Sustainability in retail in a hot topic. It’s everywhere… From what products are made of, how they are made and what they are carried away in after purchase.

We’ve already talked a lot on our Learning Centre about how promotional retail displays can be friendlier to the environment (links further down this article), but one of the topics we haven’t yet touched on is how those displays are packaged for transportation to get to their destination.

In this article, we explore how sustainable retail display packaging really is, and what you can do to lower the impact made to their overall environment.

Packaging style… Flat-pack or assembled?

It’s obvious that flat-pack units offer the highest sustainable benefits. Taking up less space, a higher volume of units can be packed into a carton compared to if it was assembled.

Assembled units are used when the lifespan of the retail display demands it or if the store can’t support its construction on site.

Let’s explore packaging materials…

Cartons – Corrugated board is made from recycled content and can also be recycled after use. Cardboard is widely recycled and pretty much everywhere has a waste stream for it. Recycled cardboard can go on to create a lot of new products, such as cartons, animal bedding or paper and tissue.

Bubble wrap – Bubble wrap can be recycled, but typically not using curb side recycling methods. This material is classed as a soft plastic film, so falls into the same category as plastic bags and bread bags which can be recycled in many large supermarkets.

There is a biodegradable bubble wrap available which is easily recognisable as it is green in colour and can be reused or composted.

Tape – Paper self-adhesive tape is just as good as traditional tape but has zero plastic content making it environmentally friendly and able to be recycled along with other paper or card materials.

Shrink wrap – A biodegradable shrink wrap is available, however it has the same physical look of the harmful traditional shrink wrap so it is not easily identifiable as a product that can be recycled.

Pallets – Pallets are widely used across all industries and are a matter of course for shipping and transporting retail displays.Pallets are typically made of wood, which can be recycled at end-of-life into products such as building materials, horse bedding, or play area surfaces. Pallets have also been more recently part of the upcycling craze, where they have gone on to create the foundations of outdoor furniture or other home craft ideas.

Polybags – Polythene bags protect retail displays from movement and abrasion whilst in transport by creating a thin barrier between the display and the carton or other packing materials ensuring each display arrives in-store looking as perfect as it did when it leaves the factory.

Polybags can be recycled, but not on the curb side, so they need to be placed into the relevant waste stream which has been made available at supermarkets around the UK.

Polystyrene – Sometimes thenot so eco-friendly packaging material, polystyrene is used to pack out cartons to ensure the safe transportation of retail displays. However, although this material isn’t widely recycled, there are waste stream management companies that can recycle this material. We’ll come to that bit in a minute…

Polystyrene is a great way to pack out cartons to ensure that a retail display doesn’t get damaged in transport. After all, nobody wants a display to turn up not looking quite how you wanted it to because it rattled around inside a carton as it travelled around the M25. The reality is polystyrene provides excellent cushioning and protection and replicating this with a card alternative would require a significant amount of material and could have an adverse effect.

You can find out more about how to recycle polystyrene here: How is polystyrene recycled?

More content about sustainable retail displays…

How retail display materials can be recycled after use

Sustainability under the Spotlight: Card vs. Plastic

3 Ways To Help In-Store Staff To Recycle Retail Point of Sale Displays

Ready to speak to a Retail Design Specialist?

We’d be happy to help! Our retail design specialists are ready to help you create a retail display that delivers to your objectives and remains within budget.

Want to see what we can do? Take a look at our portfolio

Please contact our sales team on 01530 839777 or email


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