Waste and Packaging

In my own home, we recycle and are lucky enough to have curbside compost pick-up. Once our city started the organics collection, it became obvious that our garbage consisted mostly of packaging. While food packaging the primary area to focus on in terms of waste from our household, I personally have a broader impact on packaging waste due to my business.

So here I will share with you my decisions and dilemmas regarding eco-friendly packaging as we are in the midst of Plastic Free July®, the initiative of the Plastic Free Foundations. Learn more here:

When I send you your clothing order, the items need to be kept clean and dry during transit. Though the postal service does their best to keep packages protected, there is also the risk is what happens when it is left for delivery. I know I have gotten soggy mail due to an unexpected rain, or when an abundance of mail prevents the box from closing all the way. That was an advantage of apartment living- the mail and package area was completely inside. But lots of people have mailboxes which are exposed to the elements in some way.

After evaluating my packaging, I identified areas of improvement. I’m about half-way through implementing those. There are two aspects of packaging. The wrapping on the actual garments and the outer mailer. While I want the garments to be protected from moisture, I realized that I can reduce to one layer of plastic, instead of two. So I started by improving the outer packaging.

The outer mailer: what I was using before

Now, mind you, I feel pretty good about the original mailer I’ve started with, and though I’ve now purchase paper mailers, I didn’t go all the way to the end of my poly mailer stash, as I felt there may be times when it is the better way to go. The poly mailers are made from 100% recycled content, 50% of which is a post-consumer origin. The closure has two strips, so the envelope can be re-used. Occasionally I one of these last few if I think there might be an exchange needed for a different size, or if the order is bigger or bulkier, I can really pack it full without risk of tearing. They are also recyclable.

However, plastic bag recycling is not reliable and easy. In my area, for example, curbside recycling does not accept plastic bags. And even though some grocery stores have collection sites, I only recycled bags at my local co-ops because I know that the customers are careful not to contaminate the container by tossing in garbage and I know the employees care and see to it that it actually gets picked up by the recycling trucks. So, relying on its recyclability is not ideal.

The switch to paper mailers

The paper mailers I now predominantly use are an improvement. They are 100% recycled, of which 97% is post-consumer waste. They are curbside recyclable and are even compostable (in some curbside organics programs). Because the recycling is easier, people are just more likely to do it. There are also more uses for recycled paper and carboard vs recycled plastic bags, so the demand keeps it going. The downside is a higher carbon footprint, which seems to be due to the heavier weight. As a small business with the quantities I deal in, that aspect is not compelling enough for me to be concerned about. I do feel that this is a better-than option, while the poly mailers are acceptable for the occasional package.

The inner polybag

This one is a trickier for me. If the outer mailer is paper, it is not completely weatherproof and can puncture or tear. The inner bag protects the clothes from dust and moisture should that happen. But it is plastic. Sigh.

The other issue is that I’d like to practice “reduce,” the first R. For my first production run, I was given packets of polybags because it came with my order. Subsequently. I asked to not be given the polybags. I have used them sparingly. The normal practice in fashion is to have each apparel wrapped in its own polybag. That is even a requirement by many retainers and fulfillment centers. I have the garments stored in bins without bags. Then, when your order comes in, I try to fit more than one garment per bag. Additionally, at in person events, I don’t use them at all. As thus, I still have the original stack of polybags.

Although there are better bags, I think it is wasteful to not use those up first. Would I really be solving anything if I just tossed those into a plastic bag collection bin? I plan on using what I have first. And in the meanwhile, I am looking into better options. My choices seem to be using glassine bags, 100% recycled poly bags, or paper only and then go back to polybags for the outer mailer. I’d love to hear your opinion on that.

Feel free to write me!