As some of you know, I worked in the retail industry for about 8 years. Luckily it was the natural/organic products industry and most vendors were more “enlightened” than those that sell to mainstream/conventional big box stores. As such, many (though certainly not all) used reusable/recycled materials in their packaging such as starch “peanuts” instead of styrofoam, shredded paper from their office, even reusable boxes at times. I always appreciated this but likewise, my heart sank when I saw the eco-sinners of the production world.
Thing is, there are so many materials around us to use when sending packages. I have nieces that live across the country that I like to send care packages to several times a year and I also send high-quality vitamins to my parents in lieu of birthday/mother/father’s day gifts so I’ve been using reusable material for years and my packages always landed in good condition.
So here are some tips, to those of you who send packages for personal or business reasons:
- Save boxes that come to you – most of us purchase items on-line from time to time or buy items at the store that come in boxes. Save them! And even if you don’t have a lot of storage, break down the boxes by cutting through the tape and storing them flat. When I worked in retail and we were stocking product, we could easily fit 30+ boxes in a shopping cart provided we broke them down carefully; just use packaging tape to form back into box shape. If you use a box that is decorated on the outside – say a box that held a food processor – make sure to cover the outside with reused grocery bags (non-printed size) otherwise the post office may not allow you to ship. Also remember to remove any previous shipping stickers or mark through heavily with a black permanent marker, per the post office. Don’t have any boxes? I recommend going to a small to mid-size store, like a health food store, and ask for boxes. We gave away boxes away all the time to customers.
- Save your newspapers & paper bags – well, wishful thinking would expect one to read the news online and use cloth bags at the store to reduce the amount of either of these in your home. But even I get the Sunday paper (sorry, I like the extras that come with it that aren’t available online) and I faithfully use cloth bags, but every once in a great while I buy more groceries than I had brought bags for and thus will get a paper bag for the remaining. The important is that I always reuse these guys and they never go in the trash or recycling bin without another stop in the life-cycle. As such, both newspaper and paper bags are excellent for shipping/wrapping items for shipment. As you know, they create bulk and their expansion helps to keep things in place. Certainly you want to use care with items that could potentially have ink rubbed onto them. I tend to wrap items first, then use the newspaper as cushioning for those pre-wrapped items.
- Save packaging materials – yes, this can also take up some space, but I really try to hold onto any bubble-wrap/packing peanuts I receive; then again, I’m starting a business so I need more than the average household, but really, a little goes a long way and these are sometimes a better option than newspaper/paper bags for certain items. I even save the inflated plastic pieces, the kind that look like swimmies (haha, don’t know the correct verbiage) as those are great for lining the bottom/sides/top of the inside of your box when shipping fragile items. You can also approach a small to mid-size store (once again I recommend a local health food store since they will understand the mission of reusing/recycling/being environmentally sound) and ask them to save you a garbage bag of packing peanuts. Every store I worked in always had a bag or two ready to go for customers or for the staff to send items back to manufacturers. If you have a shredder, you can also use your shreds, provided they’re not the cross-cut confetti kind which will create a mess and will likely leave your recipient displeased
- Use materials around your home/yard – don’t have any of the above items for packaging materials? There are a lot more options around your home than you think. Have clean fabric scraps lying around? Have a clean pillowcase that you’ve been meaning to donate? (I have a million uses for fabric but know that not everyone is into making DIY wet wipes, handmade dog togs stuffed with scraps, DIY “swiffer” pads or dish rags like I am!) You can also pop some popcorn (the old-fashioned way without oil/butter!), line boxes with pine needles/pine cones (but take care you’re not shipping something consumable). I’ve even read that some people will use real peanut shells (unsalted/unproccessed of course) to cushion their items. Leftover easter basket “grass” – that stuff works too. Think outside of the box (sorry, pun not intended!).
- Use scrap paper for shipping label – when you really stop and look around at all the paper around you, it’s unbelievable. I NEVER buy notepads because I cut envelopes, use the backside of unprinted junk mail, even write on the back of receipts. However, for shipping labels, I want it to look professional yet use recycled materials. Therefore, I save all my printed paper and use the unprinted back side to print my shipping labels. I always check to make sure that there’s no personal information on the backside and the “white paper” that I use in my printer is recycled in the first place. As long as the underside doesn’t show through on your packing label, you’re all set. Why use a fresh new sheet of paper when it’s going to get torn up? I swear, you can make this look professional.
- Save paperboard for lining envelopes – many of the items I make are small enough to be sent in an envelope, the most popular size being a 6″x9″ envelope. A bubble mailer will certainly protect things, but uses all virgin material. Here’s how I’ve found another way to protect my goods – I put in a “liner” from reused paperboard to create rigidity and to protect the items inside. Now mind you, I’m sending paper goods right now, so they’re certainly not fragile, but if sent alone, the items will create a bump in the envelope and could cause it to get stuck in a postal processing machine. Lining the envelope with recycled materials make for a smooth/streamlined envelope. Because I use paperboard in most of my paper crafts, nothing makes its way to the recycling bin. I save milk cartons, frozen pizza boxes, cereal boxes, etc. These are light enough yet sturdy to line your envelopes. Because my business is a green/eco-friendly business, customers come to expect recycled packaging from me, however, I put a sticker on the liner to avoid any confusion on why there’s a piece of milk carton in their envelope. It goes without saying to make sure you only include clean paperboard/cartons. As an aside, many places don’t recycle milk cartons or any paperboard with waxy material so this is a great way to give those cartons a second life.
- When all else fails, use items made with recycled materials – the envelopes I send out to customers are not “reused” per se (in other words, it’s not an envelope I previously received); sometimes you can reuse those but oftentimes the envelope gets wrecked in the process of trying to reuse (might be good enough for family, not so for customers). As such I use envelopes that are made with 100% recycled material. I also use 100% post-consumer recycled cardstock for cards and card envelopes. Any stickers/labels I use I try to find in thrift stores before buying new. You can also purchase boxes made with recycled material and I recently heard that the post office is planning to introduce a line of boxes made with recycled content.
I won’t go into all the reasons why you should use recycled materials – you know why. If you are a business owner and need to ship an item in plastic, I encourage you to use Eco-bags – compostable bags made of plant film. I also use thrifted twine/ribbon/embroidery floss that I find at the thrift store and make my own gift tags using recycled magazines/calendars/catalog/previously received cards, etc.
By shipping “green” you also save green. As long as it looks neat and clean, I’ve never had a recipient complain.
If you have additional ideas or suggestions, please leave a comment. Let’s share ideas!