Making sense of the materials that matter and understanding what eco packaging really means can often feel overwhelming and occasionally contradictory.

With sustainable packaging options evolving as new technologies emerge, more planet friendly options are discovered, and the government improving legislation around single-use items and carbon goals, sometimes it’s hard to keep up with what’s eco and what’s not.

We’ve taken significant strides to understand eco packaging from the inside out. Now we're sharing that information with you and our supplier partners, so together we can make mindful decisions that have the least impact on our planet.

From understanding the true impact of compostable plastics, to grappling with greenwashing, there’s a lot to be mindful of. We share what we’ve discovered, what to look out for, how our packaging measures up, and tips to make small but significant changes at home.

What exactly is eco packaging? 

Eco packaging is sustainable in nature. The lifecycle of the components of the packaging are both considered and minimised, and their disposal options include a reduction of waste being diverted to landfill. The materials can be home-composted, recycled roadside, or repurposed, reducing their impact on our environment. 

With packaging choices, there are many considerations and at times it feels like even the best packaging option which will protect the product is a compromise environmentally. 

The packaging choice a brand makes will ideally consider the amount of carbon produced in making the material, freighting the material, and the end-of-life options for that packaging. The colour and transparency of plastic and glass can contribute to the value of the packaging at its end of life, with white or clear being a high-valued item for recyclers to sell.

The type of packaging that is most easily recycled in New Zealand (or country where it will be sold) will also be considered, and this is no easy task with nearly every local council in New Zealand having different advice for what can and cannot be recycled.

Our review of eco packaging options

We take a closer look at seven eco packaging options, what makes them eco-friendly, if they have any downsides (because no packaging is perfect) and our Mindful Brands leading by example.


What makes it eco?
Glass from bottles and jars can be endlessly recycled and glass protects the products well. Glass is recycled here in New Zealand and turned back into bottles.

Any downsides?
Glass is heavy! That can increase the amount of carbon produced when freighting it around. There’s also a global sand shortage, so recycling glass is essential for the future of the sand resource, which is used a lot in concrete.

Who uses it well?
Wild Dispensary bottles are made of recycled glass. They also have a bottle return scheme available for all customers. The labels they use are printed on Rocktak, a calcium carbonate byproduct, minimising plastic as much as possible in their packaging.

Cardboard and Paper

What makes it eco?
Recycling one tonne of paper saves about 17 trees and nearly 32,000 litres of water from being used. Recycling paper and card happens here in New Zealand.

Any downsides?
In order to be recycled, paper and cardboard can’t be oily, waxy, or greasy, so pizza boxes are best placed in your home compost or worm farm if it is powerful enough, or with household rubbish. If the paper or card is coated in plastic or foil, it can’t be recycled, so either needs to be pulled apart or disposed of in normal household rubbish.

Who uses it well?
Sustainability and doing a better job for the environment is at the heart of  Ethique. Their New Zealand sourced card is from sustainably grown forests and is made free of chlorine and has no plastic or laminated cover. The boxes can be torn up and disposed of in your home compost where they will disappear in a matter of months.

Aluminium and tin-plated steel cans

What makes it eco?
Cans and tins that food and drinks come in can be endlessly recycled as the integrity of the material doesn’t degrade overtime. Aluminium is lightweight and doesn’t produce a lot of carbon when freighted.

Any downsides?
Unfortunately, there are no facilities to recycle aluminium and tin here in New Zealand, so it is sent to Asia for recycling.

Who uses it well?
Radiance use aluminium tins for their range of supplements and superfoods and encourage re-purposing the tins into plant pots or storage containers.

Compostable Plastics

What makes it eco?
Compostable packaging is often made of components that can biodegrade in the right environment. Often this environment requires heat and light to break down.

Any downsides?
Most compostable packaging is not usually 100% compostable packaging, and there is usually a % that is still virgin petroleum-based plastic. There’s additional confusion in that some items are home compostable, and others require a commercial compost facility to break them down. In New Zealand, accessibility to commercial composting facilities is limited. Compostable packaging doesn’t contribute anything positive to the compost, it just contributes mass.

In New Zealand, the Packaging Forum has created a technical advisory group to work with stakeholders and the government to ensure that compostable packaging used here is optimal. There are some packaging items where compostable packaging is a logical fit, for example fruit stickers and coffee cups, but having other everyday items packed in compostable packaging may not be the most ideal use of this.

Who uses it well?
Grin have a range of toothbrushes made of compostable plant-based plastic. They encourage a send back scheme so that the toothbrushes are disposed of at a commercial composting facility after the bristles are snipped off. At a commercial composting facility, it will take approximately 90 days for the toothbrush handle to break down – a much greener option than the plastic toothbrushes sitting in landfill for a very long time.

Plant-based plastic

What makes it eco? 
Plant-based plastic is made from sugarcane or cornstarch, a renewable source. And even better, while these plants grow, they draw carbon from the environment, making it possible to have a carbon negative packaging option. These can come in hard and soft options, and can be graded as 1, 2, 5 which are all recyclable in New Zealand. In fact, they can become fence posts, park benches, or recycle bins.

Any downsides?
Plant-based plastics are essentially still a source of plastic in the environment, so not perfect, but a positive step forward, and much better than non-renewable petroleum sourced. The areas where these are grown include Australia, China, and Brazil, so protecting the native environment is an important factor in its future success as an environmentally friendly packaging option.

Who uses it well?
Loving Earth values sustainability and are always working to improve their packaging.  Their chocolate wrappers are a compostable film made from plant-based resources, which can be broken down in commercial composting facilities. Their wrappers are food safety approved.

Post-consumer waste recycled plastic

Dr Bronner team taking stock at their waste-sorting station.

What makes it eco?
This is when plastics that have been recycled by consumers are collected and turned back into plastic products. This type of packaging is a great step forward and is being embraced by many brands focusing on sustainability.

Any downsides?
These end-products aren’t always made of 100% post-consumer waste plastic and can still contain a virgin component due to the structural requirements that the packaging has.

Who uses it well?
Dr Bronner’s use 100% post-consumer recycled PET plastic bottles for all liquid and pump soaps, and they’ve been doing this for more than 10 years.

Ocean Waste Plastic

Better You's Plastic Pollution, Plastic Solutions eBook.

What makes it eco?
This is an amazing initiative to capture plastic waste bound for oceans and make it available for the creation of plastic packaging. The plastic waste is captured from a range of places including those countries that don’t have good waste infrastructure in place, through to plastic found in the deep ocean. It is separated into different types of plastic and used to make new items. Considering the amount of plastic entering the ocean every day, we’d love to see this initiative grow and reduce the amount of virgin plastic required.

Any downsides?
Logistically this is a huge challenge to overcome. Capturing the waste, separating it, and ensuring it gets to plastic manufacturers takes planning. Let’s hope demand for this grows so that the ocean can be relieved of the burden of plastic.

Who uses it well?
BetterYou supplements are a mix of plastic sourced from Ocean Waste and Post-Consumer Recycled Plastic. They have committed to being Carbon Neutral by the end of 2022.

How does our packaging measure up?

From day one we’ve been mindful to minimise our day-to-day impact on the planet. We’ve come a long way, and we’re learning more every day.

In 2018 our commitment to eliminating outbound plastic from our supply chain kicked off. We started working with our suppliers to reduce inbound plastic on orders and making conscious changes to planet-friendly packaging. We’ve explored the most sustainable options to deliver your orders, which now arrive in jiffy bags and recyclable paper. The jiffy bags are made of paper and stuffed with recycled post-consumer paper for padding. You can read more about them and our journey here.

Now, we’re working hard to encourage our supplier partners to make the switch to eco-friendly packaging, and we’ll continue making changes where we can do better.

Let’s talk greenwashing – what to watch out for 

There’s very little regulation around the type of packaging used for products, and anything can be said to make it sound like a better option. Here’s six common watch outs to be mindful of.

  • Be wary of compostable plastic packaging, which still contains some non-renewable petroleum sourced ingredients. Best if disposed of at a commercial composter. Find a commercial composter near you. 
  • Look out for packaging with multiple components, as these will all have a different end of life path. To recycle, separate the components carefully.
  • On hard and soft plastics look for a number 1, 2, or 5 as these are the best options for most of New Zealand. Visit Recycling Kiwi for more information about soft plastic recycling.
  • Ask the brand if they’ve sourced their packaging locally and considered the carbon footprint of the packaging.
  • Excess packaging – can you find a similar product with less packaging? 
  • Watch out for oxo-degradable plastics, which break down into micro plastics and end up in waterways. Oxo-degradable plastics are commonly found as plastic bags that are marketed for their ability to break down quicker, often as produce bags, bin liners, and dog poo bags. We don’t stock oxo-degradable bags. Shop compostable pet poop bags and rubbish bags here. 

6 conscious changes you can start today

Want to start making small but significant steps at home? Being mindful of the packaging you choose to purchase and how you recycle (or better yet, reuse) is a great place to start.

  1. Take your own containers for takeaways and bags for shopping.
  2. Keep oily containers out of the recycle bin – remember, they’ll contaminate everything else.
  3. Start composting at home.
  4. Reach out to brands and start asking questions about their packaging – they’ll appreciate your interest if they’re serious about sustainability.
  5. Reach out to your local council to find out exactly what can and cannot be recycled in your area.
  6. Shop our Mindful Brands that care about eco packaging.

The amount of rubbish is directly related to the amount that we are individually consuming. And with our growing population, that problem isn’t going away.

We are all responsible for the amount of waste we are producing, and the footprint we each have. Consider whether there is a lower-waste option available, and how you can re-purpose or dispose of the packaging in an environmentally responsible way.

Your daily choices create change, including the brands you choose to back. You can learn more about our Mindful Brands and shop by brands that are committed to eco packaging.

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