As an online retailer, shipping is an integral part of my business. And as a sustainable company, I am acutely aware of the impact that shipping (and the accompanying packaging) can have on the environment. I have struggled with this issue from the beginning, trying to find the best way to keep my impact to a minimum. So, in order to make my shipping as green as possible, I have implemented a few different tactics.
First, I reuse packing materials whenever I can (the exception is those horrible Styrofoam packing peanuts, which I pass along to a neighbor who uses them for shipping his products), as it is always best to reuse existing materials whenever possible. However, during busy times, such as the holiday shopping season, I find that I run out of materials and need to purchase them.
I have always made it a priority to purchase recyclable and recycled packing materials for my business. Plastic bubble wrap, non-post-consumer boxes, and any kind of plastic materials were out. Staples has a decent selection of recycled shipping products, and I had been using their recycled mailers, boxes and shredded paper fill.
However, I was thrilled to discover Salazar Packaging, which offers a huge range of very green packing supplies through their company Globe Guard Products. I am a huge fan of their corrugated boxes. Most corrugated boxes contain 25% to 35% recycled material, but Salazar offers boxes all made with 100% post consumer waste, and they have just about any size you need. Their boxes are very well made, and feel sturdier to me than any other boxes I’ve used. And more recently, I have become devoted to Salazar’s new bubble wrap. It is recyclable as a #4 PE (polyethylene) material and it is oxo biodegradable as well. It has the advantaged of being lighter than paper wrap, so has cut down on my shipping weights, and consequently, my carbon footprint. For the full story on Global Guard’s biodegradable bubble wrap, see their blog post on it.
Dennis Salazar, owner of Salazar Packaging and Globe Guard Products, is committed to sustainability and is an active member of the Green America community. And they are members of 1% For the Planet.
In a recent conversation, Salazar offered his thoughts on the state of green packaging. “The world of packaging materials is evolving very rapidly and fortunately changing for the better, in terms of their short term and long term environmental impact,” he said.
However, he pointed out the current reality that “Almost any shipping container, regardless of style and construction is very likely to exist only for a few months before it is used and, in most cases, discarded. That container is very likely to last for years or decades if it happens to wind up in a landfill.”
Companies have started to recognize the impact of this reality, and “that is why today in 2010 we see plastic- and paper-based products that are 100% recycled content, which also happen to be much lighter in weight compared to comparable 2004 products. There is also a whole new field of bio-plastics that are designed to breakdown in a matter of a few months, even in landfill conditions.”
Unfortunately, as Salazar points out, the use of such materials is not necessarily the norm yet. “The majority of people, even those with the best intentions, are not using the best or most economical product for what they do. They buy what they use out of habit or convenience, based on price rather than cost, and rarely consider the long term impact of their choices.”
However, once you have made the concerted decision to go with the most environmentally sound and economical packing options, the choices still aren’t always so straightforward. Salazar says that “the ‘best’ product for any specific application or customer will vary, based on what you ship, how many you ship, where you ship it and even how you ship it.”
Since there is no one right answer to all shipping situations, Salazar recommends the following simple steps companies can take to minimize their environmental impact:
• Use as little packaging as possible by weight and volume
• Assume most of what you use (60% or more) will unfortunately wind up in a land fill
• In most cases, paper is still better than plastic (but not all)
• Use recycled content products because they encourage recycling by creating a market for the waste
• Reuse everything you possibly can
As far as shipping services go, I exclusively use the U. S. Postal Service (USPS). For one, it’s very convenient since I can use Click-n-Ship and ask for pick-up, or easily drop off my packages at my local station.
In addition, they are the greenest option I know of for shipping. USPS is the only mailing or shipping company in the nation to achieve “Cradle to Cradle” Certification at the Silver level from MBDC (McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry) for human and environmental health. They achieved this certification in 2007, but I feel they haven’t done a lot to tout it.
Anyway, in order to achieve certification, all 200 suppliers contributing to the manufacture of Postal Service envelopes and packages completed a demanding series assessments of materials for human and environmental health. All materials were examined using 39 criteria for human and environmental health, including toxicity, renewable energy, water stewardship, recyclability and other manufacturing attributes. You can read the original press release to learn more about what their certification entailed.
Besides it being green I find USPS to be an economical and convenient way to ship my customers’ orders, both within the US and overseas. If you sign up for their Click-n-Ship service, you not only have the convenience of printing postage and shipping labels from your computer and printer (which also looks professional), but you also receive a discount of up to 14% by creating your postage online.