Going plastic-free: how to start the journey to sustainable packaging
There’s no doubt about it. Sustainability is more important to consumers now than it ever has been. Brands are being asked to step up, but the challenge is often much bigger than consumers realise. There’s more to consider than you might think, including trim and labels. Finding a place to start can feel like a huge task, and we should know — we’ve done it more than once!
To help you plan your sustainable transition, we’re sharing everything we did to help Sainsbury’s launch their plastic-free swimwear packaging. They pledged to reduce plastic packaging by 50% by 2025 and vowed to increase recycled content and recyclability. They set the bar high, but we love a challenge.
From the project process we used to the stress tests we performed; we’re laying it all bare so you can see how it’s done. And it all starts with the Planit Process…
1. Start with a sustainability-focused process
Rolling out plastic free packaging is a huge task. There’s a lot to consider, so you’ll need to choose a project planning process that’s fit for purpose. Something that’ll help you zero in on sustainability as a project focus.
For example, our Checkpoint design team felt the Planit Process was a perfect fit for the project with Sainsbury’s. It’s our very own invention — a collaborative, five-step process with sustainability at its core.
2. Identify your challenges and goals
We kicked things off by working with Sainsbury’s to find garment ranges that could deliver quick, punchy wins. After all, we're testing the waters — better to start small and go from there. Leggings, slippers, pyjamas, and swimwear all looked like good options, but which to choose?
Identify your commercial constraints
We sat down with Sainsbury’s TU clothing packaging team to unearth commercial challenges for our four potential garment choices. How would a move to plastic-free impact manufacturing, supply chains, and the in-store experience? Could we design something to accommodate the weight of the garments and the various styles on offer?
Define your goals
Next, we outlined our goals. What would a successful packaging redesign look like for Sainsbury’s? Our main mission was to help them hit their sustainability pledge while making the project as cost-effective as possible. Ultimately, the goal was attractive, cost-neutral packaging that could be recycled at home. It should be made from a reduced plastic material available in Sainsbury's manufacturing locations.
With the goals and challenges firmly drawn up, we revisited our garment shortlist and picked a winner. Swimwear was the best fit for this trailblazing project. And with that, we moved into the ideas phase.
3. Get creative (nothing’s off the table)
This is the stage where you’ll be glad you took the time to outline your goals and challenges — they’re what form a framework for your creativity. For us, there were two key factors underpinning the design process: the designs must work as paper-based constructions, and the whole garment needed to be visible and touchable. Hangers looked like our strongest option, so we started designing!
We tried dozens of shapes and sizes, costing, rejecting, and refining our selection. We studied existing sustainable packaging examples to see if there were any elements we could use. After an intensive creative stage, Sainsbury’s had a set of hangers they loved — one for tops and one for bottoms. Everything looked good on paper (pun intended), but we needed to put our designs through their paces. It was time to stress test.
4. Put your packaging through its paces
Product fit and material performance
Style is nothing without substance, so we kickstarted rigorous stress testing. By working closely with Sainsbury's garment technologists, we ensured the hangers could accommodate every size and style of swimwear in the garment line-up. Would the tensile strength be enough to hold the garment's weight or hang neatly in a display?
Local training and resourcing
This is where it helps to have a global packaging partner in your corner. Stress testing at source could be tricky if you don’t have people on the ground to help. For example, we have teams who are local to Sainsbury’s garment suppliers, so we could easily check availability for the materials we were prototyping with.
Your final challenge on the road to sustainable packaging is setting up a transit trial. In our case, our local teams were on-hand to show Sainsbury's garment suppliers how to pack the swimwear using the new card hangers. Together we set up a final transit trial from source to store, and when they arrived safely, we knew it was time to launch.
5. Debrief and repeat
The project may be over, but the job’s far from done! The debriefing stage is crucial for refining future projects and charting the impact of your efforts. Using Sainsbury’s as an example, our debrief revealed that the benefits went far beyond our goal of sustainability.
In switching to board hangers, Sainsbury’s reduced seven pieces of packaging across swimwear tops and bottoms to just two. This nifty bit of packaging consolidation is great for brand consistency — the fewer packaging items there are, the easier it is to keep them looking sharp and cohesive. As if that weren’t enough, consolidating the packaging also helped Sainsbury’s avoid the plastics tax, which offset the cost of the new hangers.
In terms of aesthetics and in-store experience, the hangers were a winner, too. The cardboard hangers are more attractive to display (Sainsbury's even said so themselves) and help streamline the customer experience. Staff don’t have to tell customers to bring back their plastic hangers when returning a garment. Better yet, each hanger is fully recyclable at home.
Once you’ve completed a successful sustainable packaging rollout, there’s nothing stopping you from going back to your original garment shortlist and starting the whole process again. Sainsbury’s has already asked us to help them put other garment ranges through the Planit Process; after all, they’ve got a lofty sustainability target to reach!
Are you ready to start the journey to plastic-free packaging? Get in touch with our team today and let’s tackle the project together — as you can see, this isn’t our first rodeo!