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Innovators in Eco-Friendly Packaging and Shipping Supplies

Our Sustainable Packaging Framework

Our Sustainable Packaging Framework

Updated January 8, 2024 • 20 minute read

Guidelines for Developing the World’s Most Eco-Friendly Packaging

EcoEnclose is on a mission to transition the United States to truly sustainable packaging. Our north star for sustainable packaging is circularity. What does this mean?

Packaging is made from packaging and becomes packaging again at the end of it's useful life.
Virgin inputs into the packaging manufacturing system are regenerative.
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While this vision is inspiring and guiding, we can only achieve it with a clear, tactical framework that guides our priorities and day-to-day decision-making. We recognize that no packaging - including ours - is truly sustainable today. That means we are consistently looking at our existing solution set, looking for ways to elevate what we already offer to bring it closer and closer to our vision of circularity. Our sustainable packaging framework is a powerful tool in helping us identify gaps in our solution set and prioritize which improvements to pursue. The framework also guides decision-making on new materials to consider. Our customers and manufacturers ask us to offer new packaging options every day. Last week alone, I received an email about dissolvable plastic packaging, compostable pouches made with cassava and cellulose, and virgin paper mailers. Our sustainable packaging framework provides a straightforward way to evaluate these new inquiries. After evaluating these inquiries in depth - including the three examples shared above - we decide they aren’t a strong step forward in achieving our future vision of circularity. When this happens, we choose not to move forward with these materials, even if that means losing customers and market share. On the other hand, some innovations arise that clearly and beautifully fit into our framework, such as next-generation paper made with agricultural waste, reusable mailers, and seaweed-derived materials. When we discover these, we invest heavily in their development, testing, and expansion. Companies like yours are also trying to make thoughtful decisions and may need support navigating the world of eco phrases - recycled, recyclable, compostable, biodegradable, zero waste, plastic-free, and more. We developed and are sharing this framework to clarify - for ourselves, our partners, and the brands we work with - what we at EcoEnclose mean by “eco-friendly packaging,” why we’ve made the choices we have, and the future we are working towards. We hope that after you read this, you’ll come away with: (1) an understanding of how thoughtfully and carefully we’ve developed our product lines, how we identify where they still fall short, and what ecological improvements to pursue (2) the types of solutions you’ll likely see from us in the future as we continue to innovate (3) the tensions and tradeoffs we consider when it comes to sustainable packaging (4) ideas for how you can continue to make your shipping strategy as eco-friendly as possible - regardless of whether you are working with another packaging provider or us

10 Criteria That Guide Our Decision Making

Recycled Content and Recycling Supply Chain
Is it made with as much recycled content, and post-consumer waste in particular, as possible? Is the post-consumer waste the same material as the packaging being created? Is the post-consumer waste supply chain domestic, strengthening the US’s recycling capabilities and capacity?
Reusability and Recyclability
Can it be widely recycled? Can it be recycled back into itself? Can the packaging be reused before it is recycled? Are we doing all we can to maximize the rate at which it gets reused and recycled?
Restorative Virgin Materials
[When evaluating virgin materials or new innovations] Is it significantly more restorative than the extractive, destructive materials being replaced, such as paper derived from uncertified forestry or plastic derived from fossil fuels or chemical-heavy crops? Does EcoEnclose have an opportunity to help commercialize and catalyze the market adoption of an emerging material that can be regenerative long-term? Have we vetted how the source material is produced, and is that production as thoughtful as possible?
Carbon Emissions and Life Cycle Analysis
Have we reviewed the material or packaging solution’s carbon footprint and taken steps to minimize it? Have we assessed its life cycle across all critical issues and planetary boundaries, such as deforestation, eutrophication, soil health, air quality, biodiversity, and human health?
Source Reduction
Is the packaging made with as little material as possible while still meeting our brands' functional and aesthetic needs?
Ethical Supply Chain
Are the people who manufacture and ship our packaging treated with dignity and a commitment to ethics? Are communities across the supply chain strengthened?
Commitment to the Little Things
Have we identified and pursued all opportunities to make less apparent aspects of the solution as eco-friendly and recycle-friendly as possible, including adhesives, inks, additives, colorants, release liners, and more?
Efficient Logistics
Is the solution manufactured relatively close to where the packaging will ultimately be shipped? Is the recycled content derived relatively close to where the packaging is manufactured?
Transparency and Verification
Do we have documentation across the entire supply chain to verify our data points about the solution? Can we share critical statistics about the packaging with our community so they can make the most informed decisions possible about our packaging? Can we share quantified data with our brands about the impact of their packaging solutions?
Continuous Innovation
Can we make the solution better - and more circular - in support of our ultimate sustainable packaging vision? Are these improvements appropriately planned for in our innovation roadmap?

How Each Question Gets Us Closer to Our Vision of Circular, Regenerative Packaging

Packaging is Made Out of Packaging
Recycled Content, Reusability, Recyclability, and US Recycling Capacity

Recycled Content
 
Is it made with as much recycled content, and post-consumer waste in particular, as possible?

We seek to maximize the recycled content levels in our packaging, particularly post-consumer waste levels. We constantly seek to get our products’ material make-up to 100% post-consumer waste. We also prioritize recycled content derived from the US and reclaimed and remanufactured within the US.

By utilizing, demanding, and constantly increasing domestically derived recycled content, we spur demand for what households and companies recycle. This market pull drives improvements across the recycling supply chain - leading to increased innovation, equipment, and capacity among reclaimers to receive and remanufacture recycled materials.

There are many examples of how this market-driven demand has spurred recycling innovation. For example, a decade ago, all recycled plastic film was turned into composite decking. Today, because brands have increased their demand for high levels of post-consumer waste, manufacturers that repelletize and extrude recycled plastic can now turn clean plastic film back into plastic film. This type of bag-to-bag recycling is a major step forward in achieving true circularity. For a long time, the ubiquitous paperboard known as SBS (solid bleached sulfite) could only be made with virgin paper. Today, because of brand demand, it can technically be made with 100% recycled post-consumer waste and is readily accessible in 30% recycled content.

If businesses and consumers want to recycle their waste successfully, they must also prioritize using recycled content to close the loop on the recycling supply chain they want to see.

Using recycled content also reduces carbon emissions, effluents, pollution, and resource extraction.

Recycled content isn't suitable for all packaging, but it works beautifully for eCommerce. Where it can be used, it must be used. When recycled content isn't feasible, we seek virgin inputs made with agricultural waste or inputs certified by schemes and organizations we trust.

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Reusability and Recyclability
 
Can it be widely recycled? Can it be reused before it is recycled? Are we doing all we can to maximize the rate at which it gets recycled?
We prioritize easily-recyclable materials, focusing on those that can be recycled back into themselves versus downcycled into a lower-value item. We prioritize mono-materials, which can be recycled most efficiently. We recognize that reuse is optimal and are always looking for ways to increase the one-time and long-term reusability of our packaging. Because of our commitment to complete life cycle analysis, we recognize that reusable packaging does not always make sense, especially for eCommerce packaging. We take a measured, data-driven approach when choosing between single-use, dual-use, and reusable. We look for ways to increase the recycling rates of our product lines and seek opportunities to improve the degree to which our packaging is recycled back into itself versus downcycled into durable goods. This commitment to recyclability is essential to achieving our north star of circularity in which packaging is made from packaging. Our vision is that every piece of packaging is recycled at the end of its useful life, allowing all of this valuable material to be put back into packaging. Recycling diverts from landfills, which emit harmful emissions and become eternal graveyards of otherwise valuable and usable raw materials. We recognize that recycling has come under recent criticism, with false statements often made, such as “your recycling doesn’t get recycled anyway.” This is absolutely untrue. When recyclable materials accepted by the local MRF are recycled, they are properly sorted, baled, and successfully sold to reclaimers to be remanufactured. There are, however, some materials that are not easily recycled or are actually not recyclable at all yet. This includes polystyrene, PVC, black plastics, and plastics under 2” on either dimension. We actively avoid these types of materials and prioritize ones that have stable, high-value markets and are readily recyclable.  

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A Note On Compostability

People often ask us if compostability helps make packaging more circular and sustainable. Within our framework, the answer is no. Here's why.
For eCommerce Packaging, Designing for Composting is NOT Considered Circular
We do not explicitly design most of our packaging for compostability. We recognize that composting is another end-of-life option that diverts from landfills. Still, composting means materials are no longer available to be put back into new goods, which is essential to our vision for circularity. Additionally, compostability does not necessarily solve plastic pollution. Our conversations with composters have made this clear: packaging, especially today’ commercially viable bioplastic packaging, makes their work harder, harms their operations, and degrades their output (compost products being sold.) If an item is recyclable and compostable, recycling is always preferred. The raw materials are more quickly and efficiently converted into something usable. Recycling is better designed to address the contaminants that packaging often has. Most certified compostable synthetic material has not been shown to decompose in a natural environment or a landfill. Outside of compost, these materials behave as plastic does. We appreciate that recyclability is only feasible once a material is mainstream. There has to be enough volume of material and demand for that recycled material to warrant investments in the equipment required to accept, sort, and remanufacture it. We have found that some promising emerging materials are technically recyclable, but they can’t practically be recycled because they are so nascent. We certainly don’t intend for our commitment to recyclability and circularity to automatically bias us towards the status quo of currently available materials, nor to hinder our investment in emerging, promising materials.

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Plastic-Free Goals Are Best Achieved Through Naturally Biodegradable Solutions, Not Compostable Bioplastics
“Biodegradable" is a term often used loosely and does not describe an item's end of life. Something can be biodegradable and not compostable, for example, a block of wood or a burlap sack. Likewise, something can be labeled as compostable and never biodegrade in any natural environment, for example, PLA. We use the term "biodegradable" to describe items that will decompose in a reasonable amount of time (60-120 days) as litter. We invest in developing naturally biodegradable solutions that will not contribute to plastic pollution in our oceans and lands. Suppose you are a company seeking solutions that biodegrade in a natural environment. In that case, we encourage you to avoid all plastics - including bioplastics that may be compostable but haven’t been shown to be degrade in natural environments - and stick with paper and other naturally biodegradable solutions.

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Carbon Neutral and Regenerative Virgin Materials
 
[When we are evaluating virgin materials or new innovations] Is the material significantly more restorative than the extractive, destructive materials being replaced such as paper derived from uncertified forestry or plastic derived from fossil-fuels or chemical-heavy crops? Does EcoEnclose have an opportunity to help commercialize and catalyze the market adoption of an emerging material that can be regenerative long-term? Have we vetted how the source material is produced, and is that production as thoughtful as possible?
The above two criteria - maximizing recycled content and designing for maximum recyclability - largely support the first component of our vision of circularity: packaging is made from packaging and becomes packaging again in its next life. This criterion largely supports the second component of our vision of circularity: the virgin inputs that go into our materials system are ones whose production is net positive for our planet. This question comes into play for us in two different scenarios. The first is when our packaging solutions rely on virgin content. Three examples where we see this in our product set are our (1) virgin glassine bags, (2) virgin Paper Pouches, and (3) 50% recycled bubble mailers. The second scenario is when we identify a promising, innovative new material or technology whose production has significantly less negative (and ideally, potentially restorative) impacts on our planet. Our experience has shown that these critical innovations often struggle to achieve commercialization and scale. Large brands are risk averse and will generally avoid these new material technologies until they are proven in the market. EcoEnclose and our broader EcoAlly community of progress-focused and more risk-tolerant brands are uniquely positioned to find packaging applications for new materials and put them into the market at an appropriate scale. After several years of early adopters and innovators taking the plunge on these materials, we see them as “ready for prime time” and can successfully bring them to the world’s largest brands.
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Source: Technology and Innovation Adoption Curve, Everett Rogers
The second scenario is when we identify a promising, innovative new material or technology whose production has significantly less negative (and ideally, potentially restorative) impacts on our planet. Our experience has shown that these critical innovations often struggle to achieve commercialization and scale. Large brands are risk averse and will generally avoid these new material technologies until they are proven in the market. EcoEnclose and our broader EcoAlly community of progress-focused and more risk-tolerant brands are uniquely positioned to find packaging applications for new materials and put them into the market at an appropriate scale. After several years of early adopters and innovators taking the plunge on these materials, we see them as “ready for prime time” and can successfully bring them to the world’s largest brands. In the first scenario, when we are in a position where virgin inputs are our only short-term option, we seek short- and long-term ways to be as ecologically thoughtful as possible. For example, concerning our virgin glassine bags: 1. We ensure the virgin paper is made from FSC® certified trees to help minimize how directly this source material impacts deforestation. It is important to note that FSC® certification does not mean the trees come from managed plantations and not old-growth forests. This distinction is why we don’t rely on FSC® certified paper unless virgin inputs are essential. 2. We launched a 100% Recycled Kraft Bag as an alternative to the glassine bag and clear poly bags. This option does not work as inner packaging for all apparel brands, but it is a great option for any brand that is not relying on bag transparency for their operations. We also offer 100% recycled EcoBands as another inner packaging option that fits into certain apparel brands’ internal operational needs. Both were designed as alternatives to virgin tree fiber in glassine bags. 3. We are working to introduce recycled content and next-generation agricultural waste fiber as part of our R&D and product innovation roadmap. One 2022 win was to launch an 80% recycled content, 20% wheat straw waste Kraft bag, which several eco-conscious brands are piloting. In the second scenario, when we are working with truly innovative new materials, we see our role as (1) first deeply researching and vetting the material across all dimensions to develop confidence that it is a significant ecological leap forward, (2) developing the best possible early packaging applications for the material, and then (3) working closely with our brand community to identify those whose needs, passions and risk profile are a strong match for the material in their packaging strategy. As part of this process, we often invest in stock solutions featuring these innovative packaging materials to make them easily available to more micro-brands who can adopt new solutions quickly and are willing to share feedback to support continuous improvement. Examples of EcoEnclose taking on this role of vetting and then accelerating the market adoption of materials and technologies include Black Algae Ink, Zero Waste Labels, and Sway Seaweed Film. We also have many examples of our reviewing innovative materials and choosing not to pursue them. For example, we have chosen not to pursue corn-based plastics, as our research has shown that corn is an extremely poor ecological replacement for fossil fuels. We’ve also shied away from cassava, potato, and tree-based plastics. We have said no to additives designed to accelerate the degradation of plastic in landfills because this technology leads its packaging to create landfill gas emissions (and may lead to irresponsible disposal of packaging). We are curious about sugarcane-based plastics but fully recognize that how the sugarcane is produced is a critical factor - given that conventional sugarcane production wreaks havoc on land, water, and deforestation. As we look to the future, we will continue to pursue the right natural fibers and bio-derived plastics whose source materials are either waste products such as ag or food waste or whose production sequesters carbon, strengthens soils, and improves biodiversity.

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We Consider the Entire Lifecycle
Emphasizing GHG Emissions, Deforestation, Biodiversity, and Soil Health

Carbon Emissions and “The Big Picture”
 
Have we reviewed the solution’s carbon footprint and taken steps to minimize it?

We recognize that the world faces several distinct and interrelated environmental issues, ranging from water pollution to carbon emissions. The Nine Planetary Boundaries framework does a beautiful job illustrating these.

We recognize that all boundaries are fundamental and critical challenges. Still, ultimately we know that curbing carbon emissions to reverse climate change is the environmental movement's number one goal and priority.

As such, EcoEnclose avoids solutions that may address one set of ecological concerns, such as ocean pollution or landfill-bound waste, but would result in significantly higher GHG emissions.

Reducing GHG emissions is one big reason we prioritize recycled packaging. We also love and actively promote our 100% recycled poly mailers, as these are the most carbon-efficient shipping methods. Some of our investments in innovation - such as Black Algae Ink and Sway Seaweed Film - have been done because of their potential to sequester carbon and help reverse climate change. It is also why we've partnered with Cloverly to help offset the impact of shipping your EcoEnclose order to your door and, over time, the impact of more than just shipping.

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Carbon Emissions and “The Big Picture”
 
Have we assessed the solution’s impact on all nine planetary boundaries and critical issues such as deforestation, soil health, and human health?
Rampant deforestation, declining soil health, and the loss of biodiversity are three issues we pay close attention to because of how directly poor packaging choices can exacerbate these. We recognize that paper packaging strategies are often adopted in a well-intentioned effort to be more sustainable by reducing plastic use. However, these strategies can pose a direct and significant threat to our world’s primary and secondary forests, whose preservation is essential to mitigating climate change, protecting biodiversity, and maintaining a healthy planet. Given this, we heavily prioritize recycled content and next-gen agricultural waste solutions when developing our paper-based packaging options. We also recognize that many bioplastics are produced and disposed of in a way that ravages our soil. Many bioplastics are derived from the conventional production of corn, potatoes, sugarcane, sugar beets, cassava, and other crops whose production requires high doses of pesticides, fertilizers, and fuel-intensive machinery and whose acreage has displaced millions of acres of grassland and forests. Trees are another popular source of bioplastics, whose production directly impacts deforestation. This doesn’t mean we inherently reject all agriculture crop-based plastics, but that we will go to great lengths to evaluate how the crops’ production impacts soil health, deforestation, and biodiversity and will only move forward with crops that are produced responsibly - such that negative impacts are minimized and, ideally, these issues are strengthened as a result. Finally, we recognize that many of today’s “compostable'' bioplastic packaging is wreaking havoc on compost facilities nationwide. The industrial compost we are amending soils with is now polluted from the inks, toxins, adhesives, and “partially degraded” compostable packaging - because certified compostable packaging often does not truly biodegrade in a real-life composting environment. This leads to compost degrading soil health, so we proceed carefully with compostable packaging solutions.

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True Sustainability Runs Deeper Than Recycled Content, Recyclability,
Reusability, and Minimization of Broader Environmental Footprints

Source Reduction
 
Is it made with as little material as possible while still meeting the functional and aesthetic needs of our brands?
Huge boxes for tiny products, surrounded by plastic air pillows - this move is for companies prioritizing cost reduction and operational efficiency above all else. Our mantra is different. Sustainable packaging means minimizing material and sizing packages right, so you're not shipping a bunch of air. 1. We take the time to produce a custom box for every shipment out our door, so your package is delivered without excessive void fill or extra space. 2. All of our boxes are custom-cut to your specific dimensions. And we give you free samples so you can ensure the size is perfect before placing your order. 3. We offer many sizes in our mailers, so you can find the one that perfectly fits your products. 4. We offer our products in small bundles and large cases. This way, you can more easily stock a variety of mailer sizes rather than fitting all of your shipments in a one-size-fits-all package.
Ethical Supply Chain
 
Are the people who manufacture and ship our packaging treated with dignity and a commitment to ethics?
We have primarily chosen to work with domestic partners whose eco-values align with ours. One of the main reasons we have prioritized domestic manufacturing is that it is far easier for us to visit, tour, verify, and collaborate with domestic partners. We’ve been able to audit their facilities and working conditions and can readily learn how well workers are being treated and paid. In the instances where we manufacture overseas, either because the capabilities only exist overseas or because the packaging solutions need to be delivered to an overseas facility, we review documentation that confirms manufacturing plants have been audited and are committed to fair treatment of workers.

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Evaluation of “The Little Things”
 
Have we pursued all opportunities to make smaller aspects of the solution as eco-friendly and recycle-friendly as possible, including adhesives, inks, additives, colorants, release liners, and more?
There are a lot of small or hidden components to a package that can go unnoticed. So our innovation efforts aren't just on the piece of the packaging itself - they address the little things as well, making them more carbon-efficient, recycle-friendly, and regenerative over time. We were the first to introduce the Algae Ink™ print option, a water-based black ink whose pigment is made with algae cells rather than petrochemicals. We use water or soy-based alternatives when Algae Ink isn't an option. Release liners for stickers and shipping labels are something end consumers don't even see. But historically, they have always been made with virgin, silicone-coated paper. We introduced the first-ever label line with a 100% recycled, uncoated, curbside recyclable liner. Our stickers and labels also feature adhesives that are "recycle compatible," which allows for a more seamless separation of sticker facestock and the paper package substrate during the recycling and re-pulping process. These are just a few ways we analyze and improve the "little things" by our broader framework. We are by no means perfect in this area. Still, this mindset and focus have led to a long roadmap of future product improvements we are investing in - many of which the vast majority of brands and consumers won’t even see.

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Efficient Logistics
 
Is the solution manufactured relatively close to where the packaging will ultimately be shipped?
We work to manufacture our goods as close to their shipping destination as possible, with facilities whose operations and standards align with our ecological commitments. Most of our goods ship from our warehouse in Colorado and are delivered to US-based locations, so we have built a largely US-based manufacturing network. Why ship from halfway around the world when you can manufacture domestically and ship more efficiently? In addition to transportation efficiency and the lower emissions and energy usage from minimizing this transportation, we recognize that the upstream environmental impact (part of our Scope 3 emissions) represents a large portion of our company’s footprint. What most packaging providers consider their “supply chain” is, to us, a “supply network” of true partners who are constantly critical in our quest to improve the sustainability and ethics of our packaging. We work with manufacturers committed to emissions reductions, fair labor standards, and responsible resource consumption. Working with US manufacturers also ensures that the workers bringing our products to life are compensated with a living wage. It also means our products are made with US-recycled inputs, helping bolster our domestic recycling chain. Across all of our partners, including the small set that isn't North American, we look to work with those who can communicate their sustainable actions and, where relevant, can verify them with certifications. For example, our recycled poly-based partner is an active member of the Sustainable Packaging Coalition and the . Our manufacturing partners are core to our ecological progress, and they are vetted accordingly.
Transparency
 
Do we have documentation across the entire supply chain to verify our data points about the solution? Can we share critical statistics about the packaging with our community so they can make the most informed decisions possible about our packaging?
We know that the EcoAllies we work with care intensely about their product and packaging decisions. It's not enough to toss out simple phrases or icons to describe the sustainability of our products. So, we only offer solutions after we have taken steps to get clear documentation about source materials, recycled content levels, recyclability, and supply chain ethics. Then, we give you all the information we can on our website and in our Bill of Materials, including
  • Recycled content levels and the post-industrial versus post-consumer ratio
  • Country of manufacture
  • Printing ink and adhesive specifications
  • Chemicals in the material's manufacturing process, if any
  • End-of-life options
  • Detailed research to back up our sustainability framework
This level of transparency (1) pushes us to improve our products constantly and (2) allows you to make decisions that align with your sustainability framework.

We have found that over 95% of the questions about our packaging are addressed through our Bill of Materials. However, some specific packaging details are proprietary to us or our R&D and technology partners.
Therefore, there are some instances where highly nuanced details of our packaging can only be made available after a Non-Disclosure Agreement is signed.

Additionally, in 2023, we made major investments in third-party verifications and certifications. We don’t believe that certifications inherently make packaging more sustainable. However, our large brands increasingly require third-party verifications as the most efficient way to audit their complicated supply chains. As a result, we are now FSC® Chain of Custody certified with most of our paper packaging solutions being certified, Recycled Content Standard certified across our poly-based packaging lines, and have received How2Recycle preauthorization for our poly-based packaging lines.

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Continuous Innovation
 
Can we make the solution better - and more circular - to support our ultimate sustainable packaging vision? Are these improvements appropriately planned for in our innovation roadmap?
There is no such thing as “sustainable packaging” - yet. We fully recognize this, and though we are proud of our solutions, we also acknowledge how far we are from our ultimate vision of truly circular packaging. We regularly review and audit our solutions, identifying opportunities to make them better and more circular. We also look beyond our current solutions, reviewing emerging technologies and materials. When opportunities align with our long-term vision, we invest our resources aggressively, working as hard as possible to commercialize these options and accelerate how quickly they are brought to our passionate EcoAlly community.

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Got input, feedback, or disagreements? Share them with our CEO, Saloni Doshi, at saloni@vosmatec.com. We are always looking to hear other perspectives, learn, and evolve- especially given how rapidly this space advances.

It is essential to note that many sources are biased. Organizations like The American Plastics Council, American Forest & Paper Association, and Hemp Industries Association have a vested financial interest in consumers believing their material or product is an ecological superhero. EcoEnclose is materials agonistic; we are not tied to any one packaging solution or type of material. As such, we seek out sources with as little bias as possible but ultimately read all of the information out there, looking for consistent facts across them to try to tease out what is “true” versus a motivated, self-supporting argument.

Our Framework In Action

Ultimately, a framework is only valuable if it helps a person or company make decisions, particularly those that are difficult and complex. Here are a few examples of how our Sustainability Framework has helped us make some hard choices.

Sway Seaweed Film as a Packaging Window

In 2023, EcoEnclose introduced stock and fully customizable retail boxes featuring Sway’s seaweed film as a window. This was EcoEnclose’s first step into the world of bio-based alternatives to conventional plastic packaging. This is a prime example of our #3 Criteria in action - EcoEnclose helping to catalyze the market adoption of a material we believe should be a mainstream packaging input long-term. We conducted in-depth research on seaweed, which helped us understand that responsibly grown seaweed can play a tremendous role in restoring coastal ecosystems, supporting the livelihoods of coastal communities, and that the crop requires minimal freshwater and chemicals and has the potential to sequester carbon. We also learned and acknowledged that seaweed production isn’t necessarily perfect and that, if grown irresponsibly, it could have negative consequences for the planet. This recognition is why we specifically chose to partner with Sway, a company with an in-depth responsible supplier selection framework, deep partnerships with leading NGOs committed to responsible seaweed production long-term, and a focus on long-term strategies that can make seaweed truly regenerative, such as prioritizing the use of semi-refined seaweed and the use of sargassum. We then chose to pursue the unique window application for various reasons, including that the entire box is curbside recyclable. The Sway window (like any plastic window) would be screened out and landfilled during the repulping process. This means we are replacing a material that would be landfill-bound anyway with one whose production is a significant ecological step for the planet. Over time, we will likely bring various additional applications into the market, some of which may be designed for compostability. We are open to this because Sway’s material has been shown to enrich compost and soils. This characteristic is not true about other compostable bioplastics today. Additionally, Sway’s film will biodegrade in natural environments, which would not contribute to ocean plastic pollution.

Facestock Options and Adhesives of Our Stickers

Introducing the Zero Waste Liner was a no-brainer. A 100% recycled, curbside recyclable release liner (in a land of silicone coated, virgin, unrecyclable liners) is a clear sustainable step forward.

Then we were faced with the question of facestocks. We started by only offering 100% recycled, uncoated paper facestocks. Uncoated paper is recyclable with paper and naturally biodegradable. Then we learned that many of our customers were adhering the stickers to their poly mailers. When paper stickers stick to poly mailers, they are a minor contaminant for reclaimers (and if all of their inputs contained paper stickers or labels, the contamination would become problematic).

This led us to consider a BOPP facestock as well. Unfortunately, BOPP facestock is currently virgin material, which made this a difficult decision for us. Ultimately, however, we realized how important it was to offer an option whose end-of-life matches that of our poly mailers. Therefore, we now offer BOPP alongside our uncoated paper facestock option.  

Then came the question of adhesives. Do we focus on cost, recycle compatibility, or certified compostable? When talking to our customers, many of whom were intrigued by a compostable-specific adhesive, this seemed like a hard decision. However, when looking at this question through the lens of our framework, it was a much easier decision - go with the adhesive that is as compatible with the recycling process as possible and has enough tack to adhere to 100% recycled boxes and mailers.

The good news for folks looking for compostability is that adhesives make up such a small percent of an item's overall weight that they rarely affect the overall item's ability to compost. But when faced with a tradeoff, the choice to prioritize recycle-compatibility was clear.

Water-Activated Tape vs Cello Tape

EcoEnclose carries water-activated and two types of pressure-sensitive tape, including one certified compostable with a cellulose facestock - our cello tape. When asked which one a company should use, we almost always recommend our water-activated tape first. This recommendation surprises some people, especially since one of our water-activated tape options is fiber-reinforced and therefore is not biodegradable or compostable.

We prefer water-activated tape because it produces a significantly stronger bond than pressure-sensitive tapes. This feature means you can use less tape (reduction of overall materials), and there is less chance of a box being damaged or tampered with in transit.
Additionally, while you can almost always recycle boxes with their tapes, water-activated tape adhesive and facestock are more friendly to the paper repulping process than our cello tape. This is because the fiberglass in the tape is screened out when the boxes are repulped.

Carrying Recycled Paper and Recycled Plastic Options

There has been an exciting move among companies to reduce plastic use, and some have set goals to eliminate it. Yet, we are sometimes asked why we carry any recycled plastic packaging, given that our framework focuses on "readily recyclable" and recognizes the importance of "naturally biodegradable." We have found that no one material perfectly meets all elements of our sustainability framework. Our paper options are recycled, curbside recyclable, and naturally biodegradable. But our recycled poly options all have a lower carbon footprint than their paper mailer counterparts. Additionally, we recognize that the demand for recycled paper is already very high. Therefore, our role in creating demand for recycled plastic is more important and impactful than recycled paper. We hope that by carrying recycled poly-based options and pushing our manufacturing partners to keep increasing the recycled content and post-consumer waste percentage, we can help create industry-wide momentum.

Paper Is Our Gold Standard for a "Compostable Mailer"

Our decision not to offer a PLA+BPAT compostable poly mailer is rooted deeply in our sustainability framework - our focus on recycled content and recyclability, domestic and well-audited supply chains, and our concerns about corn and designing for compostability.  

We know that it would be effortless to start offering a compostable poly mailer and that if we added it to our line, it would be a big boon for business. But every day, we make decisions and run our business in ways that may knock to our bottom line but align with our principles and are the right thing to do for the planet.

When companies come to us asking for a compostable mailer, our response is: We strongly recommend a paper mailer as the only compostable option available right now that meets our sustainability framework. Our paper mailers are 100% recycled, naturally biodegradable (so if they end up as litter, they will decompose and cause minimal harm to nature), curbside recyclable, and could be composted (though composters much prefer you to recycle them).

Stocked Shipping Boxes

Many packaging providers offer a myriad of stock shipping boxes in set dimensions. If we did this, we know we could increase some of our margins, reduce our lead times and perhaps get more sales. But doing this would have two ramifications: (1) Our customers may be much more likely to choose boxes bigger than they need to be, causing them to ship more air and wasted space. (2) We would hold more box inventory, meaning we'd have to expand our warehousing space and the room dedicated to storing stock boxes. Because the consequences of stocking boxes do not meet our framework, we have decided to continue only producing boxes on demand, based on our customers' sizes and specifications.

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