Waste Hierarchy: Postage & Packing
Updated: Aug 11, 2019
Every week for Plastic-Free July we're running a campaign to highlight ways to work through a particular type of workplace waste.
For the final week of Plastic-Free July we tackled Postage & Packing - which means everything you receive and everything you send out. We used the Waste Hierarchy Pyramid to analyse the waste stream and identify questions and options that might work in your workplace. Here's how the week went:
Postage & Packing is especially relevant for business that sell online, but there are lots of opportunities to prevent waste and avoid plastic in this area for any business, with only a little effort!
What kind of waste does your workplace create around parcels, packing and postage?
You can REFUSE & REPLACE plastic in your postage by cutting it out completely or looking for ways to replace it with something more sustainable.
Can you use shredded paper instead of bubble wrap? Paper padded envelopes instead of plastic ones? Paper tape instead of plastic? Can you label envelopes without the plastic windows? It's also worth contacting suppliers to talk about eliminating plastic in the things that are sent to you as well!
How might you cut plastic from your postage operations?
If you find you can't eliminate plastic from your Postage & Packing altogether, then the next question to ask is how can you REDUCE the quantities?
If your business sends things frequently, then developing guidelines of packing sizes and volumes of materials to use at each size can be helpful here, as putting small items in larger packing sizes can increase the need for more filler and extra tape and can waste a lot of material (and money!) over time. Also make sure that things are not more wrapped than necessary - like small items being individually wrapped when they really don't need to be.
Are you over-wrapping anything you send out?
Moving down the Waste Hierarchy Pyramid, we get to REUSE and REPURPOSE - which is an area that doesn't receive much attention in the postage and packing industry! How might you introduce reusability into the way you do things?
Do you reuse packing materials you've received from elsewhere? Do you pass them on to someone who might?
Lastly, we get to the bottom of our Pyramid and the final step in a product lifecyle: RECYCLE.
Do all of your sending and packing materials fit easily into the circular economy? Can they all be recycled or composted? Or are they always destined for landfill at the end of their rather short life?
This is just one example of how to work through a problem using the Waste Hierarchy Pyramid, and use each stage to question what you're doing now and how you might approach your consumption differently. The idea is to work through the levels in order but for all of them to be working together at the same time to prevent and minimise your waste.
But remember, you don't have to tackle everything at once! It's ok to take it in stages, to focus on your quick-wins first and then move towards deeper change in the medium-long term. Sustainability is a process, and starting imperfectly is much better than never starting at all! We also recognise that there are some solutions that might never work for your workplace at all, for reasons of security or hygiene or the speed of work. Ask yourself if you're just resisting inconvenience or if there is a genuine reason you can't address that waste stream that is built into your business model. If that's the case then it's ok to leave it until later to tackle, or to seek outside help or create a long term project to seek a bigger solution.
For today, do what you can :)