We Could Sell This Biodegradable Poly Mailer
WE COULD SELL THIS BIODEGRADABLE POLY MAILER
But we won't.
If our goal was to maximize profits, we would sell compostable poly mailers. EcoEnclose’s goal, however, is to make eCommerce a positive force for the environment by offering the world’s most sustainable packaging solutions.
We prioritize sustainability over sales, so we've decided not to offer compostable mailers as our research has shown them to be much less eco-friendly than our existing options
What Are Compostable, Biodegradable Poly Mailers?
Many packaging companies now offer compostable, biodegradable poly mailers. These mailers are made with a combination of corn-based PLA bioplastic and fossil-fuel based PBAT. Some of them have passed ASTM standards for compostability and some have secured BPI compostable certification.
We Could Sell These Biodegradable Poly Mailers Tomorrow.
These mailers are largely manufactured in China and can be purchased readily through a marketplace like Alibaba.
Every few weeks, EcoEnclose receives a sales email like this one from a Chinese manufacturer of compostable mailers.
And a quick search through Alibaba reveals a myriad of compostable poly mailer options.
I can’t lie, it's tempting to just go for it.
We know a lot of ecommerce brands are searching for bioplastic bags, and would make the switch to EcoEnclose quickly if we started offering this option - across our team, we respond to inquiries about these mailers many times per week. Since they’re manufactured in China with subsidized inputs, they can also be sold at a lower price point than our domestically-made, recycled-content poly mailers.
When I put my pure business hat on, it is really hard to say no. I get antsy to order them so we can begin selling them in a few weeks. But then, my eco hat takes over and I remember what EcoEnclose is in business for and what I am passionate about - the planet.
With that in mind, the decision to say no becomes obvious. It becomes obvious that we should skip the easy pathway to a rapid, short-lived profit from degenerative sources, and instead focus EcoEnclose on developing innovative products that live up to our ideals of circularity. This type of innovation and ecological progress requires in-depth partnerships with reclaimers, manufacturers and technology developers.
Yes, this approach is harder, and yes this approach takes longer - but it is what we are in business for.
Why Are Compostable Poly Mailers Less Sustainable?
1. Source Materials: Virgin Inputs, Corn & PLA, PBAT Fossil Fuels
The Problem with Corn
Land Conversion Ruins Biodiversity and Emits Greenhouse Gases: In 2013, it was documented that 23 million acres of US grassland, shrub land and wetland were destroyed to support ethanol production. This conversion emitted millions of tons of greenhouse gases into the environment. It has been suggested that the use of "PLA for poly mailers makes up barely 0.05% of annual global corn crop," conveying the sense that we “should not worry” about land conversion issues when it comes to PLA. This way of thinking is immensely misleading.
Compostable mailers' low impact today is driven by the fact that PLA/PBAT mailers are still such a tiny fraction of the global mailer and plastic supply. To be truly thoughtful about this question, we need to consider - what happens if PLA mailers become commonplace? It takes about 2.65 lbs of corn to make a pound of PLA (a broader range of 2.5-2.8 lbs corn to 1 lb plastic was shared via a phone call to Kansas State University Extension). If we converted all of our plastic to PLA, we would need to double the world's corn production.
Corn Production Is Largely Fueled By Petroleum: Growing and harvesting corn for ethanol takes a lot of energy - farm machinery, fertilizers, energy required to convert corn into ethanol, transportation, etc. Studies have shown that 74-95% of the energy content in corn ethanol comes from fossil fuels. In other words, there is only a 5-26% renewable energy “profit.”
Corn Results in Excessive Nitrogen and Phosphorus Runoff: The EPA has stated that, “nutrient pollution is one of America’s most widespread, costly and challenging environmental problems, and is caused by excess nitrogen and phosphorus in the air and water” and is driven largely by chemical fertilizers used on industrial crops, manures and discharges from wastewater treatment facilities.
The Ethics and Impact of Growing Crops for Non-Food Uses: In 2000, ethanol represented 6 percent of our corn production. In 2013, it represented 40 percent. This is an astonishing amount of crop production getting diverted away from food for animal or human consumption. Because the United States is the world’s top corn producer, this shift has also disrupted global markets for corn and other agricultural commodities. National Research Council studies suggest that the ethanol mandate raised commodity prices by 20 to 40% from 2007 to 2009. This resulted in farmers seeking more land for production, resulting in millions of acres of land-use change.
Consolidating Power Among Seed Producers: Genetically engineered corn allows chemical companies such as ConAgra and Monsanto to further control our land, our public policy, our soil, and our agricultural economy
2. End of Life: Not Circular, Not Enriching
3. Carbon Footprint
4. They Do Not Address Ocean Pollution
What Eco-Friendly Mailers Should I Use?
Depending on your sustainability goals and cost constraints, we recommend 100% recycled paper or 100% recycled poly mailers.
The Pros of Paper
- More circular than plastic - our options are 100% recycled and curbside recyclable.
- Naturally biodegradable - if it ends up as litter, it will not pose a long-term threat to the environment.
The Pros of Poly
- 100% recycled poly mailers have a lower carbon footprint than 100% recycled paper mailers.
- Functional advantages - more flexible, durable and water-resistant.
If 100% recycled paper mailers will functionally work for your products and the price point works for you, they are great eco-friendly packaging solutions that better embody circularity than poly solutions.