does not mean that it will turn into a natural byproduct. Many biodegradable pouches are made from petroleum-based plastics with enzyme additives to accelerate degradation. While these may degrade faster than traditional plastics, they are not truly composting; they break down into trillions of small pieces, becoming microplastics littering the earth, polluting our water and food. There are currently trillions of pieces of microplastics found in the oceans, and on average, people ingest 74,000 pieces of microplastics each year.
Microplastics Pieces
The term “biodegradable” is a tricky one – it is sometimes used interchangeably with the word “compostable” by brands who may not be aware that this can cause confusion for consumers – maybe their packaging is truly compostable, and they’ve just chosen a word that they’re more familiar with. However, there are brands that tout their products as “biodegradable” in order to make the consumer believe that this is a great eco-friendly choice. This is referred to as “greenwashing” and is a growing concern across all industries.

In summary, all compostable materials are biodegradable, but not all biodegradable materials are compostable.

Flexible packaging

TerraCycle Blog
In terms of eco-friendly packaging, recyclable and compostable aren’t your only options. Choosing digitally-printed flexible packaging is another solution.

True to its name, flexible packaging is non-rigid packaging—for example, a bag or pouch that is used to protect a variety of different products. Unlike rigid packaging, like a box or glass jar, flexible packaging is “flexible” in nature and can easily change shape.

There are several properties of flexible packaging that raise its sustainability profile. A great way to reduce materials going to landfills is through the use of lighter-weight packaging. In general, bags, pouches, and flexible packaging are significantly lighter and more efficient in their material usage than rigid containers. Stand-up pouches, a type of flexible packaging, offer a product-to-package ratio of 35:1. They help decrease CO2 emissions by up to 93% through less transportation pollution and a reduced carbon footprint. For example, one truckload of unfilled flexible pouches can be used to package the same amount of product as 26 truckloads of unfilled glass jars.

Some other amazing advantages of flexible packaging are:

  • reduced shipping weight, size, and cost;
  • reduced energy usage to print and convert flexible packaging;
  • extended food shelf life;
  • products packed in flexible packaging alone have 70% less primary and secondary packaging than their counterparts; and
  • no harmful BPAs.
Protecting the earth is important to most consumers; 73% say they would pay more for a package that is better for the environment. If recyclable or compostable pouches don’t suit your product’s needs, Rootree’s conventional flexible packaging is still a great eco-friendly packaging option. For example, our conventional spout pouches are fantastic for liquid products as they can hold shampoos, laundry detergent, or wine — without taking up a ton of space in transport trucks. Reducing cost, space, and CO2 emissions has never been so easy!
Not all flexible packaging producers are created equal…

…that’s why we have optimized our processes, allowing us to reduce our manufacturing waste by 75% compared to our competitors. Here at Rootree, we are always focused on providing the best product with the planet in mind. If you’re still not sure what eco-friendly packaging is right for your brand, our knowledgeable Sales Specialists are experts in sustainable packaging and would love to help you find the best fit!