Choose to refuse: Plastic alternatives for marketing production.

Last week, we asked our community on LinkedIn whether they had considered using a plastic alternative in their marketing production. 35% of respondents said no, which is surprising because as we commence Q3 of 2021, everywhere you turn there is a conversation concerning how we can be more sustainable. ‘People and planet before profit’ has become an almost mainstream mantra that is reflected in the changing purchasing habits of consumers, and the new language being used in contemporary marketing.

As sourcing experts, at Tag we are always looking for viable sustainable solutions for our clients. Campaigns like Plastic Free July are important because they remind us all that it’s crucial that everyone is on the journey to get rid of single use plastic in their supply chain, marketing production and in their products. The Plastic Packaging Tax, due to start in April 2022 will see a £200 per tonne tax rate for packaging with less than 30% recycled plastic imposed – this has given us a hard deadline.

Despite plastic’s toll on the environment and itsnegative reputation, it presents a frustrating paradox. Using plastic can often be the more sustainable option due to its light weight, versatility, affordability, and durability. It can even be more sustainable than glass when kept in a closed loop system. Realistically then, completely eradicating plastic might not be the answer, but starting to think about where you can replace it, is.

So, below I have listed some plastic alternatives that you can use in marketing production to get you started on this journey. Remember, it’s vital to consider the social as well as environmental impact of a material. You should look at whether it is sustainably sourced to begin with, and you should create an end of life plan that preserves the material’s value for as long as possible.


Wood: An adaptable alternative that is easy to shape, work with and decorate. It’s long lasting, recyclable, and reparable. Wood can be used for in-store displays, point-of-sale checkout displays, sampling areas or freestanding units. As well as place-based or interior-based OOH displays. Wood can also be a nice option for gifting, for example, to influencers to showcase new products. However, because wood is heavy it’s expensive to ship and uses more carbon than some of itspeers.


Cardboard: A standard choice for delivery and protection packaging, it’s also used in set materials, as well as POS and wider marketing materials. It’s lightweight and durable, but while it’s water-resistant, it’s not waterproof so we have to use a different material for use outside. Due to the e-commerce boom there are now carboard shortages, and it’s important that you source materials with a FSC or PEFC certification where possible.


Glass: Made from sand, glass can be endlessly recycled without a loss in material quality. However, manufacturing glass is a high-energy process and because its heavy, carbon is used in transportation. Positively, 80% of recovered glass is made into new glass products that marketers can use in product sampling areas, dump bin displays, counter POS displays, and checkout displays. Using glass water bottles or water glasses on set is another small but effective swap you can make.


Mycelium (mushroom) leather: An exciting vegan-friendly material which many large brands are beginning to work with in products, on set, in packaging, and as part of influencer gifting packs because of its adaptability, elasticity and durability (grown to a certain thickness, it’s stronger than a solid brick). It can be grown to any size, depth or strength and is easy to sew. Additionally, it has antibacterial and antiseptic properties, it’s extremely light-weight, flexible and waterproof. At end of life, this material is completely biodegradable and compostable – and many of the leathers are fire-resistant. Mushroom textiles certainly have a future in many industries.


Coir (Coconut fibre): Provides a woven texture like rock wool that is lightweight and easy to work with. It’s used to create packaging, rope, string, and void-fill – with applications across the production cycle including use on set and POS activations. However, sourcing suppliers that don’t use chemicals in their production is important.


Linen fibre fabric (from the flax plant): This packaging fabric is also often used in labels and works with inks and adhesives. Because it’s inelastic and subject to damage during production, it can be more expensive than its peers.


Algae/seaweed: A water-soluble, biodegradable, odourless and edible packaging option. While it’s still a developing material with few suppliers, it’s already being used as a wrap for hot food, sachets for instant coffee and straws. This is a material to consider as an offering on set, or across your POS sampling areas and dump bins.


Avocado seed husk: A small number of suppliers in Mexico are giving these seeds a second life by turning them into biodegradable cutlery, straws, and drinks packaging. This is another exciting and developing alternative that you can offer on set, or incorporate in your sampling areas, product dump bins or gifts to influencers. It’s worth noting here that Tag source around 85% of materials from the UK, which often makes the most economic and sustainable sense. When sourcing from further afield is necessary, we factor the carbon emitted from travel into our project carbon offsetting calculation.


Rice husk: A growing number of suppliers in Asia are turning the outer hull of rice grains (a by-product of rice milling) into a biodegradable packaging material used to create coffee cups, as well as food or product containers. Another great option to offer on set, this material could be used to create influencer gifting boxes, checkout displays, freestanding units or dump bins.


Cork: Cork can be harvested from the bark of Cork trees every nine years until the tree is 200 years old. A waterproof, fire resistant, natural thermal and acoustic insulator, it can be ground down and recombined into a new material that’s easily moulded and manipulated. Sheets of cork have been used for bulletin boards, floor and wall tiles for a long time and it’s a great material to consider for set materials, wider marketing materials or POS displays. Because of cork’s density, it has been used to fasten together segments of musical instruments to keep them airtight. The downsides are that cork can be sensitive to temperature changes, absorb liquid and scratch/dent easily.


Getting rid of plastic doesn’t need to be labour intensive, it can in fact be the case of a quick swap.

For example, At Tag we were asked to design an influencer gifting package that can hold an array of products inside. We have created several iterations of a 100% cardboard box made from FSC certified materials for clients, with an oxo-biodegradable lamination to make sure it is fully recyclable and biodegradable. By organising products internally in a cardboard tray that holds them in place, we reduced the need for further packaging or void-fill such as tissue or tape.

If you’re interested in discussing how you can minimise plastic use across the production cycle, don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Additionally, in 2020 for Telefonica, Tag created a Christmas window display campaign that was 99.98% recyclable. By swapping non-recyclable vinyl for recyclable eco-vinyl; removing 98% of PVC and single use plastic from POS items and replacing them with recyclable materials; as well as arranging the collection and recycling of all materials; Tag was able to save 51 tonnes of CO2 and preserve the value and shelf life of the materials. Additionally, Tag recently worked with a client to swap the plastic lamination on their window banners to a protective varnish that enabled the banners to be recycled.

There are clear opportunities across the production cycle to reduce or replace plastic. For us at Tag, every idea needs to begin with the understanding of how it can be produced in all formats while reducing waste and meeting a client’s sustainability requirements.