Thursday, September 24, 2009

Green Packaging: A Second Look

A little over a year ago I posted about green packaging, and the choices I've been making to lessen the impact of my bead and jewelry business on the planet. I was so pleased to have found a supplier of a blue bubble wrap that claimed to be biodegradable. Well, I'm afraid the results of my bubble wrap experiment are not so great, but the good news is that I think I can do better.

As you may recall, I took four samples each of both biodegradable and regular bubble wrap and placed them in different environments to see which was most conducive to "biodegrading". One set of samples went into water, one stayed outside in the sun, one went under the dirt in the vegetable garden, and one went into my worm bin. Of all the environments I had the most faith in the worm bin, but after several (at least 6) months in the bin there was no sign of decomposition in any of my samples. None. Granted, perhaps it was so small to be microscopic, but I sure didn't see it with my eyes.

Biodegradable bubble wrap manufacturers claim that their product meets federal standards for biodegradation, but my field test apparently did not meet those conditions. I'm very disappointed, but the experience has made me realize that I've missed the point, and has helped me rethink what it is I want from my packaging. Bear with me, as it's not uber simple.

Items that are reputedly "biodegradable" are designed to break down under very specific conditions. If those conditions are not met (either because the item never gets in the right waste stream, or because the conditions themselves aren't met), then it will not break down and it doesn't matter that you used that product. For example, some of the bubble wrap I've found is designed to degrade under commercial composting conditions. Does your garbage hauler have a special bin for "compostables"? Other than yard trimmings, probably not, and if you ended up with a sheet of this bubble wrap inside a package you received from me, let's face it - it would probably end up in the trash, or perhaps you would reuse it for another package (if we're lucky). The trash goes to the landfill and that is not the same as a commercial composting facility - it's a sealed repository for garbage. So, the fact that a product is biodegradable isn't worth much if it's never given the chance to do what it's engineered to do.

So, what choices does a green minded girl have for packaging and mailing her precious glass bead treasures? I consulted with Bob, an engineer for one of the packaging technology companies, and he had some good advice. My packaging products will fall into a category that Bob calls "uncontrollable disposal". That is, I can't control what happens to this packaging material once it leaves my hands. Sure, I could slip cute little notes into my packages imploring you to do x, y, or z with it, but that would be annoying and ineffective.

Bob suggested that I consider using a packaging material made from recycled content, so that the eco-friendly aspect of it is realized up front. Reduce, reuse, recycle is the mantra when it comes to caring for our natural resources and our planet. Don't use it if you can, reuse it if at all possible to keep it from the landfill, and recycle it if all else fails.

There are lots of options that fit this bill: paper, corn-based products, recycled plastic products, so my head is spinning with ideas right now. Until I get it sorted out, I'm going to keep using up my stash of bubble wrap (it's not huge), and will just lay this out there - if you get some from me in a shipment, please consider hanging onto it until you can use it in a package of your own.

I'll be back with more on this. I promise.


rosebud101 said...

Sounds good to me!!

mairedodd said...

you are right, it isn't a simple thing... i have a stockpile of padded envelopes & bubble wrap that i reuse... i write on the envelopes that they are being reused on purpose... we have a restaurant near us that is so awesome when it comes to using corn-based products... my green obsessed mind reels at the beginning of the school year, thinking of all of the plastic bags, disposable juice boxes, etc.. we have alternatives in our house... but it is a daunting problem... kudos to you for trying to be a part of the solution -

Deb said...

No problems here Patty - I save & reuse everything. Packing peanuts that make their way here in glass orders - get reused, as does bubble wrap & at times bubble mailers as well. Of course I also reuse all the boxes too....often turning them inside out for a fresh look! Only items that are totally unusable any longer end up in my recycle bin.


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