Quite rightly, the use of plastic in the packaging industry has come under scrutiny over the past year, with a growing number of retail brands reviewing their entire supply chains to make them more environmentally friendly. Now, it may seem a conflict of interests for me, a director of a plastic packaging business, to welcome calls for improved eco-friendliness within the retail sector, but that’s exactly our sentiment. We believe that packaging is a necessity, but that it doesn’t have to put a strain on the Earth’s natural resources.
The issue of plastic waste in the retail industry is one that should absolutely be addressed. However, treating it in isolation and eradicating plastic as a knee-jerk reaction without looking at the bigger picture could in fact lead to negative and unintended consequences across the supply chain. For example, if we were to all move away from lightweight polythene mailing bags and replace them with cardboard boxes, it would significantly increase the number of pallets of stock required for the same number of packages – and therefore lead to more vehicles, more road miles and more CO2 emissions.
A PLASTIC PIPE DREAM?
Although many retailers have made promises to become ‘plastic-free’ in the next five or so years, it would be unrealistic to expect the industry to expunge plastic altogether. The fact is that plastic is resource-efficient, flexible, hygienic, durable and lightweight – and other materials available don’t match those functional properties. Instead of getting rid of this valuable material from the supply chain, we need to take a holistic view and find ways to make packaging more sustainable, design it in a way that makes it reusable, and improve the infrastructure for it to be easily recycled on a national scale.
At Duo, we’ve been working on just that. Since 2015, we’ve been manufacturing mailing bags from GreenPE – a plastic derived from sugarcane, which is a renewable resource. GreenPE mailing bags are chemically identical to regular plastic, so they have all the exact same properties and can be recycled the same way, but they avoid the use of finite fossil fuels. What’s more, sugarcane absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as it grows, helping to reduce global warming.
To put it in numbers, it’s expected that 412 million mailing bags will be shipped in the UK in 2018. If all of these were made from GreenPE, as opposed to virgin polythene, 46,276 tonnes of CO2 would be saved – which is the equivalent of a plane flying around the world 10,000 times.
One of the growing number of brands that have made the switch to GreenPE mailing bags is Pink Boutique, a fast fashion retailer that recently became the first in its sector to do so. The company sends out thousands of orders on a daily basis so was keen to find a way to use resources sustainably, while retaining all the practical benefits that plastic offers. GreenPE ticked all of their boxes and slotted into their existing operations seamlessly.
When it comes to the design of our mailing bags, one of the pioneering improvements we’ve made is the addition of a second glue strip. This means that when a customer wants to return unwanted items, they can use the same bag their order came in to send them back, without the need for additional packaging items. They simply pop the items back in the bag and use the second glue strip to seal.
Naturally, recycling is a primary concern for us at Duo. While there are limitations when it comes to end consumers recycling their plastic mailing bags – something that will hopefully improve as the government takes greater heed of mounting pressures to improve recycling infrastructure – we’ve made great strides on the industrial side.
With our closed-loop recycling scheme, we’re working with retailers to help segregate their waste polythene on-site – for example, when customers make returns – and bring that waste back to our factory. We then recycle this and make it into new packaging, ensuring that as little as possible goes to waste.
All of these measures have been painstakingly made with two clear and unwavering goals in mind: to reduce our dependency on finite resources, and to keep valuable plastic in the economy and out of the environment.