Sustainable product-packaging combination

Sustainable packaging means developing packaging materials that have as little impact on the environment as possible, without compromising the quality of the packaged product. In other words, you make sure that the packaging is designed, produced and processed in such a way that it requires a minimal amount of raw materials to produce and can be reused or recycled at the end of its lifespan. The best way to realise an optimal sustainable product-packaging combination is by optimally utilising, coordinating and balancing the five perspectives from the KIDV model. This allows you to find the optimal mix, tailored to your specific product, corporation and packaging value chain.

Sustainable packaging is not only about using fewer materials. You can also make a packaging more sustainable by preventing the wastage of raw materials during the production process. By ensuring that the packaging is made to fit the product in question. By ensuring that it is made of renewable or recycled materials whenever possible. By using sustainable technologies and sustainably generated power during the production process. By setting up the logistics process as efficiently as possible, to keep from transporting empty space of air.

The ecological footprint of products is usually much larger than that of their packaging. As a result, loss of product has a more significant environmental impact than the use of more packaging materials. The trick is to find the right balance between “under-packaging” and “over-packaging” for each product-packaging combination.

Adding functionality with sustainable packaging

Making packaging materials more sustainable also gives you the opportunity to maximise the functionality of the product-packaging combination. Here are some examples of this:

By rethinking the product itself, the packaging becomes largely unnecessary

An improved packaging for shampoo? How about no packaging at all? Lush deliberately looked for a way to eliminate the packaging entirely. Their solution is a block of shampoo that looks like a bar of soap. On average, it lasts about as long as three bottles of shampoo. The only packaging it needs is a small bag made of recycled paper. In addition to saving on packaging materials, this solution also prevents the unnecessary transport of water.

Innovative paint packaging: no paint tray required

If you plan on painting any part of your home, you will likely buy a paint roller and a brush, as well as a paint tray to put the paint on the roller. Flex/design made the paint tray superfluous by updating the design of the paint can’s lid. This not only requires less plastic, it also cuts down on the wastage of paint and water because the trays do not have to be cleaned. In the Netherlands, this leads to an annual reduction of 150,000 kg of HDPE in trays, eight million litres of water used to clean the trays, and 170,000 kg of wasted paint.

Plastic tray without an additional lid

Naber Plastics and Sealpac collaborated on the design of the ‘Easy Lid System’: a top-seal packaging that uses a double sealing technology. The upper edge is sealed in two stages. During the sealing process, the outer ring is pressed downwards and separated from the tray itself. This creates a plastic ring with film that can be used as a lid, which means an additional lid is no longer required. Based on a total of ten million trays, this new system saves more than 250,000 kg of emitted CO2. The reduction of raw materials used for the lid is 25%, and up to 50% is saved on transport and storage.

Packaging made from partially bio-based and partially recycled plastic

Ecover packages cleaning products in partially bio-based and partially recycled plastic. 75% of the material used consists of bio-based polyethylene (bio-PE). The bio-PE is made from sugar cane. The other 25% of the plastic material comes from recycled post-consumer packaging waste. By using recycled plastic and bio-based raw materials, no fossil resources are used for the production of the packaging. Because bio-PE is chemically identical to conventional PE, the packaging can be disposed of with the rest of the regular plastic packaging waste without disrupting the recycling process.

Plastic tray without absorbing inlay

The BeeMagicTray developed by Dampack International BV is a plastic tray that can be used to package, for example meat and fish using modified atmosphere packaging (MAP). This tray does not require the traditional absorbing inlay, because excess moisture is dealt with in a different way. The bottom of the BeeMagicTray has a honeycomb pattern covered with a perforated film that the product rests on. Excess moisture leaks through the film and is kept away from the product. The honeycomb pattern of the tray’s bottom retains the moisture. The product stays fresh longer by keeping the moisture away from it. Additionally, the perforated film ensures that the gas mixture also comes into direct contact with the bottom side of the packaged product, which extends its shelf life. Traditional inlays can cause problems during the recycling process, because they are not made of plastic but of cellulose fibres.

Start at the drawing board

The most efficient way to use sustainable packaging is to take the environmental impact of a product-packaging combination during its entire lifecycle – from production, to usage, to disposal, to raw material – into account during the design stage. This often results in innovative product and packaging solutions that are ultimately profitable, both in terms of their environmental impact and in terms of cost reduction and added value.

Choose an integral approach

Developing sustainable product-packaging combinations calls for an integral approach, because you have to make choices from a variety of perspectives. Think for example of your organisations or brand’s policy and strategy, your customers’ wishes and needs, and the packaging process. The KIDV model Five perspectives on sustainable packaging®, which can be found on this website, can help you with this.

The output of sustainable product-packaging combinations

  • More environmental advantages because of a reduced environmental impact. By reusing and recycling packaging materials, you can make raw materials last longer and make more effective use of them. This reduces the environmental burden and CO2 impact of the process.
  • More value because of more and satisfied customers. Sustainability is a factor taken into account during the purchase process for a growing number of customers. Furthermore, customers get excited about well-designed and compact packaging materials that do not create excessive waste and are easy to separate during disposal.
  • Ultimately, higher profits because of lower costs. Innovative and sustainable packaging solutions will ultimately lead to innovation in the value chain, with fewer raw materials used and fewer products lost. As a result, you need less material and your production and logistical costs will go down.


More information

7 tips for sustainable packaging              
If you want to make your packaging more sustainable, the KIDV has 7 tips to help you get started.

Reading and inspiration list
There are dozens – perhaps hundreds – of good reference works about sustainability and packaging. At the same time, each packaging challenge is usually so specific that you cannot rely on just one source. It is therefore important to use Google and your network in order to find the right answer to your specific questions.

Below, you will find a brief list of books on packaging development from both a sustainability and a technical perspective.

  • Packaging Sustainability – tools, systems and strategies for Innovative Package Design, Wendy Jedlicka, 2009
    This book offers a comprehensive overview of sustainability aspects related to packaging design. It covers a wide range of aspects, from consumer behaviour to legislation and the economy. The book illustrates which methods and processes exist for the development of sustainable packaging. It is an excellent starting point from which to decide what to focus on.
  • Cradle to Cradle: Afval is voedsel, Braungart & McDonough, 2007
    This book covers the basic principles of circular design. It presents models and examples pertaining to the essence of sustainability according to the cradle-to-cradle principles. Although this book was published back in 2007, it still offers a relevant perspective on circularity. It challenges readers to look at their design questions from a different perspective.
  • The Wiley Encyclopedia of Packaging Technology – edited by Kit L. Yam, 2010
    This Encyclopedia is also known as the “packaging bible.” This reference work contains an overview of virtually every packaging material and production process available. It is an excellent starting point if you want to find out how certain packaging materials are made. From there, you can delve deeper into the specific details of the process.
  • Pocket Book Packaging (only available in Dutch); R. ten Klooster, J.M. Dirken, F. Lox and A.A Schilperoord 2008
    A pocket book for designers, which offers a complete overview of the most important packaging techniques and materials and all developments that have occurred in this field over the years. Like The Wiley Encyclopedia, it is a good starting point if you want to know how certain packaging materials are made. You can explore the topic in more detail from there.

If you know of any books that should definitely be added to this list, send us an email at and tell us why others in your field simply must read the work. We will be sure to add it to the list.