Future E-commerce Packaging – how green is it?

Ecommerce Packaging – specifically internet mail order – how will it change?

What are the differences between retail and ecommerce packaging?

We often get this question, and the answer is in the name, retail packages are made for store shelves, they can typically be palletized with tens, hundreds, or thousands of units. Meaning, that their structure is such that they can hold more weight without damaging their content. E-commerce packages on the other hand, are designed to be be sent individually, The tend to be soft and bag like in structure. This allows for packing them into haulage or postal delivery vans. They usually offer little or no structural protection other than a simple thin walled plain cardboard box, bubble wrap, or sometimes a simple plastic polymer courier bag.

If i am trying to be as ecofriendly as possible, should i use recycled paper or recycled plastic packaging?

There is actually a 3rd player – bioplastic. People forget sometimes that plastics are made from fossil fuels. The get used, get tossed and end up as part of the great pacific garbage patch. They take over 1000 years to decompose. They are the bane of human existence, they end up back in our gut because, well because we fed them to the animals we over harvest.

I got my answer from https://www.ecoenclose.com/Paper-versus-Plastic-and-Bio-Plastic-/

“We hear it time and again from the amazing businesses we work with, all who have a strong eco commitment — “We are banishing plastic from our business and our lives”. The very thought of a plastic bag – made with fossil fuels, used just once, then ending up in the Great Pacific Garbage patch, to decompose over the course of 1000 years, getting stuck in the bellies of seagull and fish – is more than enough to make you swear plastic off forever.

End-of-life, ability and likelihood of being recycled or disposed of properly

Read on to learn why we’ve classified different materials as we have, and better understand the facts, myths and nuances about these different materials. Plastic is made directly from fossil fuels, most definitely a nonrenewable resource. It is estimated that 4% of the world’s oil production is used as a feedstock to make plastics. ” We have therefore categorized plastic as “poor” when it comes to renewable, sustainably grown material.

” It is, however, important to understand that a lot of plastic, LDPE #4 or “plastic bags” in particular, is made from ethane, a byproduct of natural gas production. ” The production of plastic in this way actually “captures” this ethane instead of having it burned and released into the atmosphere. Simply that, as long as we are heating our homes and running our stoves with some degree of nonrenewable resources, such as natural gas, there are some efficiencies related to the raw materials extraction associated with plastic. Paper is typically made from trees, though very occasionally from materials like straw or hemp.

Thankfully, paper manufactured in the US is typically not to blame for most of this. ” Most paper in the world comes “production forests” – fast growing wood growing operations with harvesting cycles of 5-10 years. Bioplastics are plastics made from plants, including corn, sugar cane and algae. Note that though there is a lot of talk recently about bio-plastics, the concept is not necessarily a new one.

In fact, the world’s first plastics were plant based. ” “Cellophane,” once commonly used for food packaging until petrochemical plastics rose in popularity, is made from cellulose, the structural component of plants. In some cases, these indirect impacts from “growing” bioplastics are greater than if we simply made plastics from petroleum in the first place. Almost all plastics can be recycled into something.

Historically, plastics were not turned back into their original materials. Plastic bottles become materials for park benches, Styrofoam becomes picture frames, plastic bags become composite lumber. However, new innovations are making it more common for plastic to be recycled back into its original use. For example, CarbonLITE Industries recycles more than 2 billion PET bottles into food-grade post-consumer PET and is one of the largest producers of food-grade recycled PET in the world.

EcoEnclose’s recycled poly mailers are made from film and plastic bags . Recycling plastic from its original use and form, back into itself is a newer phenomenon because the process is difficult and therefore requires investment and innovation, and because historically, recycling rates for plastic have been low, meaning that a steady supply of recycled plastic was not available. When recycled, plastic is melted and formed back into pellets and then used again to create raw materials like film and mailers through a process of heat-based molding or blowing. Because recycled plastic have contamination and ink, recycled plastic feedstock is lower quality and less consistent than virgin plastic pellets.

As such, manufacturers of recycled plastic material must find the right blend of virgin, post-consumer and post-industrial plastic for their particular machines and end use cases. The world of recycled plastics is evolving and advancing rapidly. The more consumers demand recycled content in their plastic, the more companies will work to meet this need. ” We have rated plastic as “moderate” on ability to use recycled content because on one hand this is a feasible technology and progressing rapidly.

On the other hand, it is currently difficult for manufacturers to achieve high levels of recycled content, and extremely challenging to achieve very high levels of post-consumer recycled content in particular. In contrast, paper is fairly easy to recycle back into paper. Finally, to date, the world of bio-plastics is almost entirely driven by virgin materials. ” A very small set of bio-plastics can be put back into the recycling stream, but when they do, they are treated as “traditional” plastic.

” We have rated bio-plastic as “poor” on ability to use recycled content because currently, there is little investment in this space. If bio-plastics become more common, we are hopeful that bio-plastic manufacturers invest in the ability to use recycled content, and recycling sorting facilities have the capabilities to accept and sort bio-plastics. The manufacturing of plastics is energy intensive, with 4% of the world’s oil production going into just the processing of plastic. However, the plastic manufacturing process itself actually requires less energy than paper and even bio-plastic.

Making paper from trees is dirty work. At a paper mill, trees are de-barked, cut into wood chips, and then fed into large pressure boilers called digesters. This raw paper is pressed and heated in a series of drying cylinders where any remaining traces of moisture are removed. Finally, the paper is treated with a starch solution that seals the surface and helps avoid excessive ink absorption during printing.

20% of toxic waste in the air in the US is due to the pulp and paper industry, and wastewater pollution is a very big problem as manufacturing discharges contain pollutants such as lignin, chlorates, transition metals, nitrogen, phosphorus to name just a few of the toxins that should not be spreading into our rivers and oceans. conducted a study comparing traditional plastic grocery bags to paper bags and found that manufacturing 1,000 paper bags requires 3.4 times more energy than traditional plastic, and manufacturing compostable plastic bags requires 2.7 times more energy than traditional plastic. “Given this research, we have given paper a “poor” rating when it comes to energy, resource and pollution from manufacturing. It is important to note that a paper mill that has a comprehensive water reuse system, utilizes wind and solar energy, scrubs air emissions and water before release, offsets its carbon emissions, and obtains reputable certifications to prove these action can drastically reduce its negative impact.

In fact, a great paper mill can actually have a positive impact, such as taking in dirty water from a river and releasing clean water.

End of life, ability and likelihood of being recycled or disposed of properly

As of yet, the equipment used by the facilities that sort your single-stream recycling bins cannot handle flexible, shapeless plastic. To recycle plastic bags, most Americans must take them to a designated drop-off site, which most grocery stores and major retailers are set up for. Plastic recycling rates in general are poor in the US. According to the EPA, only 9.5% of plastic material generated in the U. Municipal Solid Waste stream was recycled in 2014, and it is estimated that only 3% of plastic bags are recycled.

Additionally, while plastic bags CAN be recycled back into plastic bags, this does not always happen. They often come back as composite materials, such as Trex. ” While this is better than sending plastic to landfills, it is not as beneficial to the environment as materials that are recycled “back into themselves. ” The positive trends here are that most Americans have some access to plastic bag and poly mailer recycling and that recycling rates are rising.

We hope trends towards increased recycling rates of plastic will happen when MRFs adopt equipment that can sort plastic bags in single-stream recycling and there is increased demand for recycled plastic, and specifically #4 LDPE plastic. Plastic grocery bags, and other lightweight “on the go” plastics can end up in the ocean either because they are thrown on the ground as litter, or because they are shaped in a way that “catches the wind” so they can be picked up from garbage bins and float away. Plastic ecommerce packaging – namely poly mailers – have two advantages over grocery bags and candy wrappers. As such, poly mailers that aren’t properly recycled will end up in the landfill , and not the ocean .

Now let’s consider the impact of plastic packaging in the landfill. Mainly because every item sent to a landfill is done, and cannot be used again. Every item in the landfill is a missed opportunity to give new life to something. ” “Landfill culture” also wreaks havoc.

One is that we are running out of landfill space. Bryan Staley, PhD, PE, president and chief executive officer of the Environmental Research & Education Foundation believes we have 60 years of capacity left in our nation’s current landfill facilities. Seven states will run out of landfill space within five years and are therefore shipping trash to faraway states – a costly and energy intensive process. When waste is first deposited in a landfill, it undergoes an aerobic decomposition stage when little methane is generated.

This decomposition happens very gradually, but still generates landfill gas , a natural byproduct of the decomposition of organic material in landfills. Today, with the US infrastructure as it is, if packaging unfortunately gets to a landfill rather than to a recycling or composting facility, we would actually prefer for it to NOT be biodegradable, because we see these LFG emissions as the most important negative impact of landfills. Non biodegradable materials in a landfill are fairly benign given how gradually they degrade, while materials that biodegrade will more readily undergo anaerobic digestion that creates methane. “Given the myriad of considerations when it comes to end of life for plastic ecommerce packaging, we have rated it as “moderate.

” It can be recycled, and more and more, it can be recycled back into itself. Additionally, the majority of people currently have access to plastic recycling, though not all have access to curbside recycling. On the other hand, rates of recycling are extremely low, though the trend is rising. Paper, on the other hand, is a bit of an end-of-life superhero.

According to the EPA, more than 64 percent of the paper and paperboard generated as MSW was recycled in 2015. The CPA states that over 90% of corrugated / cardboard is currently recycled. Paper can be recycled many times before its fibers become so short that it cannot be remade into any new paper product. Its main downside is that if paper-based packaging ends up in the landfill, it is thicker and therefore takes more room than plastic counterparts and it is likely to biodegrade – slowly but more rapidly than plastic – and generate landfill gas emissions that are such a major concern of landfills.

” All in all, we have given paper a “good” rating when it comes to end of life, ability and likelihood of being recycled or disposed of properly. Finally, let’s consider bio-plastics. Many people send their PLA 7 to the recycling facility. ” At the MRF, this plastic will either be sorted out and send to the landfill, or be mistaken for “normal” plastic during the sorting process.

If a MRF sells a bale of plastic with too much PLA contamination in it, it could be rejected on delivery to its buyer, and the entire bale would be landfill bound. ” Bioplastics go through a process of polymerization, so they are “synthetic materials” and therefore don’t meet the USDA’s National Organic Program’s standards. Lindsay Fernandez-Salvador, a program manager at the Organic Materials Review Institute , which determines whether specific agricultural input products, such as compost, can be certified organic states that if compost has any synthetic materials in it, they disallow it. Finally, there is a commonly held misperception that people are doing good by buying biodegradable items and sending those items to the landfill where they will simply disappear after a short amount of time.

As we’ve described above, biodegradable items will decompose in a landfill environment – slowly, but more quickly than traditional plastic. Note that there is an emergence of new materials that actually biodegrade very easily, by soaking the item in hot water for example.

What about the other things that are wrong with plastic?

There are other challenges with respect to plastic. This is a very legitimate downside of plastic, and the toxic effects of bioplastic are unknown at this time. Of course, many single use items are not plastic – glass food jars, paper towels, paper bags to name a small few. ” However, plastic seems to have helped establish this “convenience driven” culture, which in turn has led to an unbelievable amount of waste as the vast majority of goods we buy are either single-use themselves, or at the very least, arrive with much disposable packaging.