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Paper Banding - EcoBand Case Study

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Shipping apparel in the world of ecommerce

More than 150 billion garments are produced every single year and, as more and more ecommerce orders are being managed by third-party fulfillment centers who store inventory and fulfill and ship orders, the more complex the supply chain becomes. 

In fact, a whopping 97 percent of garments are manufactured in different countries than they are sold in. For many ecommerce brands, the reality is that once they design their product, they never see or feel the goods they sell because the items go straight from a manufacturer to a third party fulfillment center— before making it to the customer. 

In this complex global supply chain, an ecommerce product is handed off from one entity to another, with each player having very little connection to the goods they are working with. In fact, an ecommerce product can be manually handled 20 times or more (compared to just five times for a traditional retail item).

In this context, it comes as no surprise that the clear poly bag has become a standard in the apparel industry. The clear bags separate, protect and identify products in fulfillment centers that handle hundreds of different companies and thousands of different SKUs. Manufacturers use poly bags to individually wrap and protect clothes, as the bags offer additional protection as the products are shipped overseas in large container ships. 

Even companies that manufacturer and fulfill their own orders use poly bags to ensure their finished goods remain clean, undamaged and organized until they are ready to ship. 

But the poly bag is, of course, plastic. And as more companies seek to eliminate plastic from their operations, it isn’t long before they turn to their clear bags asking, “Is there a different way to do this?”

Can packaging be durable and plastic-free?

Is there a way to separate and protect garments across the supply chain without single-use, virgin plastic? This seems like a simple question to answer—but it’s not. Sustainability aside, plastic offers a few key benefits when it comes to ecommerce and shipping and protecting goods: 

  • Plastic is durable and moisture-proof; it protects products completely. 

  • Plastic is flexible, making it easy to pack apparel and allowing goods to move through operational systems easily.

  • Poly bags are clear, making it easy for employees and fulfillment centers to identify SKUs, as well as details like color and size. 

  • Plastic is inexpensive.

Developing the recycled poly bag  

EcoEnclose has kept a pulse on this industry packaging challenge for quite some time. In our first pass at this issue, we developed a100% recycled clear poly bag. Our 100% recycled flap & seal is still made of plastic, but it was (and still is) important to us to bring a solution to market that could help drive a market for recycled plastic. We continue to see recycled plastic as an important alternative to single-use, virgin plastic for companies looking to green their packaging and company. 

In fact, Patagonia ran an epic internal study to understand the impact of non-poly bag solutions within their distribution and supply chain. They found that, without any bagging, 30 percent of their garments were damaged in transit. They also found that paper bags resulted in some damaged garments within the distribution system. This led them to find ways to both decrease the amount of packaging material they needed (by more tightly folding their clothes) and to pursue recycled poly bag solutions. 

However, for some companies, recycled plastic is still plastic; something they are looking to get away from entirely. We know that some of these brands are curious about simply using a compostable or bio-based plastic. However, it is important to remember that these plastics are still just that—plastic—and don’t necessarily solve the many issues a company is trying to address by moving away from plastic (marine plastic pollution is one of the most pressing). 

We believe that if the choice is between virgin bioplastic (which is likely to be made by industrial ag and would still act like regular plastic as litter or marine pollution) or recycled plastic—the choice is clear. In the world of ecommerce (or any non-food) packaging, one hundred percent recycled plastic is by and large the more ecological choice

The impact of plastic in the world of ecommerce

The development of the 100% recycled poly bag represented progress in the right direction and, for many companies, it will continue to be the optimal solution. But companies diving deeper into their own research, like prAna and REI, inspired us to commit to further innovation: 

prAna began to eliminate their dependence on the poly bag in 2011. Assessments had shown prAna was using 1.3 million poly bags, adding up to a whopping 13,000 pounds of plastic. Today, the company has guidelines for folding apparel, placing hang tags, and tying each piece with raffia—and shipping it—sans the plastic bag.

REI has eliminated most of its individual-use poly bags in favor of lining large shipping boxes with a single master bag. For certain apparel items, REI rolls the garments (it’s called a roll-pack) and secures them with a small piece of un-dyed Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)-certified paper.

If such plastic-free and reduced plastic solutions were proving viable for these companies, couldn’t we develop a standard offering that could be useful to a broad set of apparel brands? 

Developing a plastic-free alternative to the poly bag 

Once we committed to creating a plastic-free alternative to poly bags, a paper-based EcoBand was the obvious design choice for us. Based on our research and deep ecommerce expertise, we knew: 

  • We wanted the solution to be made with natural fibers, as these materials have some clear ecological advantages over plastic in that they are naturally biodegradable and do not wreak havoc as land or marine pollution

  • It needed to be 100 percent recycled— with as much post-consumer waste as possible

  • We wanted the paper band to be easily recycled and recyclable 

Here’s what we needed to figure out

How strong the paper should be

We tested a myriad of papers, all 100 percent recycled. Some were too thin and ripped easily. Some were too thick and sturdy, making them hard to use and difficult to create a tight fit around the apparel. We settled on a kraft colored, 80# paper stock.

The dimensions 

We banded dozens of different apparel items—t-shirts, jeans, sweatshirts, blankets—and settled on a variety of sizes and widths, including continuous roll issues. 

The best and most eco-friendly way to secure the band around a piece of apparel

Hot glue: As an adhesive option with NO release liner that is recycle-friendly, we appreciate the ecological advantages of this approach. This is also the least expensive approach to sealing. 

Glue dots: These glue dots do come on a release liner (which unfortunately is a virgin, non-recyclable release liner at this point in time).

Stickers: We are excited to offer a line of zero waste stickers—100 percent recycled and on our unique Zero Waste liner (recycled and recyclable)—that companies can use to seal their bands. However, the sticker is the most expensive approach and utilizes the most amount of material. 

Barcodes: We also encourage our customers to use any barcode stickers they may use in their packaging to seal the bands—this is an excellent approach as it uses a material that is already going to be used in a functional way.

Considerations

There are three reasons poly bags may be used by a company:

  1. Wholesale packaging used by overseas manufacturers 

  2. Packaging required or requested by third party fulfillment centers

  3. A company’s own desire for inner product protection

Patagonia’s study illustrates why the EcoBand may not always be the right solution to ship products from overseas manufacturers to the states. Though, some other strategies - like REI’s approach to bagging multiple items in one package - are very interesting! 

However, in many instances, the EcoBand can satisfy the requirements of brands using third party fulfillment centers and companies managing their own product fulfillment. We’ve seen fulfillment centers become open-minded to plastic-free packaging options, and though this type of packaging may require more careful handling (which may change the cost structure of working with a fulfillment center or the cost structure of storing/fulfilling your own orders) it can be done successfully and efficiently. 

Feedback and next steps

Customers have offered tremendous feedback on their usage of and experience with the EcoBand. Some companies were already considering developing a similar in-house, plastic-free alternative and were thrilled to find that we had done the research and development for them - and that with EcoEnclose, they can custom brand the EcoBand

Others, who have established a Plastic-Free priority for the year, were hesitant to tackle the seemingly overwhelming poly bag issue; they were thrilled that we offered them a simple yet impactful way to start eliminating plastic from their operations. 

With the launch of the EcoBand, companies have requested additional options and features - such as: 

  • a narrower band; 

  • different tensile strength; 

  • a version where the entire product is covered; 

  • and a version that allows a barcode to be scanned through. 

We know the EcoBand is just the first step in the development of a full line of plastic-free wholesale / inner packaging. We’re excited to continue to see where this line takes us and helps us support the entire ecommerce movement in their sustainable innovation. 

Partner with us

As we continue to empower ecommerce brands to be a force for positive environmental change, that means we’re always in research and development so we can test new products and bring them to market, as well as empower businesses to make environmentally smart packaging choices. 

Let’s work together: 

  • Are you looking to go plastic-free in your packaging?

  • Are you a manufacturer interested in advancing your capabilities and testing our new earth-friendly materials or designs?

  • Are you developing a new earth-friendly material, formulation or manufacturing process -- but aren’t sure how to bring it to market?

  • Are you a sustainable ecommerce business that prides yourself in making thoughtful, earth-friendly decisions across your entire business? Do you stay on the cutting edge of sustainability?

If you're looking to remove (or even reduce) single-use plastic in your operations, we’d love to work with you! Contact us at partners@ecoenclose.com. Continue reading to learn more about our specific innovations and partnerships. 

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