Ultimate Guide to Sustainable Shipping
Have you just started your own Etsy store or maybe you've had your own shop for some time now? Are you an online retailer who ships products? Either way, you've likely put a fair amount of thought into how you are going to ship your products; whether it be local, domestic or international shipping. While using plastic shipping bags, or tape from your local post office may be more affordable or even free, there is no denying they are causing harm to our Earth. Ask yourself this question; how can we each do our best to have as little impact as possible for your online business? We have been asked several times about how to ship more sustainably. If you're interested in reducing your carbon footprint or looking to achieve a more sustainable shipping method, this is the Ultimate Guide.
In this article we will cover:
- Tips for Reducing Carbon Footprint When Shipping
- Best Eco-Friendly Shipping materials
- Best Product for Compostable Product Labels
- Top Companies to Buy Eco-Friendly Shipping Supplies
We have reached out and spoken to our heroes and leaders in the industry, we have researched and read, and we are ready to share with you what we have learned. So please read on, let us know of any additional tips you have (we'll be sure to add them to the blog and give you full credit of course!)
DISCLOSURE: this is not a sponsored post, though we do include links to several companies multiple times, it is for you as a resource only. We are in no way affiliated with any of the mentioned businesses and receive no monetary compensation from them. We are big fans of these companies and what they represent so we encourage others to support them as well!
How Does Your Company Reduce The Carbon Footprint When It Comes to Shipping?
Start with What You Already Have
When it comes to reducing your carbon footprint there are two golden rules. The first being; use what you have, always! If you have ordered from 4 The Greater Good, and you have a product to ship, use the packaging we sent to you. Reuse Reuse Reuse. If you ordered a package from another online marketplace and they sent you plastic with your packaging, it's still better to reuse that plastic than it would be to buy some eco-friendly filler. Using what we already have on hand is always better than buying new ones. Even eco-friendly packaging requires resources to make it. Our friend Jessie at the Tiny Yellow Bungalow, suggests asking friends and family to collect and share their packaging with you. She also mentioned that your local Wal-Mart almost always has someone stocking the shelves and they are more than happy to offer the broken down boxes. If you have a specific product you sell and your shipping boxes need to be the same size, you can ask your friends and family to save boxes of only that size for you.
Offer Bulk Shipping Whenever Possible
Do your customers have to come back and order from you several times throughout the year? Do you sell products that need to be replaced? For example, here at 4 The Greater Good, we sell products like bamboo toothbrushes. These toothbrushes need to be replaced every 3 months as recommended by the ADA (frayed bristles don't clean as well, and germs can linger in bristles, etc.) So we offer a discount on purchasing 4 toothbrushes to last the entire year vs. only one. This means we will only have to make one shipment instead of 4 over the course of the year. We are developing a strategy to do this on all of our products for return customers and for products that have recommended replacement periods. How can you bundle your goods so shipping is required less frequently?
Best Eco-Friendly Shipping Materials
100% Recycled Cardboard Boxes
Once you have used up all of the materials you already have, and you still need shipping supplies, choose boxes made of 100% recycled material whenever possible. Why do we suggest choosing recycled materials? Because our purchases do not require new materials to be created but are making the most of what is already available. The more our purchases push for recycled materials (office paper, cardboard boxes, etc.) the more companies will start making them, and this will push the pricing down for all of us. We mentioned in our article about the importance of buying organic produce that we are voting with our dollar. When we purchase organic (for those who can) we are voting for fewer chemicals on the planet. When we purchase shipping containers made of recycled cardboard, we are voting for less "new materials" to be created. We are voting to purchase products made of materials that already exist. We will all be better for it!
100% Plastic Free Packaging
I think 4 The Greater Good has been fairly clear about how we feel about plastic. We could all benefit and give mother nature a break by using a whole lot less of it! The only exception here would be if you are already using up what you already have. If you have purchased plastic tape, finish it up. It's more wasteful to buy new than to use what you already have. Our favorite quote by Maya Angelou applies here, "When You Know Better, You Do Better." Now you know. So the next time you need to purchase tape for your packaging, choose paper tape. When shipping with USPS be aware of all of the plastic that is in their envelopes and bubble wrap. There are other materials available to ship your items!
Choose Compostable Filler When Shipping
We have all seen the amount of waste that can be created from shipping materials; whether it was jumping up and down as bubble wrap as a kid (that was fun, thank you Grandpa ;) or the nightmare of a child getting a hold of styrofoam packing and watching it cover the house (that wasn't so fun, thank you to my 3 year old lol.) Shipping fillers can be extremely wasteful. We choose newspaper whenever possible. It is easy to recycle or compost and is easy to find. Ask your local newsstand or convenience store if they have any unsold newspapers you could have.
Best Options for Compostable Shipping Filler
- Use What You Have - if you have ordered a package from a different online marketplace, you may have some bubble wrap or plastic air packs lying around. Reusing these fillers is the most sustainable material since no new resources will be used.
- Corn Starch Packing Peanuts - these were created as a replacement for styrofoam packing peanuts. They are static-free so they will not stick to clothes and can be placed in your home compost or thrown in your kitchen sink under some running water. They will melt away.
- Corrugated Bubble (paper) wrap - this option was created from paper material and the way it is layered and cut creates a cushion to protect your items in transit.
- Mushroom Packaging - this material can be custom designed for your product. Picture the last printer you purchased and how much styrofoam packaging was included in that box. Now imagine a company that could 3-D print packaging to replace that styrofoam! Yes, it's possible!
- Recycled Paper Shreds or 100% recycled Packaging Paper - You can order recycled newsprint paper right to your door. Use this to wrap your products or even to wrinkle up and stuff into the empty spaces of your boxes to reduce shifting.
- Newspaper - ask your local convenient store if they have newspapers they no longer need. Or ask your friends who subscribe to the paper if they can save them for you! This option is our personal favorite because this option is free and doesn't require making new materials.
When choosing a shipping label brand for your business, be sure to consider what the label does to your packaging. If you are choosing a label with plastic, it could be difficult to remove and then make your 100% recyclable cardboard box impossible to be recycled. So the best we have found for shipping labels is EcoEnclose's 100% post-consumer content paper with a recycle compatible backing.
Choose Paper Tape vs. Plastic
Another simple switch when choosing to ship your products sustainably is to choose paper tape. Some types of tape are able to be recycled, while others are not. Since we all know that plastic has its limitations when it comes to recycling (to put it lightly) let's choose paper whenever possible.
Best Products for Compostable Product Labels
Although there aren't too many options available yet for compostable product labels, we have found one for you guys that you are going to love! These labels are called Pure Labels.
PURE Labels are the only compostable labels with fully compostable certified adhesives. When the labels are used with compostable packaging they create a 100% compostable packaging solution. We realize this isn't technically "shipping materials" but it was such a great product find that we had to share! So thank you to our friend Stevie, founder and mastermind behind our Yay For Earth lotion and also to our friend Aimee, at Plastic Free Pursuit for the recommendation of such an awesome company!
Top Companies to Buy Eco-Friendly Shipping Supplies
We have been in the zero waste space since 2017 and we have learned so much over the past few years. There have been hours of research and lots of conversations and Instagram chats with our community of fellow zero waste bloggers and shop owners. It has been a joy to learn about these shipping solutions and we wanted to be sure to highlight our favorite companies from this list. We do not have first-hand experience with all of these companies yet, but we believe in their mission and hope this list will help you to make additional eco-friendly shipping choices for your business. If you know of another company to add to this list, please reach out to us, and we'll update it as we go.
- Eco Enclose - This company's mission is incredible. They are the only company that offers ONLY sustainable shipping options. They haven't adding several environmentally friendly products to their line; they carry the entire line of sustainable shipping options. This includes 100% recycled material cardboard boxes, fillers, paper tape, 100% recycled plastic mailers, and so much more. They also offer customization of their boxes so they will cut it to the exact size and shape needed for your business. They will custom print on your materials as well, using only soy-based inks. We aren't sponsored here, we just love what these guys stand for!
- Pure Labels - This company has developed an innovative adhesive for its labels that can be added to the compost or are recycle friendly. This means their labels will not contaminate the recycling and the label will peel away. The compostable labels are made of sugarcane waste. Although they are made of new material, they do not contain plastic and are made of an all-natural waste product. The labels are made exclusively with Non-GMO materials, always. All printing for your labels will be plant-based, so planet-friendly.
- Mushroom Packaging - The mission here is admirable, to say the least. The packaging is made by combining agricultural waste & mycelium (vegetative root structure of mushrooms) into a custom mold. After a few days of growth, the products are left to dry and your packaging is ready. After use, it can be added to the compost.
What tips do you have to help other businesses ship sustainably? We would love it if you could share your comments below. We'll be happy to give you a shoutout and add you to the blog!