A Beginner’s Guide to Zero Waste Shipping

Learn the basics for zero-(or low)-waste shipping and how to implement a sustainability strategy for your small business
A guide to Zero Waste Shipping
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Zero waste shipping is increasingly important for eCommerce businesses, especially as we work to save our planet from years of consumption, waste, and pollution. Instead of walking you through the dark and gloomy, let’s look at a couple of ways you can ship your products out in an eco-friendly way. While zero-waste might be daunting, you can begin to work towards it with some of these basic tips and tricks. Buckle up kids, and enjoy the zero-waste ride.

Table of Contents

What is Zero Waste Shipping?

In this industry, we throw around the term zero-waste a lot. That said, it almost never actually means zero waste. Nothing is actually technically zero-waste shipping, but we do use the phrase to reference being as eco-friendly as possible. Basically, we’re doing our best to send nothing to the trash so that we can work to protect our climate, preserve natural resources, and fight for social justice. Recycling helps, but it’s not a full solution. That’s why the zero-waste movement encourages composting and reusing, as well as using sustainable resources.

Nobody’s perfect, and neither is shipping, so don’t sweat it! What’s important is that we make whatever changes we can to create as little waste, pollution, and environmental damage as possible. It’s not easy, but with some small steps you can take for your business, you can start making a big impact.

Minimize Package Sizing

Let’s start with the easiest way to ship in an eco-friendly way — ship small. Now, this isn’t to say that you shouldn’t ship larger packages. The idea here is to make sure that your package is as fitted to the contents as possible. This optimizes your package size to save money on shipping, eliminates the need for extra packing materials, and minimizes the amount of space your shipments take during transport. Basically, only take the room you need on whatever plane, train, boat, or giant bird your packages are being transported on. That way you aren’t wasting space that could be used to ship out other packages. Pack your shipments like a bag of chips — nobody wants a half-empty bag mostly made up of air.

Offer Bulk Shipping for Less Waste

Whew! Now that we’ve got our tightly packed shipments imagined, let’s pack them with a bunch of products! The goal is to ship in bulk so that customers will order shipments from you less often, thus requiring less packaging and less fuel to transport those shipments. Plus, you’ll have to pay less for shipping, since you won’t be shipping several packages at different times. This, of course, won’t take away from your business. It’ll basically reduce the transportation necessary to get your buyers what they’re buying. So now, we’re imagining bulk shipments, still packed tightly. Easy peasy, right?

Opt for Sustainable Packaging

Oh boy, this is a big one. There are a couple of different ways you can ship those larger, tightly-packed shipments: compostable mailers, recycled cardboard, or second-hand packaging. There are a number of sites that offer these boxes and envelopes in eco-friendly forms (shipped to you in bulk, of course). We recommend:

These sites work to make and ship these products to you with zero-waste business in mind, so you’re just continuing the eco-friendly cycled. Roughly the same price, almost none of the guilt. Imagine a bulk shipment, tightly packed in an eco-friendly reused, recycled, or compostable cardboard box or envelope. Not too shabby, my friend.

Invest in Paper Tape, Zero Waste Shipping Labels, or Algae Ink

On to the next what’s going on outside of these zero-waste (or maybe just eco-friendly) shipments? Well, you’ll need to tape the box or envelope shut, which you can use paper tape for. You can knock the shipping labels out with zero-waste shipping labels (recyclable, and in some cases made of recycled paper already). While there are tons of options for eco-friendly shipping labels, here are a few we recommend:

If you’d like to go the extra mile, algae ink will be the way to go for customizing your packaging. Now we’ve got a bulk shipment fit tightly into eco-friendly packaging, taped up with paper tape and a recycled shipping label. There’s a new tongue twister for you!

Use Low-Waste Packing Materials When You Can

All right, let’s be realistic here. At some point, you might need to ship something fragile, which means packing peanuts, bubble wrap, the works. Luckily, you can either use paper padding, or you can make sure that you’re re-using packaging material. Save this from shipments you’ve received, or get some from a second-hand store. If you have extra, not to worry! Your local UPS store might just be accepting those packing materials for reuse.

Set up a Returns Program

A returns program will really amp up your zero-waste campaign — if the products you’re shipping out are in any kind of packaging, allow customers to return the packaging to you for reuse! While this might sound a little spendy, offering a bulk return program (save 5 containers and return them for a free product) is a great way to incentivize those returns and build a loyal customer base. You can use returns plugins like Returnly, include a pay-on-use return label with your shipment, or create them to order for your customers. Plus, empty packaging is much lighter, so shipping the containers back will of course be cheaper. Another plus is having the shipment packaging returned as well for possible reuse. You’ll also be saving a little extra dough on product packaging as icing on the cake.

Pro Tip: If you do have any excess containers, materials, or anything of the sort that you haven’t been able to recycle, check out TerraCycle to see if you can do something about it!

Now, look at you! A zero-waste warrior. It’s not the easiest, you won’t be perfect, but it’ll still be gratifying.  Of course, some waste is bound to occur, but you’re still making a huge difference.

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