Wrapping Our Minds Around
Long-Term Sustainability:

Real Solutions for packaging are already here

Wasteful and throwaway packaging are bad for human health, human rights, communities, wildlife, and climate and we’re using more and more. That’s the bad news. The good news is we’ve made big strides in sustainable packaging. We can have health and safety for customers and workers without excessive waste and all these other negative impacts. It’s time to embrace and scale the sustainable packaging solutions that are already here and pursue innovations for the future.

Why Does it Matter?

Health, Climate, Communities, Wildlife

When we look at these examples of the impacts of making, using, and wasting packaging, who could argue against embracing truly sustainable solutions?


of all the plastic made each year goes into packaging, most of it throwaway packaging.

Plastic packaging waste is deadly to animals when they get tangled in it or ingest it.

Globally only 9% of all the plastic ever produced has been recycled. Most goes to landfills, incinerators, or the environment.

Almost all plastics are made from fossil fuels and their production, use, and waste create greenhouse gases and toxins every step of the way.


of all the paper made each year is used for packaging

Paper packaging is driving forest loss, including loss of ancient and endangered forests, with terrible repercussions for forest communities, wildlife, climate, and human health.

Only about half the pulp that goes into paper packaging is recycled, and much of it is not or can not be recycled after it is used.

The pulp and paper industry is one of the world’s biggest polluters, as well as one of the heaviest users of fresh water.

Aluminum is made with bauxite which is extracted through open-pit mining on bull-dozed land. Aluminum recycling is still below 70% globally and it’s much lower in some of the highest consuming markets.

Stainless steel is made from iron ore and mining it produces water pollution, including drainage of heavy metals and acid that can continue for thousands of years after the mining has ended, as well as air pollution.

Glass is made from sand and extracting sand is the largest mining endeavor globally and also the least regulated. Globally less than 35% of glass is recycled.

Wood packaging drives forest loss just like paper packaging does. It is estimated that half of the annual hardwood harvest in the U.S., for example, is used to make wood pallets each year.

No matter what kind of packaging it is, making new packaging drives climate change and takes significant energy. For most types of packaging, making and wasting it puts toxic pollutants into the air, water, and soil, harming communities and wildlife.

The global packaging industry is predicted to reach a value of $1 Trillion by 2021. As the packaging industry grows quickly, human and workers rights suffer along with sustainability.

There are significant business opportunities in developing reusable packaging and in moving to more sustainable packaging.

The public ends up paying for the packaging crisis, not only through all these other impacts but financially, at cash registers, at tax time, and at community clean ups around the world.

“Can’t We Just…?” Companies, lawmakers,
advocates, and consumers, we need to:

Avoid These
False Solutions!

Avoid these and other false and questionable solutions, a long list of “Can’t we just…” ideas that ignore real solutions and that are not sustainable. For the real solutions already in action for sustainable packaging, take a look at What Really Works?

Can’t we just…

Make everything so we can compost or recycle it?

Can’t we just…

Replace all the plastic in packaging with another material?

Can’t we just…

Use bioplastics?
They’re less
harmful, right?

Can’t we just…

Use biodegradable packaging?

Can’t we just…

Use trees? They’re a renewable resource, right?

Can’t we just…

Use all recycled paper? We recycle all used paper, right?

What Really Works?

Starting with the most sustainable naked/no packaging and reusable options, here are some of the best solutions right now and who is using and advancing them.

Get Naked!

Companies are going naked or packaging free, even designing their products and their stores so they don’t need packaging.

Lush Cosmetics has developed many no packaging or naked packaging options, and even whole naked stores.

Makers like Bestowed Essentials and retailers like zero waste stores let customers choose to skip product packaging when buying online and in brick and mortar stores

Go Reusable!

Companies are using reusables for all kinds of packaging.

Wearwell and Toad & Company offer reusable shipper options to their online customers by working with companies like RePack and LimeLoop that make shippers.

Loop by Terracycle, Zero, and The Wally Shop deliver groceries in refillable containers.

Muuse, Vessel, Green to Go, GO Box, and Dispatch Goods offer cleaned and sanitized reusable serviceware for dining off-site, take out food, and food delivery.

Organizations like Use Reusables have helped large and small companies incorporate reusables into their transport packaging, including pallets, pallet wraps, and bulk containers.

Raise Your Standards!

Where naked or reusable packaging isn’t possible yet, there are other ways to make packaging more sustainable.

Annie’s Homegrown uses 100 percent recycled fiber boxes with clear recycling instructions and recently launched cereal liners made with minimum 35 percent recycled content.

No Tox Life offers their personal care and home products in packaging with recycled content that is also easily recycled after use, and they reuse and upcycle boxes they receive from suppliers and donors

Seventh Generation has started a new Zero Plastic line using stainless steel containers and is developing a refill system for the containers.

Willamette Falls Paper is making paper from wheat straw waste from Columbia Pulp. reHARVEST uses the paper to make paper bags made from only wheat straw and post-consumer waste.

Government Pushes and Public Private Partnerships!

Laws on packaging and Extended Producer Responsibility and public private partnerships are solutions as well.

Taiwan, Germany, and Canada are some of the many places with laws on packaging and Extended Producer Responsibility.

Alameda Unified School District teamed up with Dispatch Goods and Palo Alto Unified School District partnered with ReThink Disposable to support local businesses, less waste, and the public’s hunger for change.

What Can I Do

Use less, both packaging and stuff in general.

Prioritize no packaging/naked and reusable packaging solutions.

Require real solutions and reject false ones.

Embrace innovation and scaling up solutions.

Be a leader in business, government, your community, etc.

If you’re with a company, know your packaging and its impacts and push for the most sustainable options possible. Avoid false or questionable solutions. Access resources here.

If you’re a lawmaker or an advocate, be aware of the impacts of all types of packaging. Drive scaling up of and innovation in sustainable packaging. Avoid false solutions.

If you’re trying to make a dent in this crisis through being thoughtful in your consumer purchases, that’s an important start. Now, consider how you can scale up your impact.

What About


There is no evidence that throwaway packaging is safer than properly cleaned and sanitized reusable packaging. The difference is that reusables are much more sustainable.

What About CoronaVirus?!


There is no evidence that throwaway packaging is safer than properly cleaned and sanitized reusable packaging. The difference is that reusables are much more sustainable.

It all starts with…

Hygiene first!

The U.S. Food Code has procedures for safe handling of serviceware whether it’s reusables from a restaurant, reusables from an outside provider, or disposables.

Data support that…

Reusables are safe!

125 health experts signed a statement showing that reusables are safe during the Coronavirus pandemic.

Business as usual…

Is dangerous!

When you look at the impacts, you know our current packaging crisis threatens human health and the environment in many ways.

Join us in the movement
for sustainable packaging!

We are grateful to the following organizations for their contribution to the creation of this resource
and for their ongoing work to make packaging more sustainable around the world.

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