Our Sustainable Packaging Framework
How We Develop Our Eco Friendly Shipping Solutions
EcoEnclose cannot achieve its mission without a strong, well researched sustainability framework that drives our decisions and innovation pipeline - on on what packaging solutions to offer, which partners to work with, and what new solutions to develop. Every day our customers and manufacturers reach out asking us to offer new packaging options. We find that when we evaluate new materials and solutions according to our framework, a lot of them don't meet our standards and we decide not to move forward with them (even if that means lost customers and market share).
We also know companies like yours are trying to make thoughtful decisions and may need support navigating the world of eco phrases -- recycled, recyclable, compostable, biodegradable, zero waste, plastic-free and more.
We developed and are sharing this framework to clarify - for ourselves, our partners, and the amazing companies we get to work with - what we at EcoEnclose mean by "eco-friendly packaging", why we’ve made the choices we have, and the future we are working towards.
We hope that after you read this, you’ll come away with (1) an understanding of how thoughtfully and carefully we’ve developed our product lines, (2) the types of solutions you'll likely see from us in the future as we continue to innovate, (3) the tensions and tradeoffs we consider when it comes to sustainable packaging, and (4) ideas for how you can continue to make your shipping strategy as eco-friendly as possible - regardless of whether you are working with us or another packaging provider. Click here for examples of how we've used this framework to make strategic decisions.
We Design for Maximum Circularity
We prioritize packaging that is made with as much recycled content as humanly possible, with an emphasis on post-consumer waste. And we are on a constantly question to get our products to 100% post-consumer waste over time.
- By utilizing, demanding and constantly increasing recycled content, we spur demand for what households and companies recycle.
- This "market pull" is an essential step in making the recycling process work, and we believe businesses and consumers who want to recycle have a responsibility to prioritize recycled content.
- Using recycled content also means lower carbon emissions, effluents, pollution and resource extraction.
- Recycled content isn't suitable for all packaging, but it works beautifully for ecommerce. Where it can be used, it must.
We prioritize materials that are as easily recyclable as possible, with a focus on those that can be recycled back into themselves (versus downcycled into a lower value item). We look for ways to increase recycling rates on our product lines.
- We recognize that reuse is best, and are always looking for ways to increase one-time and long-term reusability of our packaging.
- After reuse, recycling is the best ecological option for a package.
- Recycling diverts from landfills, which emit noxious emissions and become eternal graveyards of otherwise valuable and usable raw materials.
- Recycling has come under recent criticism, but we believe the best path forward is to (1) invest more in recycling and reclaiming infrastructure, and (2) buy more recycled so those investments can be economically viable.
We See "Naturally Biodegradable" Solutions As the Only Defense Against Plastic Pollution
We do not design for compostability. Yes, composting is another end of life option that diverts form landfills (this is good) but "compostable" does not necessarily solve plastic pollution. And, as an end of life alternative, it is only optimal for organics that can't be recycled, not for ecommerce packaging.
- Our conversations with composters have made this clear: All packaging, and especially bioplastic packaging, makes their work harder, harms their operations, and degrades their output.
- If an item is recyclable and compostable, recycling is always preferred. The raw materials are more quickly and efficiently converted into something usable. Recycling is more friendly to contaminations that packaging brings.
- The majority of certified compostable synthetic material has not been shown to decompose in a natural environment or in a landfill. Outside of a compost, these materials behave as plastic does.
We know that "biodegradable" is a term that is often used loosely. We also recognize that it does not describe an item's end of life. Something can be biodegradable and not compostable (a block of wood or a burlap sack). Something can be labeled as compostable and never biodegrade in any natural environment (PLA ).
We use the term "biodegradable" to describe items that will decompose in a reasonable amount of time as litter.
We invest in constantly developing naturally biodegradable solutions that will not contribute to plastic pollution in our oceans and lands.
If you are a company seeking solutions that will biodegrade in a natural environment, we encourage you to avoid all plastics - including compostable bioplastics - and stick with paper and other naturally biodegradable solutions.
We Consider The Entire Lifecycle,
With an Emphasis on GHG Emissions and Agricultural Pollution
We recognize that the world is facing a number of distinct though interrelated environmental issues, ranging from water pollution to carbon emissions. The Nine Planetary Boundaries framework does a beautiful job illustrating these.
We recognize that all of the boundaries are real and critical challenges, but ultimately we believe that curbing carbon emissions to reverse climate change is the number one goal of the environmental movement.
As such, EcoEnclose avoids solutions that may address one set of ecological concerns (such as ocean pollution or landfill) but would result in higher GHG emissions.
Reducing GHG emissions is one big reason we prioritize recycled packaging. It is also why we love and actively promote our 100% recycled poly mailers as these are the most carbon efficient way to ship. And it is why we've partnered with Cloverly to help offset the impact of shipping your EcoEnclose order to your door (and, overtime, the impact of more than just shipping).
The functionality of plastic is hard to beat - its weatherproof, lightweight, flexible, strong and durable, and incredibly space efficient. Recycled plastic is a great solution we are very proud to offer, but we recognize that its roots are still in petro-plastic. We know that long-term, fossil fuels must be replaced by renewable inputs.
But, we also know that "bio-based is not always better" than petroleum when it comes to raw materials.
As we pursue bioplastic solutions, we seek innovations that (1) can be readily recycled, (2) don't degrade and displace our soil, lands and waterways, and (3) don't require extensive fossil fuels for production.
Corn and similar commodities grown through intensive agriculture do not pass our test. We believe corn is a a terrible alternative for fossil fuels, so we have avoided solutions that contain corn-based / PLA packaging.
We Know The Primary Package is Just the Beginning:
True Sustainability Must Run Deep
There are a lot of small or hidden parts to a package that can go unnoticed. Our innovation efforts aren't just on primary packaging - they address the little things as well, making them more carbon efficient, recycle-friendly and regenerative over time.
- We were the first to introduce the Algae Ink option, a water-based black ink whose pigment is made with algae cells rather than petro-chemicals. When Algae Ink isn't an option we use water or soy-based alternatives.
- Label and sticker release liners are something end consumers don't even see. But they have historically always been made with virgin, silicone coated paper. We introduced the first ever label line with a 100% recycled, uncoated, curbside recyclable liner.
- Our stickers and labels feature adhesives that are "Recycle Compatible" meaning that they allow for more seamless separation of sticker facestock and the paper package upon which they are adhered.
These are just a few of the ways we analyze and improve the "little things" in accordance with our broader framework.
And we choose domestic partners whose eco values align with ours. Why?
- It is easier to visit, tour and collaborate with domestic partners. And our supply chain is just that - true partners in our quest to constantly improve the sustainability of our packaging.
- Emissions standards continue to be higher and more auditable in the US than other manufacturing-heavy industries.
- Domestic manufacturing means our recycled inputs largely come from the US. Using domestic recycled content is essential to our framework.
- Why ship from halfway around the world when you can manufacture domestically and ship more efficiently?
Across all of our partners (including the small set that aren't North American), we look to work with those who can clearly communicate their sustainable actions and where relevant, can verify them with certifications.
For example, our corrugate partner is certified by the Forest Sustainability Initiative. Our recycled poly-based partner is an active member of the Sustainable Packaging Coalition.
Our manufacturing partners are core to our EcoAlly community and the ecological progress we are trying to make - and they are selected and vetting accordingly.
Huge boxes for tiny products, surrounded by plastic air pillows - this move is for companies that prioritize cost reduction and operational efficiency above all else.
Our mantra is different. Sustainable packaging means minimizing material and sizing packages right so you're not shipping a bunch of air.
- We take the time to produce a custom box for every shipment that goes out our door, so your package is delivered without any excessive void fill or air.
- All of our boxes are custom cut to your specific dimensions. And we give you free samples so you can ensure the size is perfect before placing your order.
- We offer a lot of sizes in our mailers, so you can hopefully find the one that perfectly fits your products.
- We offer our products in bundles and cases. This way, you can more easily stock a variety of mailer sizes, rather than fitting all of your shipments in a one size fits all package.
We know that the EcoAllies we get to work with care deeply about their product and packaging decisions.
For this community, its not enough to toss out simple phrases or icons to describe the sustainability of our products.
So we give you all of the information we can, throughout our website and our on our Bill of Materials.
- Recycled content levels, and the post-industrial versus post-consumer split
- Country of manufacture
- Printing ink specifications
- Adhesive specs
- Whether or not materials have been treated with chemicals in the manufacturing process
- End of life options
As well as detailed research to back up our sustainability framework.
This level of transparency (1) pushes us to constantly improve our products and (2) allows you to make decisions that align with your sustainability framework.
Got input, feedback or disagreements? Please share them! We are always looking to hear other perspectives, learn and evolve, especially given how rapidly this space is advancing.
Finally, it is important to note that a lot of (perhaps even most?) sources out there are biased. Organizations like The American Plastics Council, American Forest and Paper Association Home, and Hemp Industries Association have a vested interest in you believing their material or product is an ecological superhero. EcoEnclose is not tied to any one packaging solution or type of material. As such, we seek out sources with as little bias as possible, but ultimately read all of the information out there, looking for the consistent facts across them to try to tease out what is “true” versus what is a motivated, self-supporting argument.