As you already know if you follow our social media and our evolution from our beginnings, at Olivia & Prescott we are sustainable since we were born and we avoid any use of plastics, especially single-use plastics.
When we thought about our shipments, we were looking for zero plastic shipping bags. So we have tried to get the transport companies we work with to provide us with an alternative, but it is not easy for large companies to change certain procedures.
Then we started to look for eco-mailers, compostable or biodegradable, from other dedicated companies like Wastebased, a UK company that constantly is researching for better alternatives. The best thing you can do is generating as little waste as possible, but if you do create waste, find a way that has less impact on the environment and, indirectly, on people.
We are absolutely happy with our totally sustainable packaging!
Our compostable mailers, sustainable packaging are made of cornstarch and the inks printed on them are water-based, non-toxic, but still water resistant, light, flexible and strong as polypropylene, so that your order arrives perfectly at its destination.
We think we should explain a bit about the types of ecommerce bags available on the market today:
POLYETHYLENE Before we get into eco-packaging, let's start with polyethylene, one of the reasons why we need eco-packaging. Polyethylene envelopes are made of polyethylene, specifically low-density polyethylene (LDPE). Polyethylene is the most common plastic, with over 100 million tonnes produced worldwide each year. It can be made from renewable sources, but most of it is derived from fossil fuels. LDPE can be recycled, but this is very unlikely because it requires separation from other types of plastics. LDPE is not cost-effective to recycle and if it is not recycled, it can take hundreds of years to biodegrade. LDPE is also not infinitely recyclable like glass bottles or aluminium cans, as it can only be recycled once or twice, and after that, at best, a container of polyethylene is likely to be recycled in a landfill (because recycled LDPE is contaminated by mixed printing inks, recycled LDPE products tend to be grey or black) before it reaches landfill.
CARDBOARD/CARDBOARDBOARD is an excellent packaging material, depending on thickness, can offer built-in cushioning, is renewable, biodegradable, recyclable and compostable. The bad news is that manufacturing cartonboard generates more CO2, uses more water and generates more air and water pollutants than manufacturing e-commerce (e-co) advertisements.As people move away from plastic, the demand for cartonboard packaging is expected to increase in the coming years. More than two billion trees are cut down every year just to make packaging board, and as this increases, great pressure is being put on our forests. Cartonboard can be composted or recycled. However, like polyethylene, it cannot be recycled indefinitely and loses quality with each cycle. On average, cardboard can be recycled about five times, however, some products can be recycled up to 25 times. If you want to use cardboard as a packaging material, make sure you use 100% FSC-certified recycled cardboard. Recycled cardboard generates 37% less CO2 to manufacture than virgin cardboard, does not require any trees to be cut down and produces 49% less waste water in the process.
ECO-PACKAGING We have little more than a decade to prevent a major climate change catastrophe. Our recycling system is broken and single-use plastic pollution is a major environmental problem. A small part of the solution is to find better and more environmentally friendly ways of packaging things. Bioplastics are plastics that are made from biomass (e.g., plant starch, vegetable oil, straw, wood chips or food waste) instead of fossil fuels at the beginning of their life ("bio-based") or that break down into organic biomass at the end of their life ("biodegradable"), or both.Bioplastics
BIO-POLYETHYLENE When researching biodegradable shipping bags, you may have come across some "sugarcane-based" ones. The manufacturers of these bags claim that they are carbon neutral because the CO2 emitted in the course of the manufacturing and transportation processes is offset by the CO2 removed in the cultivation of sugar cane.they are made from a waste by-product of the sugar cane refining process, which is transformed into alcohol and then into ethanol, and then into ethylene and then into polyethylene. This "bio-polyethylene" can be classified as a non-biodegradable, bio-based bioplastic that is recyclable. The carbon footprint of these bio-polyethylene bags may be better than traditional polyethylene bags, but their end-of-life scenario is no different. They are still technically recyclable polyethylene shipments, although they are unlikely to be recyclable. As compostable packaging is generally not recyclable, a good indicator that packaging is not compostable is if it says it is recyclable. If a "plastic-looking" bag says it is 100% recyclable, it is likely to be made of polyethylene (whether from fossil fuels or from a biological source such as sugar cane) and therefore not compostable or biodegradable.
COMPOSTABLE Vs BIODEGRADABLE
Often used interchangeably, these terms are not the same. If something is "biodegradable", that means that living micro-organisms (bacteria and fungi) will eventually break it down into CO2, biomass and water. It is not specified how fast or slow that happens, and whether there is any material left at the end (i.e. if something does not biodegrade). Many things take so long to biodegrade that the term becomes rather arbitrary. For example, it is estimated that polyethylene takes approximately 500 years to biodegrade and glass bottles up to 1 million years. The term "biodegradable" alone does not tell you how long it will take for an item to biodegrade, whether special conditions are required or whether any toxic residue will remain.
"Compostable" means that something biodegrades within a certain period of time under certain specific human-controlled conditions. In waste, when we talk about something being "compostable", we mean that the item will decompose at least 90% in 90 days in an industrial composting facility. When we talk about something being "home compostable", we mean that the item will decompose at least 90% within 180 days in a home composting bin.
When researching biodegradable shipping bags, you may have come across the term "oxo-degradable" or seen bags marketed as "100% recyclable / made from 100% recycled material with a degradable additive". Often confused with biodegradable plastics, oxo-degradable plastics are a category in their own right. They generally cannot be classified as bioplastics because they are not biodegradable and usually do not have a biological basis.
Oxodegradables are often conventional plastics such as polyethylene that have been blended with additives that mimic biodegradation, but do not actually cause the base polymer to biodegrade. In the presence of oxygen, heat or sunlight, over the course of months or years, oxo-degradable plastics break down into smaller and smaller pieces (i.e. microplastics), but cannot break down at the molecular or polymer level. The resulting microplastics can remain in the environment and contribute to pollution of waterways and oceans.
For this reason, the European Parliament voted to ban certain oxo-degradable plastics in early 2019.
Our compostable mailers, sustainable packaging that you will receive at home from Olivia & Prescott, are not oxo-degradable.
What conclusions can we deduce from this?
Compostable packaging is preferable to biodegradable packaging. Compostable is a sub-category of biodegradable. Industrially certified compostable packaging must go to an industrial composting facility, operating at approximately 58 degrees Celsius, to decompose, but products that are certified as "OK Compost Home" or "AS 5810" can be composted at home!
Exodegradable bags that promise to decompose in sunlight and oxygen are no better. Oxo-degradable plastics are usually based on polyethylene. They do not biodegrade, instead they break down into microplastics that harm the environment and the EU recently passed a law banning some of them.
PLA is not a solution. PLA is a biodegradable, bio-based bioplastic. Items made from 100% PLA (such as food containers and disposable knives and forks) will probably not compost in your household compost bin (or will do so very slowly). Maybe we shouldn't make disposable cutlery from PLA when reusable cutlery is available? Maybe disposable plates made from home composted, waste materials such as areca leaves are a better option?
Cardboard packaging is not always the best option. Cardboard can be an excellent packaging option, but it also has some drawbacks. It requires much more energy and water to manufacture than compostable packaging and produces more air and water pollutants in the process. Unless it is 100% recycled, trees must be cut down to produce it. It is also not waterproof and if it has been treated (e.g. coated with wax or plastic) it can take longer to decompose into a compost heap than an (e-co)bag.