To celebrate Earth Day, our founder, Leah Naomi, gives us a behind the scenes look at INKA's packaging design. She talks challenges, rewards, and INKA's ongoing commitment to sustainable development.
Before launching INKA, I was confused about how brands justified shipping products in so much single-use plastic (yep, talking to you Amazon) – thin liners, foam, and bubble wrap. Given the state of our planet, it didn’t feel right, and I swore I’d never do the same.
Now that I’m a founder, I sympathize. When it comes to packaging, brands are stuck between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand, you want packaging that is as sustainable and minimal as possible. On the other hand, you need the product to arrive in perfect condition (enter protective plastic). If it doesn’t, customers will return it, which creates emissions and waste.
The industry standard for foodware is to wrap products in a thin sleeve of plastic (to prevent scratches and scuff marks in transit) before placing them in a cardboard box. If you’re buying multiple products, plastic bubble wrap or polystyrene foam pellets will often be wedged between boxes to prevent them from bumping into each other. All of these materials (as you probably already know) end up in the landfill after a single use. They are terrible for the environment.
Testing out early concepts of our plastic-free packaging.
After weighing the tradeoffs with our sustainability consultant, we decided against any single use, non renewable resources like polystyrene and plastic bubble wrap. Instead, we invested in a renewable and recyclable cardboard. With this strategy, our year-long packaging mission commenced!
Our first challenge was figuring out how to avoid the plastic protective sleeve but still provide a safe home for our products during transit. We worked with a box engineer (yep, they exist!) to create packaging that would be perfect for our products. A good fit– much like the best denim – ensures everything stays put and in good condition.
The Lunch Kit’s packaging was a challenge to develop.
After conducting 22 drop tests (yes, we literally threw our products at the floor to simulate a UPS truck), we found our custom fit cardboard tray combined with a cardboard sleeve prevented scuffs and scratch marks just as well as plastic could. Not only that, but using the cardboard sleeve saves 57,000 single use plastic bags per year! We love this because it allows us to deliver products free of defects without any single use or unrecyclable materials - keeping both our customers and the planet happy. Of course, this method of packaging can leave our customers with a fair number of boxes to recycle. That’s something we’re working on reducing for 2022.
Our boxes need a certain thickness to provide enough protection for our products.
When we began selling each component of The Lunch Kit separately, we had to reimagine what packaging would look like for smaller orders not shipped in boxes. We worried about needing to resort to plastic shipper bags for these little pieces, similar to the ones you receive clothing in. But after persevering we found a supplier making compostable, plant-based shipper bags made from corn – amazing!
#1 First Lunch Kit boxes arrive; #2 Matching our pantone color to the box; #3 Long Straps in their new homes ✨
The challenges didn’t stop there. There was so much more to it all than I originally expected. Stickers and shipping labels, for example, aren’t usually recyclable because of a protective plastic coating. And what’s the point in working so damn hard to create sustainable packaging if we were just going to apply stickers to the boxes that prevent them from being recycled! Luckily, we found stickers that weren’t coated and able to break down like everything else. They were more pricey than the regular ones, but they’re worth it.
Gift cards & care guides - even our smallest pieces are recyclable & plastic free!
We believe that any packaging is too much packaging, but we’re proud to say we’ve never shipped in single-use, plastic packaging from Day 1. Stay tuned for updates on our packaging journey!
Written by our founder, Leah Naomi.