We answer this question from square one which is, making anything will have an impact on the earth and therefore inextricably be unsustainable. However, because we deeply believe you cannot abate the human desire to create we would rather find the most sustainable route to do so and steer creators toward that greener pasture. So here we are, how do we find sustainable packaging that can ship our products safely yet disintegrate reliably? Let's dig in.
An Ode to the Polybag
The problem in packaging is not for lack of want of more sustainable options. As in natural deodorant, it is finding a product that truly performs to the level needed to complete the job. Polybags work well because they can truly protect your product through ill weather, bad shipping conditions, and a myriad of other fun adventures your product might encounter along it's way from factory to customer. As in politics, polybags are the concession you are willing to make to accomplish your goal, getting your more sustainable product to the market in a dependable high quality manner that doesn't effect the cost. Want to learn more on why? Patagonia, transparent to their core, published a case study on the very issue and you should read it.
Enter Sustainable Packaging
Just as we have greenwashing in retail, any packaging company worth their salt is offering a more sustainable packaging option these days to stay relevant. However, not all of these sustainable claims hold up. There are actually mailers being touted as "compostable" that cannot actually be decomposed in a backyard compost which the messaging implies but rather need to be shipped to a specialty composter which city recycling does not offer. Read more in Alden Wicker's Ecocult article here. As in any case for sustainability, consumer adaptability is key for it actually being sustainable and recyclable. If there isn't an easy place for the mass population to discard an item to be recycled, it will not be. Period. End of sentence.
The first thing that popped up when we began researching this topic was Noissue. Noissue offers custom branded tissue, stickers, tape, and mailers that are sustainable, and they are everywhere. They offer great branding options, and generally are making sustainable packaging sexy - a very hard feat. And as the Ecocult article points out, the big issue with finding biodegradable packaging options currently is that many of these innovative sustainable packaging companies don't offer small enough order quantities for small to medium size and growing brands to source. Noissue compostable mailers are certified to break down within 180 days in a home compost, leaving no harmful residue after the fact. Plus they even have a shelf life of 9 months! Plus their minimums are only 100 for mailers and 250 for paper and stamps, so they are small business friendly. Here's a couple reviews we found online, PS this is not a paid advertisement, just generally being a good neighbor.
Not All Sustainable Packaging is Created Equal
As a decision maker for a fashion brand it's your job to be educated on the verbiage to make the most sustainable decisions for your brand. It's a complicated road to travel, so let's breakdown the key words you'll find on the packaging portion of the journey.
Compostable Packaging - This means it's compostable in a backyard and made from natural plant starch. It is non toxic with strict regulations but is thin and therefore a risk for durability in shipping (but maybe fine). Most importantly, not accepted by recycling, so if your customer doesn't compost this point is moot.
Biodegradable Packaging - While better than traditional polybags, they aren't an easy answer. These bags are technically biodegradable but only by an industrial compost facility under specific conditions. While plant based, they still contain micro-plastics. However, they are more durable than compostable packaging so they can be used multiple times (encourage that!). FYI: this is the polybag that won't decompose if it ends up in the ocean.
Recycled Packaging - While it's working on using recycled plastic to take some materials out of our waste, it's also putting it back. The biggest problem with this polybag is it's not really able to be recycled again. It's durable so can be reused, but isn't going to break down on its own...like ever. As plastics go, it's full of micro-organisms, and might contain toxins, things to consider.
At the end of the day, here's a couple things to consider: You aren't going to be 100% sustainable if you are making a product because you are using resources. And you aren't going to be the most sustainable as you start off this journey. Being a sustainable fashion brand involves better materials sourcing, better packaging options, even a better look at your retail strategy. With every new material and increased strategy, you become more sustainable so you have to start somewhere. If you need more help with setting up your production and supply chain, we'd love to help you. Check out our Production Pro Course to get started.