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According to the US Consumer Product Safety Commission, they receive an average of 25 reports a year describing deaths of children who suffocated due to plastic bags. Almost 90 percent of these instances are with children under one year of age. These trends have prompted some states, cities and companies to mandate Suffocation Warnings on the type of plastic bags that can lead to suffocation. Some research has suggested that these suffocation warnings are effective, leading to a statistically significant reduction in infant deaths in California.
So, what does this all mean for a growing ecommerce brand like yourself that is trying to protect your customers, adhere to corporate and state/local legislation, and protect yourself from liabilities?
Here, we break down what you need to know, what elements of your packaging strategy this may apply to, and what this means for anyone out there using EcoEnclose's 100% Recycled Flap & Seal Bags and/or Poly Mailers.
State and City Legislation
In the United States, five states (Massachusetts, California, New York, Rhode Island, and Virginia) and two major cities (New York City and Chicago) currently have legislation in place regarding suffocation warnings on poly bags. At least a dozen US cities have also adopted similar legislation (including Avondale, AZ; Big Stone Gap, VA; East Baton Rouge Parish, LA; Flagstaff, AZ; Gering, NE; Norton, VA; Prince William County, VA; Saint Louis County, MO; South Bend, IN; South Hill, VA; Stamford, CT; and Weatherford, TX). Canada has also enacted similar legislation.
Legislation across all states and cities applies only to bags that are "1 mil", or 0.001 inch or less, in thickness.
Each state / city has its own unique legislation on how big the bag needs to be before a suffocation warning is required and the scope of the bags use. The following table details size, scope and exclusions for state and major cities which this regulation in place.
States and cities have differences in the specific language they suggest using as a suffocation warning, but the following warning is accepted by all.
Warning: To avoid danger of suffocation, keep this plastic bag away from babies and children. Do not use this bag in cribs, beds, carriages, or playpens. This bag is not a toy.
States and local laws also vary with respect to the font size required for suffocation warnings, but the following guidelines should satisfy all major cities and states.
In general, the Massachusetts law is the most comprehensive and restrictive, and requires that any language, other than the warnings specifically provided by the statute, have government approval.
In addition, Massachusetts requires that the warning must appear on both sides of the bag and be repeated at 20-inch intervals for bags whose length and width are more than 40 inches.
Amazon FBA Requirements
Fulfillment by Amazon is becoming popular for many ecommerce companies. With Amazon FBA, your order are fulfilled by Amazon for a fee that covers storage and order handling. Amazon has a host of packaging requirements companies need to keep in mind when using the FBA service. These requirements dictate how ecommerce companies must package their goods in bulk when delivering them to the Amazon warehouse. Because Amazon packages and sends these goods out themselves (with their own sourced and branded boxes and mailers), these packaging requirements do not relate to outer containers or shipping packages.
Many companies send items to Amazon warehouse in a large wholesale shipping box, individually packaged and separated in clear plastic bags. These poly bags protect goods when they are being stored in Amazon's warehouse and allow for easier picking (versus if goods were not individually packaged in these bags). Products remain in those poly bags when they are being shipped out to end customers. So for example, if you sell t-shirts and fulfill orders through Amazon FBA, you would send cases of t-shirts to Amazon in wholesale shipping boxes, with each t-shirt individually packaged in a poly bag. When Amazon is fulfilling an order that contains one of your products, their pickers will pick and pack the t-shirt within the poly bag, adding this bag to the outbound box or mailer.
Amazon has strict requirements in place for these poly bags in order to facilitate smooth operations within their warehouse and protect themselves from any liability. Poly bags used to protect units must meet the following requirements:
- The thickness of the bag must be at least 1.5 mil (thousandth of an inch).
- The poly bag must be transparent.
- Poly bags with a 5-inch opening or larger (measured when flat) are required to have a suffocation warning, either printed on the bag itself or attached as a label. Failure to apply a suffocation warning may lead to the items being re-bagged.
- For example: Warning: To avoid danger of suffocation, keep this plastic bag away from babies and children. Do not use this bag in cribs, beds, carriages, or playpens. This bag is not a toy.
- The warning should be printed or placed in a prominent location and in a legible font size for the size of the bag
- Print size of this warning should conform to the following table:
- The poly bag must have a barcode (UPC, EAN, etc.) or X00-label that is scannable through the bag or have an X00- or ASIN-label on the outside of the bag.
- Poly bags must be completely sealed.
- Poly bag or shrink wrap must not protrude more than 3" past the dimensions of the product.
Other Merchant or Marketplace Requirements
Currently, neither Ebay nor Etsy have their own requirements in place related to suffocation warnings as these are marketplaces through which merchants sell and fulfill their own orders (and therefore own any liability related to their packaging).
Other online retailers, such as Target and Walmart, which store and fulfill goods within their own warehouse, do have requirements in place. Target’s packaging standards for hard goods requires all poly bags to have a suffocation warning with a font size of at least 20-point. Walmart requires plastic bags with a thickness 1 mil or less and an opening size of five inches or more to have a warning.
What Does This Mean for EcoEnclose Customers?
Because our 100% Recycled Poly Mailers, 88% Recycled Poly Mailers and 32.6% Recycled Bubbly Mailers are (1) 2.5 mil and (2) designed to be used as outer shipping packages rather than protective packaging for warehousing and fulfillment, these are not subject to any state, city or Amazon FBA (or Target and Walmart) suffocation warning requirements.
On the other hand, our 100% Recycled Flap & Seals are designed to be used as inner protective packaging for warehousing and fulfillment.
If you are using these Flap & Seals as part of your Amazon FBA strategy, they need a suffocation warning. The suffocation warning can be printed directly on the bag or be written on a label that is adhered to the bag. We will have these Flap & Seals available with suffocation warnings by October 2018, as well as stickers pre-printed with a universal suffocation warning. In the interim, Amazon FBA approved labels can be used.
Our Flap & Seals are 1.5 mil. As such, they are not technically subject to state and city suffocation warning requirements. However, recognizing that these laws exist to protect your customers and their children, we know you may decide to proactively incorporate these warnings onto these bags anyway.