6 Must-Have Characteristics of Recyclable Packaging (Plus Tips to Choose the Right Design)

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Sustainable packaging goes beyond choosing the right materials to use. If you want your packaging to make a difference, it has to be done the right way. Your recyclable packaging should have specific characteristics.

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Last Updated on May 31, 2023 by Packoi Team

Not everyone who claims to use recyclable packaging is telling the truth. At the same time, just because you chose recyclable materials doesn’t always mean you’re already helping restore the environment.

In this article, you’ll understand the characteristics of recyclable packaging that’ll help you create a positive environmental footprint. You’ll also learn tips on designing effective eco-packaging.

6 Important Characteristics of Effective Recyclable Packaging

recyclable paper cups

It is obvious that there are many benefits of sustainable packaging for your business. If you want eco-friendly packaging that’ll lessen your carbon footprint, it has to possess 6 important characteristics first. It would be best to meet all these to ensure that your packaging will make a difference.

Otherwise, your efforts to be sustainable may be in vain. You’ll just be wasting the recyclable or recycled materials that you got. Your packaging will still end up damaging the environment.

To ensure it won’t happen, here are the characteristics your packaging should tick off.

Meets Product Needs

While we all strive for environmentally-friendly packaging, your product will always come first. That means if the best packaging for your product is plastic bags, then that’s what you need to use.

Of course, that doesn’t mean there aren’t alternatives to plastic packaging.

There is compostable packaging made of plant-based materials that you can use. Or you can opt for recycled materials made out of old plastic.

The bottom line is, don’t sacrifice the needs of your product just because you want to be eco-friendly. 

Identify what your product will need. Then see which of these needs can be converted into more environmentally-friendly materials.

Responsibly Sourced Packaging Materials

Be careful where you search for sustainable packaging solutions for your product. Make sure you search for responsibly-sourced materials only.

With all the hype around recycling and sustainability, many companies use “eco-friendly” recklessly without understanding what it means.

If you’re serious about your efforts, conduct proper due diligence. Look for green businesses and ask for certifications before you partner with suppliers and manufacturers.

For instance, if you use paper packaging, check if your supplier is FSC-certified. That means they’re sourcing their paper products from responsibly managed forests. This ensures that the supply chain is practicing environment-friendly ways.

Stick to these suppliers and manufacturers so you can be sure about the integrity of your packaging materials.

strategy to make packaging more sustainable

Aligns With the Brand’s Story

With all the eco-packaging options available, how will you know which one you should choose? The answer to that lies in your brand.

While the packaging is for your product, you should still make it aligned with your brand. Why is this important?

Because your packaging will represent your brand, even if you’re trying to take your brand identity in a new and more sustainable direction, you still have to use existing details identified with your brand.

These include the logo, color, font, etc. You should still incorporate these design elements in your sustainable packaging so your customers will recognize your brand even from afar.

Whatever your message is, please don’t change it entirely. Just incorporate the new eco-friendly message, so people will know you’re improving your brand message and not wholly changing it.

Conforms With the Recycling Process

Your environmentally-friendly packaging will be compromised if you don’t understand the recycling process.

Just because you’re using paper packaging, it doesn’t mean it’ll be accepted in recycling facilities. They have strict guidelines that you should be familiar with to design your packaging solution properly.

For instance, paper-based packaging is recyclable but becomes compromised once you attach a toxic adhesive label. The facility won’t recycle it unless that adhesive can be removed entirely.

This is just one example. Many scenarios will turn your packaging into non-recyclable materials.

Avoid this by getting to know the recycling process and what happens along the supply chain of your packaging. That’s how you can protect your packaging from being wasted.

Educates the End User

Here’s another thing that companies fail to address. They don’t educate their customers about recyclability.

Returning to the paper packaging example, let’s say you used labels with starch-based adhesive. Do you think that’s already good enough for the recycling plant?

If your customer doesn’t remove it properly, it may also not be accepted. Even if you only use materials that can be recycled, if the customer doesn’t put them in the right bin, then your packaging will go to the landfills.

So if you want to ensure that your sustainable packaging will be recycled, educate your customers. Use the packaging surface and give the end user clear instructions on what they have to do. Design it to be like a warning sign, so it’s sure that they’ll notice it.

sustainable food packaging

Stays Within the Budget

Finally, your eco-friendly materials should stay within your budget. While your advocacy is admirable and should be pursued, you’re still in business.

Using recycled material is still an investment that should help you grow your business. That means you must set a specific budget to ensure you’re not overspending on your packaging.

While many eco-friendly packaging options exist, they don’t cost the same thing. You might end up paying more unnecessarily because you didn’t do your research when it comes to the materials that you’ll use.

So before you start creating your sustainable packaging, set a budget first. Besides, if you want to learn more about environmentally friendly packaging materials that can help your business, check out our previous blog.

Examples of Recyclable Packaging Materials

Finding the right sustainable packaging solution shouldn’t be complicated. Whatever type of packaging you’re using now, there’s sure to be an eco-friendly alternative available in the market.

It helps to talk to packaging manufacturers to see what options you can use. You can rely on their expertise to tell you what’s possible.

But before you talk to them, here are some examples that might be a good fit for your new recyclable packaging.

Outer Packaging Material

The most common eco-friendly materials for outer packaging are paper and cardboard boxes. To be specific, it’s corrugated packaging.

This type of packaging comes from a renewable source and is very flexible. It can take on any shape or size. Your customers can also choose to reuse it.

But this isn’t the only eco-friendly outer packaging material you can use. There are other options that you can consider.

You can choose from several plant-based materials like cornstarch, mushrooms, and even seaweed packaging. These are compostable, so your customers cannot send them to be recycled. They can use it as compost in their yards.

Inner Packaging Material

inner packaging material

The inner packaging refers to fillers or layers protecting your product during transit.

In the past, the most common material used was styrofoam – which is just like plastic when it comes to environmental effects.

Fortunately, we have a lot of more eco-friendly options. Some of the compostable packaging options include bio-based plastic for bubble wraps and air pillows. There are also packaging peanuts made of wheat or cornstarch that don’t contain harmful toxins.

Of course, paper products like tissue can be used to secure your product. These are recyclable packaging materials that you can use on your packaging.

Product Packaging Material

This is the container that holds your product. So if you have jewelry, this could be the pouch or box. Or if you sell perfume or liquid products, it could be glass bottles.

This is easier to convert into green packaging – especially for food products. Food requires safe and airtight packaging and won’t cause leaks or contamination. Most packaging materials used are reusable, like glass and metal containers.

Plastic is also an option, but there are several environmentally-friendly packaging solutions to replace traditional plastic. Use recyclable or bio-based plastic to make your packaging more eco-friendly.

Other Packing Materials

Don’t forget about the other packing materials added to the product when changing into eco-friendly packaging. These include the tape used to secure the packaging or the labels with the information about the product.

Anything added to the packaging should be considered and changed into a recyclable version.

Choose paper-based materials or bio-based products. These would ensure the rest of the packaging won’t be compromised when bringing them to a recycling facility.

3 Considerations When Designing Eco-Friendly Packaging

Designing eco-friendly packaging is no different from other product packing materials. You also have to consider specific elements when you’re choosing a suitable material to use.

But since you’re trying to create recyclable packaging, it has to meet specific market criteria. Make sure all the materials you’ll put together won’t compromise the recyclability of your packaging. 

Not only that, but you have to choose the suitable material that’ll give you the visual appeal that you’re looking for in your packaging design.

Here are 3 of the elements that you should consider when choosing recyclable packaging materials that you’ll use.

recyclable packaging


Start with the text that you’ll put in the packaging. This includes the product’s name, the ingredients or raw materials used to create it, etc.

The primary consideration here is the space. Be conscious of the area you’ll allocate for your text.

If you want to be sustainable, you should look beyond recycling. You have to strive to lower your carbon footprint. That means you should keep your text minimal to keep the packaging smaller. The smaller it is, the less space it’ll take up during delivery. That’ll help reduce carbon emissions.

If the product requires considerable space for information, choose to print it separately on paper. Or put a link on the packaging where the customer can get more details about your product.

But make sure you check what has to be on the packaging. Some products require industry market, nutritional information, and even the barcode on the outer packaging.

Do your research to ensure compliance.

Don’t forget about the ink, too. Make sure the ink you use is eco-friendly as well.


Image quality will depend on the coating you’ll put on the packaging – especially if you’re using cardboard packaging. It has to be the proper lamination.

Now for this detail, you have to be careful. Some lamination techniques are harmful to the environment. So to keep your eco-friendly packaging, talk to your manufacturer to request eco-friendly lamination options. An example is Cellogreen, made of cellulose – a biodegradable material.

Not only that, consider the ink that’ll be used for the images. Choose water-based ink, so it doesn’t use harmful chemicals.


The last consideration for the design is branding. Remember, your eco-friendly packaging is also meant to extend your brand image.

That means your product packaging should still show elements associated with your brand. Although parts of it were replaced by recycled material, it’s still marketing your brand.

Make sure your customers can recognize it by putting your brand colors, font, name, and logo on it. Give it the same identity, so it fits into the rest of your product line.

5 Questions That’ll Evaluate Your Recyclable Packaging Design

As you design your recyclable packaging, you must evaluate if it’s taking you closer to your goal.

While the primary goal is to use recycled materials to be more eco-friendly, you need to define how that’ll affect your business. Will it help you get more sales? If yes, how will it happen?

No matter how you transform it into recyclable packaging, there are a couple of questions that you should ask if you want to evaluate if your design is helping you meet important goals.

Here are 5 of the questions that you need to answer.

recyclable packaging designs

How does It Make a Positive Environmental Impact?

The catalyst for changing your product packaging is to improve your environmental footprint. This isn’t just about ensuring that your packaging won’t add to waste worldwide.

The environmental benefits that you can contribute can go beyond that.

Identify the focus of your sustainability efforts. What are you trying to achieve through your packaging?

Is it to reduce plastic bags? Is it to practice clean production technologies? Or support a better manufacturing process?

When you have your focus, it’s easier to highlight it and make your customers take notice.

Will It Meet the Needs of Your Product?

As you look at the design of your eco-friendly packaging, check if it meets your product needs. Sometimes, your eco-packaging ideas aren’t ideal for your product.

For instance, using cardboard packaging is a great way to show your support for recyclability. But if your product is small, like earrings or jewelry, do you think cardboard packaging is ideal?

Not really. You’re better off using other eco-friendly materials, like a pouch made of organic fabric.

That’s what it means to align your eco-friendly efforts with the needs of your product. By the way, do you want to learn about some small business packaging ideas that will make you stand out? We have discussed the topic in a previous blog.

Can It Represent Your Brand Well?

Apart from the product, it would be best to evaluate how your design represents your brand. Just because something is “eco-friendly” doesn’t always mean it aligns with your brand.

So if your brand image is funky designs and colorful hues, and crazy shapes, do you think using plain brown kraft paper will cut it?

It won’t. You need to find better green packaging solutions.

For instance, you can still choose recyclable materials like cardboard boxes but color them using water-based ink.

Your ideal customers will recognize you if you stick to the colorful theme. Once you get their attention through brand familiarity, they’ll come for a closer look. That’s when they’ll notice your sustainable efforts.

How Will It Look Like When Displayed?

recyclable eco friendly foam replacement packaging boxes

Most brands seem to be creating their version of eco-friendly packaging. How will you stand out if you put your packaging on a shelf with theirs?

How can you make your packaging perfectly blend your brand and recyclable efforts?

This is how you evaluate your new packaging design. Check how it will look when you display it in retail stores – or even an Ecommerce site.

When people see it, the packaging has to convey the right message.

Does It Look Like a Sustainable Packaging?

While many people are more eco-conscious, not everyone knows about recyclability, reusability, and sustainability. So even if you’ve done your research and have put together the best eco packaging, it won’t matter if your customers don’t recognize it.

You could use 100% sustainable packaging, which your customers might view as non-recyclable materials. You could have bio-based plastic; your market views it as traditional plastic.

Don’t allow this confusion to happen. Use your packaging to convey your efforts to recycle packaging. Put the recycling logo. Write the text “Made of 100% Recycled Materials”.

Make your packaging scream your environmental efforts so they can choose to support you.

Get Your Hands on Responsibly Sourced Recyclable Packaging. Packoi Printing Is FSC-Certified and Ready to Help.

It’s time to create the best recyclable packaging to impress your customers. There are many sustainable packaging solutions to try out. The best way to figure out the best option for your brand is to talk to an expert about it.

We at Packoi Printing understand the seriousness of producing eco-friendly packaging. This is why we maintain our FSC certification to support sustainably managed forests.

So if you want responsibly sourced recyclable packaging, we can help you. Send us your packaging requirements, and we’ll give you the best options.

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Hey there, I’m Shelly!

I really enjoy the packaging and printing industry because my work makes my clients’ products more beautiful and enjoyable. If you have any questions about packaging and printing, feel free to contact me!

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