Sunday, August 17, 2008

A Public Service Announcement from...Your Planet

It's been a busy day of housecleaning, entertaining, gardening, and yes, some art (see my Etsy shop for some great new beads), but I'd like to hit "pause" for a minute to talk about packaging.

For some time I've been very interested in finding visually aesthetic, yet earth friendly ways of packaging and mailing my handmade lampwork beads and jewelry. Sure, the Rio Grande catalog has all kinds of gorgeous, fresh, admittedly tempting ways to present and package one's creations, but I'd like my art to be the one thing that's still on the earth long after I depart. Not the cute plastic tote with a juicy graphic design. Not the plastic version of the Chinese take-out container. Not the plastic earring card. Not the bubble wrap. Just my art. A simple glass bead, or a piece of wearable art that someone a century from now will find in an antique store and say, "oh, isn't that cute what they were wearing back then". Glass and metal are certainly durable goods, but I think they have a stature slightly higher than bubble wrap.

So what's a girl to do? Well, until now I've been packing my beads in white cotton-filled paper jewelry boxes, wrapped in recycled bubble wrap or paper packing material, and placed in brown mailing envelopes. There have been the odd shipments where I have to use a larger pre-made bubble mailer, and each time I wince. The overall system is pretty green, but not as green as I'd like it to be.

With a fire in my belly I went on an online quest for biodegradable bubble wrap, and was sad to conclude that it could only be had in the UK. That is, until I discovered Thebeadingtree on Etsy. Etsy is my favorite online marketplace, as it's all about handmade things, but there's a category for supplies as well, and this lovely woman had what I needed.

So, starting very soon, I will be mailing my shipments using biodegradable bubble wrap inside of the brown paper mailers. But first, I want to do a little experiment to see how this stuff actually "degrades". Being a scientist and a Master Composter I took a 12" x 12" sheet of this stuff and cut it into four pieces. One went into my worm bin, one went into the vegetable garden (buried and watered), one is out in the sunlight, and one is in water. I want to find out the optimal conditions under which this stuff will remove itself from my customers' lives, and from our communal living space, a.k.a. Planet Earth.

Biodegradable bubble wrap in the worm bin.
You can see the remnants of last night's pizza box, and, if you look closely, some junk mail, right there next to this morning's egg shells and yesterday's romaine trimmings. After this photo I put the worms back to bed by pulling the moist shredded paper over top of them. I wonder what they'll think of this new blue food?

in sunlight (this is to see if it's photodegradable).

in soil... water.

I would like to be able to include a note with my shipments telling people how to properly get rid of it - many people don't realize that organic or degradable items that go to the landfill don't actually decompose. Did you know that once they are closed landfills are hermetically sealed, and that the crucial ingredients (oxygen and moisture) needed for natural decomposition to occur are absent? Even when they are still "active", waste is so tightly packed that even anaerobic decomposition (the slowest form) is slowed. Garbology studies have unearthed such atrocities as decades old hot dogs and lettuce. There are much better alternatives for recycling kitchen waste like coffee grounds or vegetable peelings, newspapers and junk mail, and yard waste such as grass or garden clippings, and you'd be surprised how easy it is.

I have written articles for the local paper on composting yard waste and on worm composting, and would be happy to share them with you. Once you learn how, it's easy to make this a part of your lifestyle, and very easy to feel good about what you're doing. Just contact me and an electronic copy will be on its way.


Nora said...

Oh this is amazing information! What a great read and I will be contacting you for more info! Great post and very informative.

~Kimberly said...

I will be interested to find out how all your experiments turn out! I'm doing my best to go green one day at a time!

earth and sun folk said...

great read! kudos for finding this great earth friendly bet is on the worm farm :)

Karolen said...

If you sometimes need to ship in non-biodegradable or non-recyclable packaging, you could include a note asking your customers to consider re-using the materials.

I really should take my own advice here because I don't do that when I mail out my beads, but I've been meaning to :) Thanks for the post!

Patty said...

The Garbology project was an eye opener, huh? My money is on the worms too.

Karolen - I've been using recycled materials up until now, but not going so far as to include the note. Do you think it would turn people off? I guess it's all in how you say it. I'm going to do that with my biodegradable bubble wrap, so I need to start coming up with the words for the insert.

The Beading Tree said...

Thank you for doing these experiments with my biodegradable bubble wrap!! I'm very interested in finding out what the results were, so that I could pass along the information to my customers on how best to dispose of this product. Thanks again, Patty!!! Victoria ~TheBeadingTree~


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