By: Stefan Christie
7 Minute Read
Are you confused by what is and what isn’t “eco-packaging”? Maybe you’re researching into the different options and not sure what to choose.
A popular piece of packaging is the mailing bag. It’s become increasingly common in the e-commerce sector, with couriers providing them and businesses branding up their own, the mailer is a popular choice for any business shipping out products to customers.
With the need to become more sustainable, nearly every company worldwide is looking to reduce CO2 emissions, remove single-use plastics, or find a compostable packaging alternative.
In this article we’re taking a deep dive into the different mailing bag solutions, giving you the “warts and all” summary of what there is out there and how each one performs.
Let’s begin …
At the top of the list for the “most used” mailing bags, it’s a low cost, waterproof, and customisable option used around the world for shipping products. A lot of plastic mailers are made from virgin material making them not so eco-friendly.
But, by choosing a 30% recycled mailer, brands can avoid the dreaded plastic tax and help achieve their environmental goals. You may think, “the plastic polythene is recyclable so it’s eco-friendly”, while this is true, only 9% of plastic actually gets recycled. 79% ends up in landfill or the ocean, and 12% is incinerated! While plastic mailing bags have great features, their environmental factors aren’t so good.
So, to be classified as a truly “sustainable” brand, you could consider a more sophisticated plastic, like corn starch, or sugarcane. A lot of brands put cost first by doing the bare minimum to avoid the Plastic Tax, but in reality, they are not likely to be a favourable choice for the consumer. In fact, over 80% of consumers prefer to purchase from a company that is seen as sustainable.
No doubt you would have seen the big uproar against brands that are “green-washing”. In time, these brands will lose customers to eco-brands like Lush or Patagonia who have a truly sustainable drive which customers can clearly feel.
Let’s move on to look at the eco alternatives to the above Polythene Mailing Bag …
The hint is in the name. Being made from recycled materials, these mailing bags cause less damage to the environment. Manufactured from post-consumer waste, the mailer may be less smooth and contain blemishes, but this doesn’t affect the quality of the bag, making it a great sustainable alternative.
Performance & Price. These are both very similar to the standard virgin mailer, so it’s definitely worth looking into and trialing out in your business as a quick alternative. The bag can be branded up with your own logo, or as many brands like to do, promote the fact the bag is more eco-friendly and made from recycled content.
To ensure that your suppliers recycled mailers are legitimate, it’s recommended that you request a Global Recycling Scheme certificate from them to prove this. Without a GRS certificate there’s no guarantee that the content is recycled which can be seen as greenwashing and have a big impact on your brand. So, it’s important to be vigilant in this respect when working with your supplier.
For a recycled mailing bag, the minimum order quantity varies but is generally around 5000pcs if made in Europe, and 10,000pcs if choosing to work with the Far East.
For brands looking at minimising plastic use, this still may not be the best option as the mailer can still end up in oceans or polluting the countryside. The following options might be worth consider …
Again, a great option but slightly less common in the e-commerce market. Made from a renewable, plant-based material, the mailing bag can be recycled along with standard plastics. But, with it being fairly new to the market, the MOQ’s are a lot higher, usually around 25,000pcs. Although it is made from a renewable resource, the bag has the same properties as a recycled mailer, meaning the product isn’t compostable or easily biodegradable after use.
The D2W mailer is polymer-based masterbatch which is placed inside a mailing bag to shorten the biodegrading process. Although this may look a great idea on the surface, the result of the additive just creates a reduced version of the chemicals in the bag. Plus, when being recycled, the D2W can create issues causing the whole recycling batch to end up in landfill. We don’t recommend choosing a mailer bag classified as “D2W” due to its non-recyclability and environmental impacts. It has actually been made law that bags containing “D2W” cannot claim to be biodegradable.
This is a fairly new concept, but being widely embraced by brands across the world, Amazon and Superdy among them. It’s definitely a product we recommend looking into and trying out in your business. Why it’s becoming the go-to for mailer bags, is due to its eco properties. The mailing bag can be easily recycled by simply putting it into your kerbside paper recycling bin. The paper is also biodegradable meaning if it becomes exposed to the ocean or natural habitat, it will break down to an unharmful mass within a short space of time.
A lot of people immediately think of the risk of products getting damaged by water vapour when the word paper is mentioned. Although there is a slightly higher risk of this happening compared to the Polythene mailing bags, the chance of it happening is minimum. The UK manufacturer of paper mailer bags have confirmed that there has not been a single report of product damage, with millions of these bags being used, it shows the likelihood of this happening is very small. A clear coating can be added to enhance the waterproof features of the bag but this does increase cost.
With the paper bag now being produced in high volumes in the UK, prices have decreased by a large percentage and are now similar to plastic mailing bags. Plus, paper is by far easier to overprint, making minimum order quantities lower, perfect for smaller businesses and a great way for bigger businesses to trial and test.
At Sustabio, we stock a range of paper mailing bags, equipped with a peel and seal closure for ease of use. For those shipping small, fragile goods and worried about using a mailer bag, the all paper envelope is a great eco-alternative.
Inks. If you’re looking to go further with your branded mailer, you can choose to print your mailer with vegetable based inks which are fully
recyclable and biodegradable. Compared to the standard oil-based which cause pollution and environmental harm.
Energy To Recycle. A factor to consider against paper mailing bags is that the recycling process of paper does sometimes cause environmental damage. But, the fact is, consumers prefer the paper over the plastic mailer due to its ease of recycling and biodegradability.
Strength. The paper mailer has a very good strength to withstand courier handling. We recommend you asking your supplier for a sample before purchasing in bulk. This allows you to perform rigorous testing with your products.
So, that’s the paper mailer bag, but there’s actually different types! ….
Having been in the packaging market for many years, we have seen a big switch from single-use to recycled. Consumers are now forcing brands to move across to fully recyclable and biodegradable alternatives. Plus, governments are doing there part to push this too, with a new legislation coming to Europe which will ensure 50% of ecommerce packaging is reusable by 2040 and 10% by 2030. This will cause brands such as Repack and Sendbag to rise to the fore.
Hopefully this guide has taught you “several ways to skin the cat”. The cat being mailing bags. It really all depends on what the goals of your organisation are. Whether you’re looking to just do enough to avoid the plastic tax, or doing all you can to help protect the environment, there’s an option for everyone.
If you need any further advice or guidance on the best course of action to take in 2023, then the Sustabio Team will gladly help out and send samples where needed. Just hit the below button.
Get daily insight, new product launches and sustainability tips straight to your inbox.