Packaging Guide for Plastic Free July

Packaging Guide for Plastic Free July

Posted on Jun 28th 2023

Next week is the start of Plastic Free July™ 2023! It is a month to take stock in habits and business practices, and then pursue tangible steps that reduce unnecessary, single-use plastic (though we expand it to include all unnecessary single-use). If you're reading this, you are likely already committed to sustainable packaging, and it is true that eco-friendly packaging strategies can include plastic, especially recycled plastics in the #1, #2 and #4 categories. However, this resource is specifically designed for brands embracing Plastic Free July and looking for guidance on the best strategies and transitions to pursue next month. 

We believe Plastic Free July 2023 is the most important one yet. Why? Consumer and individual awareness of (and concern about!) plastic pollution continues to increase. At the same time, Extended Producer Responsibility and Plastic Bag Bans (and other packaging legislation nationwide) is heating up, causing brands and their consumers to pay attention to plastic and packaging in new ways. Finally, it is becoming increasingly clear to everyone that we are living in the climate crisis right now - a trend which is causing more and more citizens to focus on what they can do to curb this tide.


  • Brief History of Plastic Free July
  • Why is Plastic Such a Problem: A Life Cycle Analysis (Hint: It's Not Just Marine Plastic Pollution)
  • Not All Plastics Are Equal: Why #3, #6, #7, Black Plastics, and Forever Chemicals are the Biggest Offenders
  • Plastic Bag Bans and EPR Legislation: An Overview and Impact On Plastic-Free Packaging
  • Hierarchy of Plastic-Free Swaps: Eliminate, Reusable, Thoughtfully Selected Single-Use Plastics, Recycled Content
  • Packaging Swaps for Plastic-Free July: Guidance for Ecommerce Brands
  • Other Plastic-Free Swaps for Businesses to Consider

First, a Brief History of Plastic Free July

In 2011, a group at the Western Metropolitan Regional Council in Perth, Australia, decided as an office, to avoid single-use plastic for July. They kept plastic they used in a canvas bag and shared wins and ideas with each other. How awesome is this collaborative and positive approach? Fast forward six years, and a campaign founder, Rebecca Prince-Ruiz, helped form a non-profit called The Plastic Free Foundation, which spearheaded the now official, worldwide Plastic Free July.

If you're looking for some excellent reading material, there is no better time than to read Prince-Ruiz's wonderful book: Plastic Free: The Inspiring Story of a Global Environmental Movement and Why It Matters.

Through Plastic Free July’s website, you can pledge to avoid single-use packaging, avoid the top four single-use plastics (plastic bags, plastic bottles, straws, and coffee cups), or go completely plastic-free.

The Facts: Why Is Plastic Such A Problem?

When you say “Plastic Crisis,” most people envision sea turtles and the ocean. And ocean plastic pollution is undoubtedly a crisis that is front of mind for many of us.

But to truly understand the challenges related to virgin plastic, it is critical to look across the entire lifecycle of the material. At that level, you’ll see that the manufacturing, production, use, and disposal of plastic are all problematic.

The Plastic Lifecycle

Extraction and Production: The Use of Petroleum or Monocrop Inputs

While much of the popular conversation about plastics is related to ocean pollution, we believe some of the more problematic aspects are related to the extraction and transportation of the raw material that goes into plastic - fossil fuels.

The vast majority of plastic in use today is made from fossil fuels.

About 4-5% of oil consumption worldwide is used for plastics. However, if our current reliance on plastics persists, it is estimated that plastic will account for 20% of oil consumption by 2050.

We’ve also seen that when demand for oil dips, oil and gas companies find ways to push more virgin plastic consumption, to help offset this reduction in their primary revenues.

BP forecasts that plastics will represent 95% of its demand growth from 2020 to 2040!

Oil Demand Growth Chart


This is problematic! Slowly (but surely!), the world is making strides in replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy. It would be a significant blow if we are successful on this front, only to find that fossil fuels continue to be extracted long-term to meet our growing need for plastics.

It is tempting to think that bioplastics can be a silver bullet solution here - an alternative to plastic not made from fossil fuel. This is not true.

When EcoEnclose thinks about “Plastic-Free,” we do not consider bioplastics to be a viable part of this strategy. When you consider the challenges posed by plastic across its entire life cycle, it becomes clear that bioplastics are NOT plastic-free and are simply another type of plastic. Learn more in our Guide to Compostable Packaging.

Unfortunately, the only truly viable options for bioplastics currently are made from corn, sugarcane, potatoes, and trees. However, producing and harvesting these crops to replace the volume of plastic we use today would have devastating consequences for our planet. These solutions will raze forests, destroy biodiversity, degrade soils, acidify our oceans, and require fossil fuels for fossil fuels fertilizers and pesticides.

When we make plastic out of corn, about 80% is made from fossil fuels because of how much oil and gas is required to power farming equipment and produce chemical fertilizers.

Extraction, Refining, and Production: Human Health Impact and Environmental Racism in Action

The extraction of oil and gas is also a significant problem in itself. Refining natural gas and producing plastic releases carcinogens and other toxins and pollutants into the atmosphere, creating health hazards for local communities.

This is a major environmental justice issue.

One of the most well-known examples of this environmental racism is “Cancer Alley” in Louisiana. This area is home to a predominantly Black community and expands for 85 miles along the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge and New Orleans.

The community lives in proximity to over 150 factory plants and refineries, referred to as “Cancer Alley” by the residents who noticed the overwhelming number of cancer patients in the area. The area is the second-largest producer of petrochemicals in the country.

The residents are 50 times more likely to get cancer due to the polluted air than the average American.

Use of Plastics: Human Health Impact

It’s not just the extraction, refining, and manufacturing of plastic that has negative health consequences.

Plastics can also leach hazardous chemicals that threaten human health, including endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs). The Endocrine Society and the IPEN (International Pollutants Elimination Network) recently shared a summary of international research on the health impacts of EDCs, chemicals that disturb the body’s hormone systems and can cause cancer, diabetes, and reproductive disorders, and neurological impairments in developing fetuses and children.

Their report linked toxic chemical additives in the plastics we use every to specific negative health impacts on the endocrine system.

There are over one thousand EDCs in use, including bisphenol A and related chemicals, flame retardants, phthalates, per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), dioxins, UV-stabilizers, and toxic metals such as lead and cadmium.

End of Life: Impact of Waste Management

Unfortunately, recycling rates for plastic - and, in fact, for all materials that we consider in the US (including paper, glass, and aluminum) - is still embarrassingly low.

This means that most plastic produced and used domestically is landfilled, incinerated, or littered.

Today, technologies that incinerate, co-incineration, or gasify plastics release toxic metals such as lead and mercury, organic substances (dioxins and furans), acid gases, and other toxic substances to the air, water, and soils.

This leads to exposure to toxic substances for workers and nearby communities, including through inhalation of contaminated air, direct contact with contaminated soil or water, and ingestion of foods grown in an environment polluted with these substances. Toxins from emissions, fly ash, and slag in a burn pile can travel long distances and deposit in soil and water, eventually entering human bodies after being accumulated in the tissues of plants and animals.

End of Life: Marine (and Land) Plastic Pollution

Over eight million metric tons of plastic trash are estimated to end up in the ocean yearly. At current pollution rates, the ocean will contain 1 ton of plastic for every 3 tons of fish by 2025 and more plastics than fish (by weight) by 2050.

This is not just insanely gross and depressing! This plastic is also harmful to oceans and marine life in countless ways, which will reduce biodiversity worldwide and ultimately harm the health and food supply of us humans.

For example, fish in the North Pacific ingest 12,000 to 24,000 tons of plastic each year, leading to intestinal injury and death (not to mention how this transfers plastic waste up the food chain). A quarter of the fish at California markets have plastic in their guts (largely microfibers). Some research indicates that half of the sea turtles worldwide have ingested plastic. Thousands of seabirds eat plastic every year. Plastic ingestion reduces the storage volume of the stomach, signaling to birds that they are full and leading them to consume less food and starve. An estimated 60 percent of all seabird species have eaten pieces of plastic, which is predicted to increase to 99 percent by 2050. Marine mammals also ingest and get tangled in plastic. Plastic debris is rampant in the habitat of endangered Hawaiian monk seals, and entanglement deaths are undermining their recovery efforts.

It is important to note, however, that 80% of the marine plastic pollution in the world comes from a small set of countries: the Philippines, India, Malaysia, China, and Indonesia.

As you consider ways you can help reduce marine plastic pollution: while eliminating plastic from your life is certainly one step, recognize that so many other actions could have an even more significant impact. For example, consider donating to non-profits supporting plastic bans in countries with poor infrastructure for waste management. In addition, prioritize using ocean plastic in your products or purchases, helping to fund systems and economies in these countries to clean up ocean-bound plastic.

Finally, for me, plastic is a tough material because it - in some ways - has become the poster child for our consumption-focused society. Because plastic is so cheap, so durable, and so “single-use,” it has played a massive role in what we expect as consumers - extremely inexpensive, overseas manufactured items that can be used for a short period and then (because of how cheap they are) disposed of without concern.

Not All Plastics Are Equal: The “Dirty Four”

Plastic is a broad word. EcoEnclose defines plastic as any synthetic polymer whose primary backbone is carbon (regardless of the raw materials used to generate that carbon).

But, not all plastics are equal!

Some pose far less of a health threat than others. Some are very easy to recycle. Some are very unlikely to become plastic pollution. Others are undeniably bad for human health. Some are highly likely to become litter.

In the world of produce, there is a concept called “The Dirty Dozen” - produce that is particularly harmful to the environment and humans when grown conventionally with heavy pesticides.

There is a similar concept of “bad plastics,” or plastics that are much more difficult to recycle and are likely to become litter.

Plastic by the Numbers

PET (#1) and HDPE (#2) are readily recyclable and have strong domestic markets. LDPE (#4) is thin-film recyclable, requiring its own, source-separated recycling stream; however, it is easily recycled with strong domestic markets.

PET, HDPE, and LDPE are also relatively safe materials. While you would not want to microwave them or put them on the bottom shelf of the dishwasher (because this can cause them to leach chemicals into the food you eat off them), they are relatively stable and not made with the EDCs that are so problematic.

We should avoid PVC (#3), PS (#6), and “Other” (#7)! Note that #7 captures a lot of different plastics, including PLA (a corn-based bio-plastic that can sometimes be industrially composted). So unless you see a BPI Compostable Certification logo on a #7 plastic - landfill it!

PP (#5) is an interesting case. We have coded it as “red” for now, but this may change as our domestic reclaiming markets for the material grow. Polypropylene has historically been hard to recycle in the US; however, its market is growing. It is recyclable in some municipalities (like ours here in Boulder, Colorado) but is not necessarily “readily recyclable.”

As you think about your actions this Plastic Free July, we strongly encourage you to start with the “bad” plastics, identifying ways to remove these from your business and home before moving to the more readily recyclable plastics.

Plastic Bag Bans and EPR Legislation

Even if your brand isn’t focused on reducing single-use plastic, you may find that Plastic-Free July 2023 is the right time for you to start rethinking your use of virgin plastic and hard-to-recycle plastics. New laws throughout the world and across the United States, as well as emerging requirements set by national retailers, are starting to influence the packaging strategies of companies of all sizes.

Specifically, we’re seeing:

  • Bans or required fees on certain materials or packaging solutions. Retailers and brands are banned (at the state or city level) from using materials like: PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride), Polystyrene or Styrofoam, Single-use plastic bags, Single-use plastic straws, and Single-use utensils.
  • Extended Producer Responsibility legislation for packaging in four states in the US (California, Colorado, Maine and Oregon) and across several European countries. Legislation is different in each region, but tends to (1) require producers to pay fees to a centralized agency, (2) requires these agencies to utilize those fees to invest in more robust and successful recycling infrastructure, (3) adjust fee levels brands must pay based on the eco-characteristics of their packaging, and (4) set certain mandates and restrictions on packaging that can be used.
  • Cleaning up the highly abused use of chasing arrows in plastics: When the fossil fuel industry invented the chasing arrows icons, it did so to create a false sense of security among consumers that all packaging with this symbol is recyclable. Only a few types of plastic packaging are readily recyclable - polyethylene, PET, and (in some states) polypropylene. While these three materials are pretty common (and it is great that we can currently recycle them so successfully), there are dozens of other types of plastics and packaging made with blends of different types of plastics. All these materials fall into a hard-to-recycle plastic category but typically still showcase the confusing chasing arrows sign with an equally confusing and misunderstood number.

To learn more and stay up to date on this constantly changing landscape, check out (and bookmark!) our Guide to Extended Producer Responsibility and Packaging Legislation and our Guide to Retailer Packaging Requirements.

If your brand and/or packaging are affected by legislation and/or retailer packaging requirements, you may be looking for ways to reduce virgin plastic, either by replacing the material with non-plastic materials, curbside recyclable alternatives, or 100% recycled alternatives. Plastic-Free July would be a great time to get started on this path forward.

Hierarchy of Plastic Swaps

Unfortunately, there is no silver bullet when it comes to plastic replacements. Many of the potential materials you might swap your plastic with have an equally damaging impact on our planet (though the type of damage is different).

For example, many will replace their plastic with aluminum or glass. While aluminum and glass do not carry the same end-of-life concerns as plastic, both are made from non-renewable resources, are highly energy-intensive to produce and transport/store, and aluminum in particular, is very hazardous for the communities that live near mining and smelting facilities. As another example, the world’s rising demand for paper packaging leads to continued deforestation of our world’s primary forests - resources that serve as biodiversity hotspots, carbon sinks and which cannot be replaced simply by replanting trees.

We know there are no truly regenerative materials today, so it is impossible to swap plastic with something “perfect.” We also know that reducing single-use virgin plastics - the goal of Plastic Free July - is essential.

Hopefully this section can help you navigate these complexities and guide your decision-making.


  • Audit your business for plastic-use
  • Prioritize eliminating the “bad” plastics first - #3, #6, #7, black plastics, and multi-layered materials
  • Eliminating the material altogether (optimal)
  • Replace with a durable, long-lasting reusable alternative (that will actually get reused many, many times)
  • Replace plastics with other materials (paper, glass, aluminum), but do so thoughtfully, with life cycle analyses and a focus on maximizing recycled content
  • Where plastic replacement isn’t possible, first replace the “bad” plastics with those that are more readily recyclable and less toxic (PET and polyethylene - #1, #2, #4, and in some cases polypropylene #5). Then maximize recycled content that goes into these materials.
  • Avoid: bio-based plastics, biodegradable plastics, degradable plastics. These are generally not environmentally preferred! Check out more at our Guide to Compostabity and Packaging.

Optimal Swap: Eliminate

The best change you can make is to eliminate the use of the material. For example, if you use single-use straws, consider not using straws anymore! If you are reconsidering your plastic shopping bag, consider simply carrying your items out of the store if you have a small load.

Seek Durable, Long-Lasting, Reusable Alternatives

If elimination isn’t possible, reuse is second best. But, be very analytical when finding your reusable swaps. For example, let’s say you are replacing your single-use plastic grocery bag with a reusable polypropylene bag.

Most studies show that you need to use that polypropylene bag 20-40 times (depending on how much recycled content is in it) to ensure it has at least the same carbon and waste impact as the single-use bag you are replacing. So, you’ll need a reusable bag that is durable enough to withstand 20-40+ uses, and you need to make sure you are reusing it this many times.

Thoughtfully Select any Non-Plastic Single-Use Alternatives

If you are most considered about ocean plastic pollution, you’re likely focused on paper and other natural fibers which do not pose a long-term threat to our lands and oceans. Source these thoughtfully! The worst thing you can do is replace your plastic with a virgin paper alternative that comes from unverified sources (and can therefore be from ancient and endangered forests!).

If you take this step, your choice will likely have a worse impact on the planet than the plastic you are replacing.

Use this hierarchy to help you responsibly navigate the world of sourcing natural fibers.

Natural Fibers Hierarchy of Inputs Chart

If you are considering non-renewable, non-biodegradable alternatives (such as glass or plastic), we recommend doing a lifecycle analysis of these alternate materials. Do this analysis with an open mind about the results and then make a thoughtful choice from that point on.

In some cases, you may find that the plastic single-use is better.

If you find yourself in this position, read on, as you’ll find it empowering to know that you can have a very big impact only on our footprint and on the plastic crisis but sticking with plastic and opting for 100% recycled content.

Maximize Circularity and Recycled Content - In Your Plastic or Non-Plastic Solutions

Ultimately, building a truly circular economy will be a large part of how we will address our overall environmental crisis - from biodiversity loss to climate change to waste to air pollution. This is one in which everything we produce and use is either made with reclaimed/recycled materials or comes from truly regenerative virgin inputs.

Eliminating plastic alone will not get us to this future. In fact, it can actually move us farther away from this end vision if done poorly.

No matter what material you use - whether you have to stick with plastic or you move to other renewable or non-renewable alternatives - look for as much recycled (post-consumer!) waste as possible. This decision will have a massive positive impact on your carbon footprint, the waste crisis worldwide, and your contributions to building a truly circular economy long-term.

Move from a “Bad Plastic” to a More Readily Recyclable One

Remember that all plastics plastics are not equal! Plastics like PVC are particularly toxic while plastics like polystyrene are extremely challenging to recycle and pervasive as litter.

Plastic Free July may be a great month for you to shed your business of the worst plastics - #3, #6, #7 (and, depening on where you live, #5), and all plastics that are black (regardless of their type). Shedding these plastics can be done by swapping with a plastic material (such as PET or polyethylene) that is more circular and recyclable, and whose production is less toxic to human health and the environment.

Packaging Swap Ideas for Plastic Free July

Plastic Retail Bags

Priority level: High

Though these bags are generally made with LDPE, which is a less problematic type of plastic, they are thin (generally 1 mil or thinner), extremely flimsy, and represent one of the most frequently found types of litter on coastlines. Additionally, many states, cities and countries are implementing bans or heavy restrictions on plastic grocery bags. As such, we encourage all retailers currently using these types of single-use retail bags to start actively exploring alternatives.

Recommended Swaps:

  • Eliminate the bag altogether, and ask customers to bring their own bags or carry out their merchandise
  • Replace the plastic bag with a reusable alternative, ideally one that is machine washable, can be used hundreds of times, and is made with 100% recycled content
  • Replace the plastic bag with a single-use paper bag, ideally one that is made with 100% recycled content

Check out our custom Reusable Tote options (available at high MOQs) and Guide to Sustainable Fabrics for guidance on how to select the optimal material type for your reusable bag.

Polystyrene or Styrofoam

Priority level: High

Many cities, states and countries are banning this material. This material is often found in single-use coffee cups, clamshell takeout containers, single-use plates, void fill and more. Polystyrene is difficult, if not impossible in certain instances, to recycle and breaks apart very easily, making it a common type of litter that is hard to manage and clean up.

Recommended swaps:

  • Replace Styrofoam with a reusable alternative, ideally one that is dishwasher or washer safe, can be used hundreds of times, and is made with 100% recycled content
  • Replace Styrofoam with a 100% recycled paper alternative. For example, replacing polystyrene with molded pulp or corrugated bubble is often a feasible option.
  • Replace Styrofoam with a preferred plastic, such as PET or polyethylene, ideally made with 100% recycled materials

PVC Packaging

Priority level: High

PVC is also getting banned in many cities, countries and states and some national retailers are asking their brands to stop using this this material. PVC is also a uniquely toxic and environmentally hazardous plastic. PVC accounts for approximately 40% of the US’s chlorine - a building block of CFC's, or forever chemicals - which produces dioxin and dioxine-like compounds. The EPA say there's no safe level of dioxin exposure. Additionally, the additives used in PVC production are unhealthy and, because they are not chemically bound, the chemicals are freely released into air, the environment, other materials, and our bodies. are linked to health problems including infertility, immune system damage, impaired childhood development, hormone disruption, cancer, and other harmful effects. It is also nearly impossible to recycle.

Recommended packaging swaps:

  • Replace PVC with a reusable alternative, ideally one that is dishwasher or washer safe, can be used hundreds of times, and is made with 100% recycled content
  • Replace PVC with a 100% recycled paper alternative. For example, if you use a PVC bag as inner product production, replace with a Kraft Bag & Seal..
  • Replace PVC with a preferred plastic, such as LDPE, ideally made with 100% recycled content

Paper Exterior, Plastic Interior Cushioned Mailers

Priority level: Medium

These ubiquitous mailes are unrecyclable, because of the fact that they are made by laminating paper with plastic. They are also typically made with virgin content.

Recommended packaging swaps:

  • Replace these bubble mailers with a 100% recycled Padded Mailer, which is paper-based and curbside recyclable
  • Replace these dual material mailers with a recycled, all polyethylene Bubble Mailer, which is thin film recyclable

Bubble Wrap®

Priority level: Medium

Bubble wrap®is typically made with polyethylene, so it is not a plastic type that needs to be improved upon urgently. That said, it typically ships with air, making it inefficient and carbon intensive to transport and store. Additionally, even though it is a material that is thin film recyclable at film drop off bines, it tends to be less frequently recycled than plastic film in other forms.

Recommended packaging swaps:

  • Replace bubble wrap® with a 100% recycled paper alternative, such as corrugated bubble, packaging paper or Slivv
  • Replace bubble wrap® with a sustainably sourced virign paper alternative, such as GreenWrap

Bubble Mailers

Priority level: Medium

Bubble mailers are also typically made with polyethylene, so they is not a plastic type that needs to be improved upon urgently. That said, these mailers typically ship with air, making them inefficient and carbon intensive to transport and store.

Recommended packaging swaps:

  • Replace bubble mailers with a 100% recycled paper alternative, such as our padded mailers
  • Replace standard virgin bubble mailers with our 50% recycled bubble mailer alternative
  • Be sure to avoid bubble mailers that contain metallic layers or are colored black

Stickers and Labels

Priority level: Medium

Stickers are typically made with Vinyl, BOPP, or a plastic coated paper. These stickers end up everywhere, and can then create litter or microplastics. If extreme durability isn’t needed for your product label or sticker, we strongly recommend replacing virgin plastic stickers with a more eco-friendly alternative.

Additionally, the release liner of most stickers and labels is a silicone coated paper. Based on our definition of plastic, silicone fits the bill. So these release liners are yet another form of plastic used in your business.

Recommended packaging swaps:

  • Replace with 100% recycled, uncoated paper sticker
  • Replace with coated or varnished 100% recycled paper
  • Opt for a Zero Waste (recycled, recyclable, non-silicone) release liner

PET or HDPE Bottles

Priority level: Low

These rigid plastic bottles tend to be readily recycled, are recycled at moderately high rates, can be made with 100% recycled plastic, and do not contain toxins that “bad” plastics do. Tha said, many businesses are interested in replacing these very common single-use plastic packaging solutions.

Recommended Packaging Swaps

  • Replace PET or HDPE bottles with reusable glass or aluminum alternatives that can and will be used many times. Look for 100% recycled materials where possible. Note that it often isn’t enough to simply replace plastic with aluminum or glass, because these materials tend to have a higher carbon footprint than plastic. Taking the steps to design for and encourage reuse are critical.
  • If you decide to stay with PET or HDPE, then move to a 100% recycled PET or HDPE rigid bottle. Downgauge the material if possible, to use as little PET or HDPE as possible. And design for maximum recyclability, by selecting the right label face stock and giving your customers guidance on when and how they need to remove labels before recycling.

Plastic Pallet Wrap

Priority level: Low

Plastic pallet wrap is ubiquitous in our supply chains, and currently it is essential for keeping pallets products in transit. Because it is a clean LDPE material, there are a lot of ready markets for this material. Additionally, because it is used in internal supply chains, companies have a lot of control over if and how successfully the material actually gets consolidated and recycled. That said, because of the sheer volume of pallet stretch wrap used in the world, it is a category that is ripe for innovation and improvement!

Recommended Packaging Swaps

  • Replace internal pallet wrap usage with reusable alternatives, such as strapping or netting. This solution does not make sense for shipments leaving your warehouse, as you won’t be able to reuse the pallet wrap!
  • Replace with a paper pallet wrap. Our unique paper pallet wrap has a crepe feeling and a sticky coating that allows it still be curbside recyclable with mixed paper. This paper pallet wrap is not strong enough to replace your plastic wrap, but could be used (along with strapping in some instances) on pallets with uniform cases and those used internally.
  • Replace virgin plastic pallet wrap with an alternative that contains 25%+ recycled content, as ours does.
  • Finally, invest in internal recycling infrastractire. Find a local venue that will accept and recycle thin film and establish a relationship with them to collect this waste from your facility.

Poly Mailers

Priority level: Low

Poly mailers are a lightweight packaging solution made with LDPE and HDPE, and is thin film recyclable. They are highly durable and can withstand the handling of small parcel carriers very easily, with packaging contents well protected throughout the journey. Because of their use case (typically opened indoors) and thickness (typically 2.5 mil or more), they are far less likely to become litter than plastic retail bags.

That said, many businesses are rethinking the poly mailer as part of their overall strategy of going plastic-free. For some brands, the mailer is their first touchpoint with a customer, and they don’t want that first experience to be a plastic one. Additionally, many brands are prioritizing a customer packaging strategy that is as easy to recycle as possible, and thin film must be recycled at a separate dropoff.

Recommended Packaging Swaps

  • If your business model is such that a majority of mailers already come back to you (such as a clothing subscription model or a business with a take back program), reusable mailers may be a great option!
  • Alternatively, consider paper mailers, but be sure to select 100% recycled solutions and opt for options that use as little material as possible. Paper, when sourced poorly, can put pressure on ancient and endangered forests - environmental consequences that are worse than plastic.

Clear Poly Bag

Priority level: Low

Many businesses use clear poly bags to protect their products in transit from their factory to their DCs to their customers. Brand are rethinking this clear poly bag because of how ubiquitous and wasteful it is. We have marked it as a lower priority replacement item because it is typically made with #4 plastic and is thin film recyclable. These bags tend to be 1.5 or 1 mil, so they are thinner and flimsier than poly mailers; however, they are generally opened at home making them much less likely to become litter than plastic grocery bags.

Recommended Packaging Swaps

  • Roll wrapping your apparel and securing with an EcoBand or hemp twine is the most eco-friendly swap.
  • If full product coverage is needed, then consider our 100% recycled Kraft Bag & Seal or our Glassine Bags.
  • Some brands find they are unable to replace the poly bag. If that is the case for your brand, opt for 100% recycled poly bags made with LDPE (avoid the bags made with polypropylene or PVC).

Other Plastic-Free Swaps For Your Business

Conduct a plastic audit across your busines, and you’ll likely find that plastic is being used in all sorts of places, many of which are not at all necessary. Read on to help identify plastic-use in your business you may not have thought of and tips on how to replace these items.

Kitchen cutlery, plates and cups

If you stock disposable cups and cutlery in your company kitchen, swap them out with reusables. If your team members often go to fast casual for lunch, consider buying reusable on-the-go cutlery kits they can bring with them so they can so NO to straws, forks, spoons and even to-go containers!


Switch to a traditional batch brewing system. If that isn't an option for your business, look into reusable single cup filters instead.

Take out containers

Find a few local food providers who are willing to use reusable containers brought in by customers. Provide your team with reusable containers they can take with them when they hit up these restaurants.

Energy bar wrappers and other food packaging

Buy bulk foods, and encourage your team to buy bulk foods, wherever possible. Most stores will allow you to bring large glass jars for bulk goods (be sure to tare them first so you don't pay for the weight of the jars!). If that isn’t possible for your business, seek out products that are packaged in larger volumes. For example, a large bag of Figgy Pops contains a lot of unwrapped energy balls. Compare that to individually wrapped Clif Bars and you’ll end up with a lot less packaging.

Coffee cups

Team members walking into work with a Starbucks cup in hand is a common site at most companies. Hold a July competition. See if your entire team can go coffee-cup free for the month and host a company event if you succeed. Consider purchasing everyone reusable coffee mugs.

Water and soda bottles

Install a water cooler and get your team reusable water bottles. Encourage your team to use cans instead of soda bottles (aluminum cans are highly efficient to recycle).