In August last year I wrote a blogpost about some new packaging I was introducing. Since then I've also introduced using biodegradable clear grip seal bags. I much prefer to use these bags because they allow me to create a sturdier parcel, and they actually offer some protection to your order. You can carry on re-using these bags for a long time in the future. I can't see the point in wrapping up fibre in a piece of tissue paper. It serves no purpose, and in my experience of receiving orders it's often a tattered mess by the time the parcel has been squashed in the mail system. It's Reduce, Re-use, Recycle. In that order. The first step is to reduce, and for me, that means only using packaging that is useful.
I receive a lot of my supplies by mail order, which means lots of packaging coming in to the house. Nearly all of this is re-used to send out orders from Mum and Dad's Etsy shops. Clear plastic sacks provide protection for large knittingbags that are sent in re-used cardboard boxes. Even larger plastic bags are used instead of bubble wrap to provide protection to wooden yarn bowls. There's always a certain amount that is not reusable, which is where this box comes in.
I now pay a company called Terracycle for one of these big boxes. I stuff it full with all the plastic waste that our local council won't accept, and they turn it in to useful things. They even accept the clingfilm I use as part of my dyeing process.
Now this isn't cheap, this large box costs £230, and I am lucky in that my business is in a position where I can absorb that cost as part of my commitment to be more sustainable.
On a related note, I have a decision to make about my outer mail bags. I can now get an option that are made from potato starch, and are home compostable.
However, they are slightly translucent, so you can see the contents, and I have mixed feelings about using a food source for packaging. We have issues with food security on this planet, and there are issues with diverting food resources in to making packaging.
And then there's the cost.
1000 of the smallest size outer mailer (made from recycled plastic with a biodegradable additive) I currently use costs me £114
1000 of the home compostable ones will cost £192
If I swapped to just using ones made from recycled material, but don’t break down I could buy 2500 for £120
If I went for non-recycled ones I could have 1000 for £50
The home compostable ones also have to be used with in 6 months, and at the moment I wouldn't manage to use a batch of 1000 quickly enough, so I'd have to buy a smaller batch, which is again, more expensive.
We have to do something with all the plastic we send for recycling... and as it is there are issues with western countries currently not managing to recycle the plastics we produce.
I've been thinking about this for a couple of months now, I'm just about to do a re-order of mailing bags, and I don't think there's actually a right answer. I know some businesses have switched to using paper, but I've decided not to do that as it's significantly heavier (so uses more fuel to transport), and paper production uses a lot of energy. And just as with using food starch to make bags there are issues about where all this paper is coming from. At the moment I am leaning towards continuing with my current option, the largest size bags will always have to be made from plastic as the corn starch isn't strong enough for the heavier parcels.
All of which is to say, I am still working hard to keep my business as sustainable as possible. Even though at times it feels like a drop in the ocean. When I was at Summer School a couple of weeks ago the caterers were going to hand out bottled water with every evening meal. Thankfully we managed to persuade them to set up a water urn, and most people then used their own cup or mug, but they had no option to hold liquids other than disposable cups. In a week, 200 of us would have gone through a vast number of single use bits of plastic, and all because the college had removed it's dishwashing capabilities for anything that wasn't a plate or bowl.