Eco-Friendly Packaging

Credit: Condor Ferries. Sea turtle and plastic waste in the ocean.

Eco-friendly packaging is good for business because its biodegradable, recyclable, and reduces the waste of natural resources for production.

Furthermore, British consumers are 57% less likely to buy products in packaging they consider harmful to the environment, while 91% agree that sustainable packaging is essential when deciding who to spend with.

Still, 35% of British businesses believe that adopting a sustainable practice is pointless. However it’s worth nothing that..

“..Over the past five years, there has been a 71% rise in online searches for sustainable goods globally, according to The Economist Intelligence Unit. Consumers are engaging with sustainable businesses in ways that they previously ignored.” 

Business News Daily (2023)

This means consumers are becoming more knowledgeable about sustainable practices, the importance of safeguarding the environment and what businesses to stay clear from that don’t adopt sustainable practices.

Source: Google Trends

Packaging is essential for your photography brand because it protects the product inside, makes shipping and transportation simple, and ensures a decent shelf life for your product.

Secondly, and perhaps no less important, your packaging must make the right impression. However, most photographers and printing organisations in the U.K. still use non-eco-friendly packaging, which isn’t good for business or the environment.

Source: Google Trends

One-third of plastic packaging produced in the U.K. for small and big businesses is non-recyclable, while 1/3 of all paper and card is still not fully recycled. Around 7 million tonnes of cardboard end up in U.K. landfill every year.

As mentioned in my last article, “Sustainable Photography“, adopting a sustainable business practice isn’t easy or cheap. However, 63% of British consumers prefer to shop with companies that care about the environment rather than neglect it.

In addition, the younger generation is keener to learn about sustainability and climate change than the older generations, and they, too, are more inclined to shop with businesses that adopt proven sustainable practices rather than those that have no proven sustainability track record or refuse to adopt an eco-business attitude.

Proper packaging gives consumers peace of mind that their purchase is and potentially will be safe; it also attracts buyers and builds and establishes a brand.

However, we must avoid non-eco-friendly materials to safeguard the environment, our brand, and our customer base. British businesses have until 2050, when they’re required by law to go net zero; therefore, starting early with sustainable practices is best.

There are several eco-friendly packaging alternatives to plastic, styrofoam, bubble wrap, etc., on the market, such as:

  • Biodegradable Air Peanuts

Biodegradable air peanuts hit the market in the early 1990s and have become popular among businesses in Colorado, Maine, Maryland, New York, New Jersey, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and Washington, D.C. where styrofoam has been banned.

Source & Credit: Tree Hugger

Bio-air peanuts are commonly used for cushioning and void-filling packaging applications, which are excellent for large photo frames, photo albums and glass products.

Disadvantages: Biodegradable air peanuts are heavier than traditional peanuts, and production costs are more expensive.

  • Corrugated Bubble Wrap

Two brilliant engineers, Alfred Fielding and Marc Chavannes, invented corrugated bubble wrap from a failed experiment in 1957. Since then, corrugated bubble wrap has been quite popular with businesses that ship fragile products such as wood, glass and pottery.

Corrugated Bubble Wrap

Corrugated bubble wrap is ideal for cushioning underneath a product to protect it from damage during shipping. Moreover, it’s a 100% recycled, curbside recyclable, paper-based alternative to plastic bubble wrap and foam peanuts.

Disadvantages: Corrugated bubble wrap can take up lots of storage space, depending on how much you require. Furthermore, it’s not self-sufficient and ready for shipping, meaning you “may need to glue or tape it” for more oversized products. Corrugated bubble wrap doesn’t support large bulky items very well, and environmental conditions can change its strength for average weights. That said, it’s ideal for transporting small or large photo frames with or without glass.

  • Cornstarch Packaging

Cornstarch packaging has been around for the last twenty years. Cornstarch packaging is a biodegradable material that replaces polystyrene (Styrofoam) and plastic. Available in transparent and opaque material, it can be used in various ways.

Cornstarch packaging is an excellent material instead of polystyrene and plastic for producing trays, lids, bags, plates and containers. Moreover, it’s biodegradable and renewable, making it a perfect choice for eco-friendly packaging material and plastic alternatives. 

An example of a Cornstarch Food Container

Cornstarch packaging can be used to make presentation boxes for photo frames, albums or books and is excellent for packaging photos.

Disadvantages: If not disposed of correctly, cornstarch-based material will take longer to decompose, especially if no oxygen or light is available. Some cornstarch packaging requires disposal in composting bins. Most cornstarch packaging will likely end up in landfills due to improper disposal unless businesses inform consumers how to dispose of their packaging correctly.

  • Bio Bubble Wrap

Bio bubble wrap is the same as regular plastic but with a metal additive added, making the material break down within 6-18 months. No special conditions are needed, just air.

Furthermore, it has improved air retention properties and excellent shock and impact resistance; thus making it an ideal eco-friendly packaging option for transporting heavier picture frames and photo albums.

Source & Credit: Kingfisher Packaging

Bio bubble wrap is a soft cushion that absorbs shock during unexpected movement. It helps to prevent damage to any products wrapped within the material.

Biodegradable bubble wrap starts to decompose and dissolve in the soil in 180 days by bacteria or other living organisms without needing any external effort to degrade.

Disadvantages: If not disposed of correctly, bio bubble wrap will take longer to decompose, likely ending up in landfills due to improper disposal unless businesses inform consumers how to dispose of their packaging correctly. It’s also worth noting that bio bubble wrap is still made with plastics.

When oxo-degradable plastic breaks down, it breaks into thousands and thousands of tiny microplastics. Microplastics are just about as harmful as it gets; small doesn’t mean harmless, and due to their size, they’re easily consumed by marine life and can kill them. Microplastics have been detected in fish in our food chains and drinking water.

While bio bubble wraps are more eco-friendly than conventional bubble wraps, which can take up to 100+ years to decompose, they come with more disadvantages than most eco-friendly packaging. Therefore if businesses consider using this type of packaging, it’s probably best to inform consumers of the risks concerning microplastics.

Bio bubble wrap can take up quite a lot of storage too.

  • Paper Bubble Wrap

Unlike bio bubble wraps (oxo-degradable wraps), FormPack paper bubble wrap is made from 100% recycled paper and is cheaper than oxo-degradable bubble wrap. And it’s free from chemical ingredients meaning there’s no odour, and it’s ideal for speedy and environmentally friendly packaging. 

Paper bubble wrap is eco-friendly, compact and space efficient. Due to its flex and stretchability, paper bubble wrap is super easy to store and takes much less storage space than bubble wrap.

Source & Credit: Papier-Sprick

Paper wrap provides perfect all-around protection against dirt, dust and scratches. Its elastic nature allows it to snugly wrap around each part of your item snugly, even when dealing with unorthodox shapes.

Paper bubble wrap is ideal for wrapping and protecting pictures and mirrors, glass, plates and dishes, furniture pieces and cosmetics, picture albums, stone frames etc.

Paper bubble wrap is compostable in 40 days, non-toxic to fish, readily biodegradable, and most paper bubble wraps are made of FSC-compliant fibre.

Moreover, its made with deep indentations during the manufacturing process, meaning it is the most robust product of its type—highly absorbent properties to protect against harmful external factors.


Unsuitable for food packaging due to its dense makeup; moreover, paper wrap takes up more space than the same weight of plastic in landfills because it’s less dense than other types of waste.

For example, 1lb. of paper will occupy more space in a landfill than 1lb. of food waste, glass, or even some plastics.

Due to its recycled properties, paper bubble wrap does have a slight odour.

  • Compostable Mailing Bag

Compostable mailing bags are ideal for posting printed photos, posters, etc, to clients. They come in a range of sizes and unique colours too. Thickness varies depending on your supplier, though most are approximately 50 micron (200 gauge).

An Example of a Compostable Mailing Bag from BeauVibe

Bio mailing bags are biodegradable and conform to EN13432 – the European compostability standard, and they’re made from a compostable polymer blend with a minimum 30% renewable content share.

They are designed to disintegrate in an industrial composting unit within 12 weeks (biodegrades in six months) and can also be composted at home, but the process will take longer.


Like most compostable packaging, there is still no sensible disposal option. Unlike home compost, which produces fertiliser, industrial composting facilities usually produce only carbon dioxide and water, as well as a small amount of biomass.

  • Biodegradable Air Pillows

Air Pillows, or air cushions, are plastic pockets filled with air and sealed. They are then used to fill the void in shipping boxes to prevent shifting and provide product cushioning.

Source & Credit: Storm Trading

Biodegradable air pillows are made from low-density polyethylene, though some are also made from cornstarch. LDPE is a soft, flexible, lightweight plastic material that major supermarkets use to make plastic bags because its flexible, tough and corrosion resistant.

Air pillows are great for cushioning larger photo frames or fragile goods and take 12-24 months to decompose; some air pillows can be composted.


Like most biodegradable packaging, air pillows may not break down entirely due to their polyethene makeup. Air pillows are expensive to produce; if not disposed of correctly, they emit more methane into the air.

Another issue that has cropped up with bio air pillows, and something that completely eradicates the purpose of bioplastics, is the confusion when trying to differentiate between ordinary plastics and bioplastics.

If these are mixed in the recycling system, the plastic waste cannot be recycled, and the biodegradable recycled content renders it unusable.

Air pillows take up a considerable amount of storage. Therefore they may not be suitable for smaller businesses.

It’s also worth noting that companies are steering away from bioplastics due to their crucial disadvantages and higher production costs.

  • Seaweed

Seaweed packaging is biodegradable and edible. Seaweed packaging biodegrades in 12 weeks, maximum.

Moreover, it takes a hectare of ocean to create 40 tons of dry seaweed. During processing, that same volume can absorb 20.7 tons of CO2 emissions which is a great selling point for businesses looking at adopting a sustainable practice.

An Example of Seaweed Packaging by Notpla | Source: Global Designs

As of 2022, packaging manufacturer DS Smith is researching how fibres from seaweed can be used as a more environmentally-friendly way of making paper and cardboard.

Using seaweed to make paper is not a new development. A study by the University of Malaya in Kuala Lumpur used red seaweed to make paper. Researchers found the process to have a significantly lower environmental impact than traditional methods for creating wood pulp.

While research is ongoing regarding the mass production of seaweed-based papers and cardboard, Notpla, a brown seaweed, is currently used to make coated boxes and papers ideal for gifting accessories, photo prints, letters, etc.


The only major drawback owing to the production of seaweed is its cost. Seaweed packaging requires manual processing to some extent, and the process of scaling- up is still in the pilot scale.

  • Paper Packaging Tape

There is a long list of uses for paper tape for numerous industries such as industrial, office, warehouse, or hobby industries.

The paper is easy to rip by hand but can be held in a dispenser. The adhesive is not too strong, and the tape can be removed easily without damaging the surface or the item being held or mounted.

Paper tape is ideal for the following applications:

  1. Packaging and box sealing
  2. Sealing cartons
  3. Sealing off the air, moisture, or light
  4. Colour separating
  5. Protecting surfaces from paint
  6. Manufacturing
  7. Picture framing
  8. Bonding of fabrics
  9. Mounting
  10. Temporary holding
  11. Scrap booking
  12. Artists tape
  13. Craft hobbies
  14. Holding pictures in place

Paper tape is made with a polymer-based release coating applied on the top layer of the kraft paper, along with a hot melt adhesive applied to the bottom layer and its 100% biodegradable.

An Example of Paper Packaging Tape

Brown paper tape is a great eco-friendly alternative to plastic packaging tape. Sometimes referred to as Kraft tape, this paper shipping tape is sturdy, safe, and sustainable. Paper tape can also be less expensive in the long run than plastic tape, as you tend to use less when shipping your packages.


There are currently no known disadvantages regarding paper tape.

  • Pulp Tec Cardboard

Pulp Tec is made from recycled cardboard and paper and is environmentally friendly. The cardboard material is produced from 100% recycled paper while still being 100% recyclable and compostable.

Pulp Tec is a unique ribbed design that helps dampen vibrations, absorb impacts and dissipate shock energy. This helps to limit damage in transit.

Moreover, Pulp Tec protects the corners of picture frames, albums, books, etc, in storage and during transport.


Production costs are expensive; in addition, because the moulded pulp is produced as a consequence of recycling fibrous materials such as maise, it has been criticised by some who believe that such crops should be utilised to feed the hungry rather than being discarded as a byproduct of industrial production.

  • Paper Air Pillows

Paper air pillows are an eco-friendly alternative to plastic ones that can be run on demand or into integrated hopper systems.

Paper air pillows offer huge space-saving potential and a clean, sustainable packaging option, ideal for lightweight goods, using air to securely pack your products.

Credit: LockedAir BJT

Paper air pillows are 100% biodegradable, lightweight, and made from 95% air and 5% materials, such as 70% recycled paper and 30% compostable starch-based film.


Since the air cushions have relatively thin film and each pillow is filled with air, they could easily be “popped.” This makes them ineffective to be used in the packaging of products with sharp edges and which have substantial weight.


Sustainable packaging is now more important than ever because it diminishes the ecological footprint in all the product’s life-cycle steps. It supports both producers and consumers to reduce their environmental impact.

Sustainable packaging helps reduce your carbon footprint, and in most applications, no harmful plastics are involved, and it’s convenient to dispose of and versatile to use in most applications.

With that said, it’s important not to be fooled by some companies offering sustainable bio-plastics as a solution to reduce carbon emissions because they’re not all as eco-friendly as they make out.

For example, some biodegradable packaging does not break down entirely, leading to microplastics finding their way into the ocean and human food chain.

Microplastic pollution is currently a big issue among environmental protection groups; therefore, staying on their good side is wise.

It’s also important to note that eco-friendly packaging is good for business. British consumers are 57% less likely to buy products in packaging they consider harmful to the environment, while 91% agree that sustainable packaging is essential when deciding who to spend with.

While switching from non-eco-friendly packaging to sustainable packaging can be expensive, it does pay off financially in the long run.

Eco-friendly packaging is also suitable for your brand. Moving to eco-friendly packaging can take you far if you want to up your brand appeal.

Did you know that over 75% of Millennials consider sustainability when shopping? And plastic packaging is a big concern for consumers.

To be considered eco-friendly, packaging has to have a recovery plan too. This could mean working with recyclable materials or creating materials that can return safely to nature.

Consumers want to know that their purchases are helping to make the world a better place. Whether you get eco-friendly packaging because every step of production uses best practices or it’s made with clean technology, you’ll have their attention.

Finally, and as mentioned, it is essential to educate consumers about the proper disposal of eco-friendly packaging and the differences between bioplastics and non-bio plastics to reduce recyclable materials ending up in landfill. Click the link here to find out more.

J. J. Williamson | The Norfolk Photographer

My name is Jon Williamson; I’m an ethical photographer and writer with fifteen years of experience in the industry. I shoot landscapes, seascapes, riverscapes, fine art, and portraits. I also run workshops, run tours, and offer one-on-one photography feedback.

Published by J. J. Williamson

Prints, frames, stock images and portrait services.

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