I recently discovered a new (at least for me) kind of packaging on Ethletic‘s Facebook page that could help reduce waste produced by online shops and similar businesses. But it has its pros and cons. Let me name them to you. Then be so kind and provide me with your answer. This could also help Ethletic and other companies figure out if they will change their packaging system in the future.
Their question is: is it more sustainable to use a recyclable plastic-bag that can be used 20 times instead of a carton covered in wrapping paper that is definitely waste after one use?
I bet we all know paper is more sustainable than plastic in general but we also need to know more about how both are recycled and produced. Paper bags for example need special tear-resistant cellulose fibers that are treated with chemicals. The thickness of their wall has to be higher in order to be as tear-proof as plastic bags. That makes them heavier and leads to more carbon emissions (source).
I experience that packaging problem regularly when I get parcels I ordered or got sponsored. And as much as I love upcycling glass jars or other products I received I never know what to do with “old” (in fact only once used) cardboard boxes. I put the smaller ones in the bigger ones and if they accumulated too much I deposit them at my local wastepaper container where everyone from the neighbourhood can get rid of cartons.Those are collected and deinked, then turned into 100% recycling paper or become a part of new paper with wastepaper portion. The process needs quite the amount of energy by the way.
Repack partly uses old billboards and mainly the recyclable plastic polypropylene (PP), which is the second most used plastic material on earth. It also is very cheap to produce and “sustainable” as recycled PP can be used for new products out of PP. But we have to be clear about the fact that plastic will stay plastic and has to be dealt with, even if it is many times recycled. The industry advertises that PP is a very long-lasting substance. In fact, this is the problem. It is resistant against chemicals, bacteria, fungi, algae and weather so it will not biodegrade and therefore is somewhat unnatural. Mineral oil and petroleum gas are the sources of PP but it contains no emollients or harmful substances so PP might be a good choice regarding all other available plastic options. “PP, together with PE, consumes the least amount of energy during production and produces the lowest carbon dioxide emissions when compared to other plastics” is stated here. But it definitely needs 450 years to degrade. Well it never really degrades. It turns into smaller and smaller pieces until we can’t distinguish it from other things and it is eaten, inhaled, swallowed by animals and us. It is uncertain if microorganisms are able to decompose plastics completely so we don’t know if 450 years (can you imagine that for one moment?) is the maximum lifespan. Paper in comparison has a much shorter lifespan but there are also types of papers that can resist nature longer than usually and last up to 200 years. This is used in archives with important documents but probably not a technology used in the wrapping paper Ethletic uses now for its packaging.
Have a look at some amazing info graphics I found here.
Please bear in mind that these graphics come from the website of the Association of Plastics Manufacturers. They might be euphemistic but definitely informative.
As already stated on the Ethletic blog the introduction of RePack would have an impactful meaning to other companies that want to be as sustainable as Ethletic or even better. They would likely have to jump on the train, too, as customers may choose their online shops after the amount of sustainability they offer. Maybe also big logistics and packaging companies would have a reason to think about alternatives, too. I mean, with the absolutely unreal number of returns of big players like Zalando a packaging system that lasts 20 times longer while avoiding waste would have a huge impact!
The bag itself is secure enough so that the products could be put inside plain, with no other covering. Ethletic states that customers often glue the return label on the original Ethletic carton which is then useless and therefore waste. This would also be avoided by using RePack.
Also there is a reward system with RePack: when you send the RePack bag back you get a 10% or 10€ coupon off a pool of (sustainable) brands. Would you pay the 2€ extra? Some companies will need to relocate the expenses partly to their customers by giving them the choice of free standard shipping or sustainable shipping with an additional few bucks with a good conscience inclusive 😉
- isn’t there a chance RePack would switch to a 100% amount of recycled materials like old billboards and similar things? At least they should guarantee that they do not need de novo synthetis of even more plastic for their bag, that they are no reason more plastic is produced.
- there is organic plastic on its way – maybe also an option? But that is made up of corn starch and other produce so one could argument that we shouldn’t use food for other things than nutrition as there is a lack of that on earth.
- I think the emissions would be lower if customers were able to give those RePack bags directly to a delivery guy the next time one stops at their door to drop of another item so that no one needs to do an extra round of CO2 emissions.
- if we all would have a closer look at our own waste management we could make the recycling of plastic a more sustainable thing. Many items with plastic end up in the wrong waste bin and can not be recycled, therefor potential energy gets lost.Waste seperation should have a higher meaning in our lives.
As you can see I am not completely convinced of one side yet so here comes your turn: let me know what you think in the comments 🙂
Have a look at the German blog post by Ethletic yourself here.
If you want to further inform yourself, have a look at Plasticized – the documentary here or many other documentaries and blog posts.
Cliick the pictures below to see them in increased size or go to the original website I linked to above.