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Definitive Guide to Poly Mailers

sustainable recycled poly mailers complete guide

At EcoEnclose, we live and breathe earth-friendly shipping solutions every day - but for the majority of our customers, choosing the right shipping solutions for their goods can be an overwhelming task. After countless conversations with eco-minded businesses, we've come to understand that people want some basic shipping guidelines.

This is especially true as it relates to finding the best poly mailers for shipping clothes, soft goods, and other products in a cost-effective and eco-friendly manner. If you've got questions about selecting the right poly mailer bags for your business, you're in the right place.


 

Poly Mailers Defined

ecofriendly poly mailer sustainable icons

Poly mailers, also known as shipping bags or mailing bags, are the least expensive, lightest weight, and most durable way to ship soft goods like apparel and fabrics.

Made from durable, moisture-resistant polyethylene film (aka plastic), poly mailers are thin, lightweight, and weather-proof - so your goods will arrive at your customers' doorsteps in perfect condition.  But eco-minded companies are rightly skeptical of plastic packaging solutions. That's why we've worked hard to make EcoEnclose poly mailers sustainable across all dimensions. 

For poly mailers to be truly eco-friendly, we believe they should build as closely as possible to our Sustainable Packaging Framework.

Seek out poly mailers that are:

  • 100% Recycled. And made with as much post-consumer waste as possible. 100% recycled poly solutions have a lower carbon footprint than paper and bioplastic alternatives.
  • Reusable. Dual adhesive strips allow for easy reuse of poly mailers.
  • Recyclable. Plastic polyethylene film, traditionally used to make poly mailers, is a recyclable plastic in thin-film bins.
  • Printed with Eco-Friendly Ink. Solvents found in traditional ink release damaging VOCs into the environment and lead to unhealthy work environments for printers. Water-based ink releases low or no-VOCs.

EcoEnclose offers the world's most sustainable poly mailers that are 100% recycled, made with 50% post-consumer waste, feature dual adhesive strips for easy reuse, are recyclable in thin-film bins (learn about our Take-Back Program), and printed with water-based inks.

Shop Ivory Poly Mailers and Gray Poly Mailers or Order A Free Sample.

 

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Benefits of a Poly Mailer

There are several reasons mailing bags or poly mailers are popular among eCommerce businesses:

  • Typically cheaper to purchase than Kraft or corrugated shipping solutions
  • Weatherproof
  • Very thin, so they take up less storage space than boxes
  • Durable and are not easily torn
  • Sometimes reusable for second shipments or returns, depending on how they are designed
  • Lighter weight than most other solutions


As any long-distance hiker will tell you, weight matters. This is true for businesses too. Light-weight mailers like shipping bags reduce shipping costs so you can offer competitive pricing to your customers.

Let's look at some numbers:

We're shipping a polar fleece (men size large) from a warehouse in Louisville, CO (zip code 80027) to New York, NY (zip code 10007), with a shipping distance of 1,781 miles. While the shipping cost differences aren't massive, poly mailers still come out ahead!

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There are many different ways to ship and weight is only one factor (learn about dimensional weight), so this is not to say that poly mailers would always save you money on inbound and outbound shipping, but often, they will.

One particular situation where poly mailers can be beneficial for shipping costs is with USPS First Class Mail. First Class Mail is for envelopes and lightweight packages that are under 13 oz. Pricing starts at $0.58. The delivery timeline is one to three days. If you are shipping a lightweight product, poly mailers can keep your entire package under this 13 oz. limit, allowing you to utilize this cost-effective shipping option.

An added benefit of some poly mailers (including ours) is that they are reusable for a second shipment. Our tear strip combined with the second adhesive strip on our 100% poly mailers makes it easy for customers to send in returns, ship out another product or store products in a protected environment... or to collect other plastic bags for recycling, or to go trick-or-treating, or to carry home a goldfish, or to...

 

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When to Use a Poly Mailer

Poly mailers are ideal for clothing and other fabric-based goods. They also work well for shoes and certain types of hats. We’ve seen them work well for boxed products that need to be shipped in another, outside layer (i.e. a shoebox, a small toy, or a jewelry box). We’ve also seen poly mailers used to ship books, especially used books, which can afford to get a little crushing on their corners.

Is the product you're shipping fragile?

If your answer is YES, and the product is fragile, then poly mailers are likely not the right solution for you. You probably want to go with corrugated boxes with protective packaging and void fill or perhaps padded mailers. If the answer is SOMEWHAT, then poly mailers might work for you but you’d likely have to use protection and padding, such as packing paper, bubble, old newspapers, or something similar. If the answer is NO, then poly mailers might be a good fit.

Can the product properly fit in the poly mailer?

The post office sorts and ships tons of packages daily, with a lot of machining and scanning involved in the process. A poorly filled poly mailer with flat or flimsy spots can get caught in or misread by machinery. This can lead to errors, delays, damages, or even returns to the sender on the products you ship out.

If your answer is YES (such as a t-shirt that is folded to fit perfectly in a mailer) you are good to go. If your answer is NO (perhaps you are trying to fit a small jewelry box in a large mailer), you might want to consider other options including a better fitting poly mailer, an insert into your mailer to fill it out (such as void fill or a corrugated pad), or you may want to explore an alternate, better fitting or stiffer type of packages such as a rigid mailer or padded mailer. Explore EcoEnclose Paper Mailers.

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We hesitate to give black and white answers as every product and company is different, but if you came here looking for us to make your decision for you, here is a handy checklist to show what poly mailers are and aren’t great for. If you see a check next to your product category, then at the very least poly mailers might be a good fit and are worth considering.

Explore our Product Guide to see other shipping options for your goods and order free samples if you want to test some ideas.

A final note is that poly mailers don’t work great if you are packaging up several different types of items (such as a shirt, a wallet, and a bottle of lotion). In these situations, a box is typically recommended. Explore our Product Guide to see how others package up multiple items together for a beautiful shipping experience.

 

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Custom Branded Poly Mailers

custom printed ivory and gray poly mailers

Custom printed poly mailers are a great option if you're looking for designer shipping bags as they set your brand apart from the start. If you need very large quantities of poly mailers most manufacturers will offer pre-production printing services, meaning that the poly mailers are printed as they are being produced. However, many companies can't afford the cash or space to order thousands and thousands of bags.

Companies ordering in smaller quantities should consider “post-production” printing. With our post-production printing process, finished, blank poly mailers are printed using a flexographic press. This is an excellent choice for adding your logo or website to the poly mailer. Minimum quantities can start at as little as 500 units. However, there are limitations. Typically post-production can only produce single color designs while edge-to-edge printing and reverse-out designs are extremely challenging. Despite those limitations, we’ve seen beautiful poly mailer print jobs that promote companies’ brands and wow customers!

EcoEnclose offers small batch (post-production) and large batch (inline) custom printing services for recycled poly mailers. Learn more about Custom Printed Mailers and our entire Custom Packaging Offering.

On The Blog: 

Are Custom Poly Mailers Right For My Brand?

Enhance Your Brand at a Fraction of the Cost of Branded Boxes with Custom Poly Mailers

 

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Custom Poly Mailers in Bulk

full color custom printed poly mailers

Wholesale poly mailers are our specialty!  At 25,000 or more poly mailers, your options expand significantly as we can dedicate a custom production run just for you. This means - custom sizes and features, multi-color prints, full-bleed prints, and lower pricing.

Explore Enterprise-Level Capabilities

 

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Choosing the Right Poly Mailer

There are a few things to keep in mind when selecting the right brand and style for your poly mailer needs.

Strength: Unlike corrugated materials, where materials are labeled with ECT for "edge crush test" to clarify their strength, there are no universally accepted definitions of poly mailer strength. Characteristics that make a poly mailer stronger and more durable include its thickness, the number of layers used in the manufacturing process, and how the sides and bottom were sealed.

As we have found with many things in life, you get what you pay for. Lower-cost mailers are often thinner and may have poor sealing or low-quality adhesive. We know the abuse these mailers take in the UPS, FedEx, and USPS systems; and we would suggest the extra few cents is worth the investment. Often the difference between quality and something else is less than 0.1% of the shipment cost.

Either way, we highly recommend ordering samples or starting small with any shipping supplies so you can touch and test them before you entrust them to protect your high-quality products throughout their journey.

Tear Strip: A tear strip ensures your customer can easily open the bag, without having to mangle and poke holes in it to get what they ordered. Tear strips also make it easy for customers to reuse their bags once.

Release Liner: The release liner is the thing you peel off the adhesive on the bag. When you are packing up many orders at a time, you want this to be as seamless as possible and you want to avoid static-filled liners that cling to you, to packages, or the floor!

Bottom: Some poly mailers have "gusseted" bottoms and some (like ours) do not. We have found that most products don't need gusseted bottoms; however, very bulky items (such as thick quilts or shoe boxes) may benefit from this style.

Dual Peel and Seal: More and more customers are seeking an online shopping experience in which returns are simple! Dual peel and seal bags have two adhesives - the first for when you pack your order and the second for your customer if they need to return their item in this same bag. These "returnable bags" go a long way in helping to retain loyalty among customers who need to send back their goods for any reason.

Tamper Evident: All poly mailers are inherently "tamper-evident" but those with strong adhesives that cannot be opened and then resealed ensure that your customer knows if someone tampered with their package between shipment and delivery. This helps ensure you can get to the bottom of issues such as missing or damaged items.

Size, Sustainability, Price: These are so important that we've dedicated entire sections to each of them below.

Here's a handy recommended sizing chart to get you started, using the poly mailer sizes that EcoEnclose stocks. Other companies may carry different sizes, but this guide should still be a helpful baseline. We recommend ordering a free sample first and ensuring the size meets your needs.

choosing the right size poly mailer

 

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Sustainability: Recycled Poly Mailers, Paper Mailers, or Compostable Poly Mailers

sustainable material mailer comparison

We have a research-based sustainability framework to help us evaluate different packaging options and determine what solutions to pursue. Our framework heavily prioritizes:

  • Ensuring circularity (recycled with high post-consumer waste content, recyclable, reusable)
  • Lowering greenhouse gas emissions
  • Transparent and localized manufacturing

Our research has shown us - loud and clear - that we need to avoid composting as an end-of-life situation for eCommerce packaging. Recycling eCommerce packaging is far superior ecologically.

Through this framework, we've determined that the currently viable bioplastic materials - corn-based PLA - do not meet our ecological standards. Corn is highly degenerative to produce and PLA is destined for compost rather than recycling. Learn more about why EcoEnclose does not sell a compostable poly mailer made with PLA.

Through this framework, we have also determined that 100% recycled paper packaging has some sustainability advantages over 100% recycled poly mailers. Specifically, our paper-based packaging is typically made with 90%+ post-consumer waste and is more easily recycled curbside than poly mailers, which generally need to be dropped off at a thin film bin in a grocery store. Additionally, paper packaging is naturally biodegradable. On the chance it ends up as litter, it would decompose within two months with much less harm to the planet than plastic counterparts.

Despite these ecological advantages of recycled paper mailers, poly mailers win on one very important dimension - carbon emissions. Recycled poly mailers have a significantly lower carbon footprint than equivalently sized paper mailers. Learn more about choosing between paper and plastic mailers.

Based on our extensive research, we offer 100% recycled poly mailers and 100% recycled paper mailers because both align with our framework (though we recognize each has its environmental downsides) and we want to ensure companies can choose the material that best meets their eco philosophy. A company that is committed to going plastic-free would likely go with paper. A company committed to lowering greenhouse gas emissions or needs a more budget-friendly sustainable option is likely to go with poly.

 

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Environmentally Friendly Poly Mailers

By definition, poly mailers are typically made of polyethylene – the most common plastic that is used in packaging and bags. Polyethylene is almost always made from oil and natural gas – two nonrenewable resources. But don’t despair! Before you write off poly mailers as environmental villains, here are a few things to consider.

The battle between paper and plastic is not black and white. While paper is made from renewable (and often, recycled) materials, plastic does have some advantages. Plastic is typically more energy efficient to produce and recycle than paper. Plastic mailers are also lighter than their paper counterparts, so shipping is more energy efficient. You can be an eco-friendly business and decide to ship in poly mailers – and come to that decision thoughtfully. If you have decided that poly mailers are the best shipping option for your business, there are environmentally responsible options for you.

Recycled Poly Mailers (The Eco-Friendly Mailer)

recycled and recyclable plastic poly mailers

EcoEnclose has the only poly mailers on the market that are made with 100% recycled content, half of which is 50% post-consumer waste. Yes, we know that other mailers advertise that they are made with “up to 30% or 50% recycled content”. There are also some mailers on the market that say they are 100% recycled. However, in our research, we have found that these options are made with almost all post-industrial waste - scraps produced from their first run of poly mailers made with virgin content. It is the same as a cookie maker who cuts her first set of cookies from the rolled-out dough, then rolls the leftover back up to make the second batch – not the same thing as “recycled content” - the way we all want them to be.

Our mailers are giving new life to material that has already been used and discarded. Our mailers are also recyclable. Depending on your curbside recycling program, they can either be recycled residentially or at your local grocery store that accepts plastic bags (most of them do!). We also are the only packaging company on the market offering a poly take-back program that allows your customers to stuff their EcoEnclose poly mailers with plastic film and ship them to our warehouse for recycling. Learn more about our Take-Back Program.

Biodegradable and Compostable Poly Mailers (Avoid These)

biodegradable and compostable poly mailers

There are biodegradable and compostable poly mailers available (including ones that can be home composted). EcoEnclose strongly recommends that businesses avoid these options, which are worse for the planet than traditional poly mailers.

Many biodegradable poly mailers are made with standard fossil fuel plastic and then treated with an additive that makes it biodegrade fare more quickly than a standard plastic material would. These poly mailers are not recyclable, hurt our oceans (by creating microplastics), and generally end up in landfills where their degradation causes dangerous methane emissions.

Compostable poly mailers are made with PLA (corn) and PBAT (a fossil fuel-based plastic). Across every dimension - from their source material to the way they miseducate customers to their end-of-life - these mailers are an environmental challenge. eCommerce packaging should be designed for reuse and/or recycling, not composting.

On The Blog:

Composters Don't Want Your Packaging, Especially Your Bioplastic

Don't Replace Fossil Fuels with Corn: Lessons from Ethanol

 

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Poly Mailer End-of-Life

Reuse

Poly mailers can typically be reused at least once when they have a tear strip, which allows recipients to open their packages easily. If a bag has a second adhesive strip it is very easy for them to be reused. Even without a second adhesive strip, bags can typically be reused simply by folding them over and taping them down.

Why would you reuse poly mailers?

  • Shipping Your Returns. Customers frequently order multiple items online with the intent to return some based on color, fit, style, etc. Making it very easy for them to do so will be a huge bonus for your brand and the customer experience.
  • Shipping Your Next Package. Eco and/or cost-conscious customers may reuse their mailer the next time they have to send out a package. Showcase your commitment to minimizing waste by encouraging and making it easy for your customers to do so.

EcoEnclose poly mailers have a tear strip and second adhesive strip that allows customers to easily open and reuse these bags which gives them a second life before heading to the recycle bin.

Recycle

Many poly mailers are fully recyclable. What does that mean? These are typically #4 (in the #1-#7 recycling labeling scheme) as they are made with Low-Density Polyethylene (LDPE).

These are considered "hard to recycle". Most residential recycling is "single stream." Our recycling bin contents end up at a sorting facility where bottles, plastics, and metals get sorted to be processed and remade into new products. They are loaded onto a conveyor belt for manual and then automated sorting. Paper and cardboard are separated first through a dedicated machine. Metals are then separated by a magnet, and then an Eddy current rotor machine. The plastic and glass continue down the line to an optical scanning system that recognizes the plastic and blows it away. The heavier glass moves on down to the end of the line where it falls into bins designated for glass.

LDPE, or #4 items, are lightweight and do not hold their shape. This leads them to get tangled up in the sorting machines, causing shutdowns and damage. So these are manually removed and thrown out...bound for the landfill.

The easiest way to recycle poly mailers and all plastic bags and film is to drop them off at stores and other dedicated facilities. To find a drop-off location near you, use the zip code locator at plasticfilmrecycling.org. We recommend dedicating a bucket to storing plastic bags and then, once it is full, bring it with you on your next grocery store trip.

If your customers can't easily recycle plastic film, they can ship them to EcoEnclose for recycling. Learn more about our Take-Back Program.  

 

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Cost of Poly Mailers

The cost of poly mailers depends on quality and durability, size of the mailer, quantity ordered, whether or not the mailer is reusable, where it is manufactured, and the type and environmental sustainability of material that is used. To provide a very basic starting point on pricing, the following is a comparison of three different 12"x15.5" poly mailer options available online. 

poly mailer comparison cost chart

Do sustainable poly mailers always cost more money? If a company wants to shop on cost alone, finding the cheapest possible poly mailer option they can find, than they will certainly potential new find mailer options. However, going with the cheapest option is rarely worth it. Once you start looking for mailers that are thick and durable, meet your sustainability goals, have user-friendly features (tear strip, dual seal) - the dirt cheap options no longer make sense and you may find that you’re willing to spend a few cents per mailer to ensure your packaging is high quality.

We believe it is important to buy poly mailers and packaging that stands by and promotes your values and commitment to the environment. Let’s say you are shipping a product priced at $50, and you are debating between a 20 cent and 25 cent poly mailer. This differential is just 0.1% of the total price – a gap you may make up because you can minimize damages to your goods in transit and strengthen your brand and customer loyalty.

We’ve found that eco-friendly packaging often inspires customers to post on social media – pretty powerful marketing for you and the environment!

 

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Wholesale Poly Mailers in Bulk

Many companies, including EcoEnclose, offer significant price discounts for high quantity orders. Contact Us For A Quote.

 

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Contact Us

Learn more about EcoEnclose 100% Recycled Poly Mailers and our entire recycled mailer offering. We are happy to help. Contact Us.

 


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