Sustainable Packaging Terms

Sustainable Packaging Terms

When we say eco-friendly packaging, we mean it.

It's easy to slap icons and phrases on a product and call it "eco-friendly." That is not what we do here at EcoEnclose.

We are on a mission to make eCommerce a regenerative force for the environment by providing the most sustainable eCommerce shipping solutions possible. We've developed a clear vision for the future of sustainable packaging and a strict framework by which we develop and vet our product set.

When you become our EcoAlly, you can feel proud of how you ship and confident we are constantly working to make your packaging even more sustainable over time. Read on to learn more about the eco features we design for and why they are so important.

Recycled Content

What: This icon means an item is made with recycled content.

Note: All packaging - paper, poly, glass, aluminum, bioplastic, etc - is made with functional materials (which generally make up the majority of the item) and a variety of fillers, additives, pigments, adhesives, and components. When EcoEnclose (and the industry more broadly) refers to 100% recycled content, we are referring to the functional material that makes up the majority of the item. We acknowledge that in most instances, fillers, release liners, adhesives, pigments, and additives are not recycled. We are working hard to push the industry forward on these fronts and share innovations on individual product pages and our blog.

Why: Demanding recycled content pushes the entire recycling supply chain forward - incentivizing investments in sorting equipment and remanufacturing technology, and consumer marketing to encourage recycling of that material. When a recycled material has market value, it is less likely to end up as litter or in the landfill.        

Priority: Highest

Read More: Why Recycled Content Matters | Post Consumer vs Post Industrial Content | China's Recycling Ban | The Impact of Pigments, Adhesives, and Release Liners

Post-Consumer Waste

What: This icon means an item contains a specific amount of post-consumer waste.

Why: Post consumer waste refers to recycled content that is generated from items (often packaging) that has already been used. Post industrial waste, on the other hand, refers to waste scraps generated from a manufacturing line. While all recycled content is ecologically preferred over virgin material, post-consumer waste should be prioritized over post industrial waste. Your demand for post-consumer waste triggers demand, investment and innovation across the recycling supply chain, making it easier for manufacturers to work with post-consumer waste, enabling them to pay more for these recycled inputs, encouraging recyclers to get more of these good from consumers, which leads to an increase in our overall recycling rates, helping us achieve our collective vision for a circular economy.

Priority: Highest

Read More: Post Consumer Versus Post Industrial Waste | The Most Important Question To Ask When It Comes To Sustainable Packaging

Circular Product

What: This icon means an item is 100% recycled, at least 50% post-consumer waste and readily recyclable either curbside or a thin film program.  

Why: A circular economy is one in which materials are endlessly recycled back into themselves. This minimizes the need for virgin, raw materials, reduces pollution, minimizes carbon emissions, minimizes landfill waste, and ultimately leads to more mindful business practices, consumer consumption, and legislation. While we are far from this today, we believe that items with high recycled content and recyclability are a key step in  

Priority: Highest. Materials circularity is foundational to our vision for sustainable packaging.  

Read More: Sustainability Framework | What Is Zero Waste

Curbside Recyclable

What: This icon means an item is commonly accepted in curbside recycling programs across the US (but individuals should always check with their recyclers).

Why: EcoEnclose aims to design packaging for recyclability (versus for landfilling or composting). When packaging is recycled, the raw source materials that went into that package can be used again in new goods. This reduces the need for virgin materials to be produced and means packaging can skip the landfill (where all of the resources that went into creating it became noxious methane emissions instead of valuable new items).

Priority: Highest.

Read More: Recyclable Versus Compostable Packaging | End-Of-Life Hierarchy | The Problem With Landfills

Thin Film Recyclable

What: This icon means an item is recyclable in a source separated thin-film stream, available at most grocery and big box stores or through our film take back program.

Why: Plastic film is technically just as recyclable as other plastics accepted by curbside programs (such as milk jugs and soda bottles). However, they are known to get caught in the gears of sorting equipment used by most recyclers (called MRFs). When these bags snag the gears, it can create lengthy and costly shutdowns. Because of this, plastic polyethylene film and bags (#2 and #4 plastic films) are dropped off in source separated thin film bins, available at most grocery and big box retailers. Some cities, like Los Angeles, accept thin film curbside. EcoEnclose also has a thin film take back program for anyone who doesn't have a drop off close by.

Priority: Medium

Read More: EcoEnclose Poly Mailer Take Back Program | Why We Do Not Believe In Compostable Poly Mailers

Reusable Product

What: This icon means an item contains a second seal strip so the packaging can be easily reused for returns or a second shipment.

Why: When packaging is reused on additional time before it is recycled, its negative environment footprint is cut in half. If all single use packaging was reused once, Please note that to date, our research has shown that in most instances, durable ecommerce packaging designed for dozens of reuses (what many people envision when they see "reusable packaging") typically has a higher carbon footprint and creates more waste than single-use counterparts so we are not yet offering this until we can create a truly environmentally superior option.

Priority: Medium

Read More: Definitive Guide to Reusable Packaging for eCommerce | How To Reuse Our Poly And Bubble Mailers

Renewable Materials

What: This icon means an item is made from readily renewable raw materials.  

Why: Fossil fuels (which go into plastic), mined minerals (which go into silicone, aluminum and glass), and synthetically derived chemicals cannot be replenished after they are used. Renewable materials, on the other hand, can be regrown, and are therefore essential to achieving a sustainable and circular future. It is important to note that, today, most renewable items are not inherently sustainable. Many, like non-organic corn and trees grown with chemicals, are produced in ways that damage soil, waterways and use extensive petrochemicals in their production.  

Priority: Medium

Read More: Yes, Corn Is Renewable, But Is Not Sustainable

Naturally Biodegradable

What: We use this item to describe packaging that, if left as litter in the land or ocean, would biodegrade in a reasonable period of time and therefore does not contribute to ocean plastic pollution. Naturally biodegradable items are also compostable though we strongly recommend recycling over composting for ecommerce packaging.

Why: While ecommerce packaging is not a significant contributor to land or ocean litter, more and more of us are recognizing how important it is that we take collective action against plastic pollution and the pollution of other synthetic materials. Many inspiring, forward-thinking companies have made plastic-free a core tenant of their sustainability vision and some have even built their entire businesses on the premise of addressing ocean plastic pollution. Our naturally biodegradable options are the perfect fit for these brands. Please note that we would never use the word "naturally biodegradable" to describe bioplastics, even those that are certified compostable, as these bioplastics do not biodegrade in natural environments.  

Priority: Medium

Read More: Compostable Does Not Mean Naturally Biodegradable | Compostable Plastic Does Not Solve Plastic Pollution (Natural Biodegradability Does) | Bioplastic Is Not Plastic Free


What: EcoEnclose defines an option as “plastic-free” if the materials used to construct the packaging itself do not contain any synthetic polymers (regardless of the raw materials used to derive those synthetic polymers). Note that with this definition, packaging can be plastic-free and still contain synthetics and polymers in small components - acrylic or hot melt adhesives (the glue that holds products together), silicone seal strips (that close and seal mailers), and tear strips.

Why: All of our "naturally biodegradable" products are also "plastic-free." We provide the Plastic-Free term and icon because one describes how a product behaves at the end of its life (if left as litter) and the other (Plastic-Free) describes the materials that go into a packaging option. We recognized that different companies had different lenses for what, specifically, they had prioritized. Check out our full suite of plastic-free packaging options.

Priority: Medium

Read More: Learn about prAna's Responsible Packaging Movement


What: When used, excess, or waste materials are repurposed into a new product or for another purpose.

Why: Upcycled products create new value for materials that would otherwise be waste or low-value. Upcycling extends the lifespan of the source materials or products used, which creates a lower climate impact over its entire lifespan. Finding new ways to use existing materials and products uses far less energy than recycling them back into new material or landfilling them.

Priority: Medium

Home or Industrially Compostable

What: We use this term to describe packaging that can be composted - either in an industrial facility or home composting. Note that because we do not believe in today's compostable bioplastic options, most of our "compostable" items are made with naturally biodegradable materials (therefore the requirements of BPI or CMA certification are not applicable as they are for packaging made with PLA and other bioplastics).

Why: All of our naturally biodegradable, plastic-free options are also compostable (most are made with paper). However, it is important to note that if an item is recyclable and compostable, it is strongly recommended that the item is recycled (and that it is not composted). It is also important to note that even when packaging is easily compostable, most composting facilities do not want your packaging, and they actively ask you to recycle these items instead.

Priority: Low (for eCommerce packaging)

Read More: Composting Facilities Do Not Want Your Packaging (Especially Your Bioplastic) | Composting Versus Recycling: What's the Difference?

Water-Based Ink

Historically, the carrier of printing inks (which represents about 60-80% of the ink by volume) was made with solvents. These solvent inks released damaging VOCs into the environment and led to unhealthy work environments for printers.

Over the past few decades, water and vegetable-based inks have become more common. When you see "water-based inks" it means the sustainability information and product dimensions were all printed with water-based ink, and that the ink releases low or no-VOCs. While these water-based inks are not as sustainable as Algae Ink, they are the most eco-friendly options available for the color and substrate being printed.

Algae Ink

Many of our packaging solutions come printed with sustainability information and product dimensions. When you see the Algae Ink icon, it means all of this information has been printed in Algae Ink, the world's most sustainable printing ink option.

Algae Ink is a water-based ink whose pigment is made of algae cell (the majority of pigments are actually made with fossil fuels, even in water and vegetable-based inks). It is actually a carbon negative solution, meaning it sequesters more carbon than is emitted in its production and use. Learn more about Algae Ink.

Made in USA

The majority of our packaging is manufactured in the United States. Domestic manufacturing is a very important component of our vision and mission. Why? It is easier to visit, tour and collaborate with domestic plants. 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?

Made in North America

While we strive to work with US-based manufacturing plants, we do work with a small set of Canada and Mexico-based plants. When US manufacturing isn't feasible, our next step is to seek plants in Canada or Mexico.

Made Overseas

A very small set of our offerings are manufactured in Europe and one (our Glassine Bags) are manufactured in China. Often, our overseas manufacturing is driven by the fact we haven't found a great partner in North America.