At Public Goods, we think about packaging a lot.
In 2019 we sent almost 100,000 packages to customers across the country and around the world. We shipped everything from a single lip balm, protected by a recyclable padded envelope, to huge wooden pallets of shampoo and toilet paper to some of our larger hospitality clients.
In each case the common denominator is packaging.
Last year I outlined my thoughts on the way forward for e-commerce packaging: more recycled materials, less waste, better packing methods. Today we’re proud to announce the next step in this process: fully compostable plastic wrap in our boxes that will be replacing our conventional plastic protective bags, starting immediately.
In early 2019 we began discussions with several companies producing “bio-based” plastics. These are made from a special class of biodegradable polymers (the building blocks of plastics) that break down in natural conditions over time, leaving behind harmless byproducts such as gases and salts.
I was skeptical too, so I asked my mom to lend a hand in testing out the material in conditions far less intense than the industrial composts some cities are starting to build. She diligently placed it in her backyard compost and checked weekly. Thanks, Mom! Within a month we started to see decomposition, and within two the bag was almost completely gone.
It was an eye-opening moment that led us to double down on our efforts to bring compostable plastic to Public Goods packaging. We wanted a sustainable alternative to traditional plastic bags — the necessary evil of shipping fragile products filled with liquids, as well the last remaining secondary packaging material we use that must end up in landfill.
The material we ultimately chose checks all the boxes: protective, flexible, reusable and certified home compostable by the leading certifier for these types of substances. While the bags are guaranteed to compost in an industrial compost within six months, we’ve seen it happen much faster in less controlled settings and are confident that our customers will have similar experiences. Nonetheless, you should reuse the bags as much as possible before you experiment with composting them.
Are there downsides? Of course.
Compostable plastic is slightly weaker than conventional petroleum-based plastic. It’s expensive. It’s hard to find a reliable source for the volume Public Goods needs to purchase.
But we feel the tradeoffs are worth it to reduce our contribution to the crushing amount of waste we send to landfills each year.
You should start seeing plastic ziplock bags labeled “home compostable” in your next Public Goods shipment. If you have a home compost, drop the empty bag in there and check back in a few weeks. If you are lucky enough to have industrial compost from your town or city, check with them if you can place the bag into your brown bin for pickup. If you have neither (like me), reuse the bag as much as you can and then place it in your regular trash pickup where it will biodegrade lifetimes faster than regular plastic.
It’s a small change that (we hope) will make a big difference, and we want to hear what you think about it!
Our mission to make Public Goods more “sustainable” is a work in progress. Greenwashing has become a core value for some businesses in our industry, and while we certainly aren’t perfect, we hope that being one of the first to adopt this new technology shows shows our commitment to building a company that respects both people and our environment.
I look forward to sharing our next packaging innovation soon.
Editorial Note: Because our customers have been ordering more products during the pandemic, there is already a shortage of our compostable wrap. We are trying to restore supplies as soon as possible.
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