Greener packing materials

Who doesn’t love popping bubble wrap? Fun as it may be, it’s not an environmentally friendly product and the same goes for many other packing materials. There are greener packaging options.

Bubble wrap has been around since 1960 and since that time I’d hazard a guess that many hundreds of thousands of miles of the stuff has been produced.. and dumped – it’s a multi-billion dollar industry.

Bubble wrap is made of polyethylene. Polyethylene products are created through environmentally unfriendly practices and the finished products take hundreds of years to break down.

Another popular packaging material are foam peanuts, mostly made from polystyrene. Toxic chemicals leach from the peanuts, they are made from crude oil and they don’t totally break down, just fragment. If burned, polystyrene gives off highly toxic fumes. It’s the same sort of situation with any sort of polystyrene foam packing product.

The soft foam cushioning material often used in packing is made from polyurethane. Polyurethane consists of all sorts of nasty chemicals including acetone, methylene chloride and fluorocarbons.

Aside from the toxic chemicals used with most plastic based packing materials and the huge energy resources that going into creating them; the amount of landfill taken up after they are discarded is phenomenal.

If you need to package an item for shipping; here’s a few ideas that are a little more earth friendly:

– Always keep some old newspaper on hand. Scrunched up into balls, newspaper can provide substantial cushioning.

– Old cardboard boxes can be torn into strips and then rolled tightly. Place the rolls vertically into the packing box around the item, they will then expand providing a cushion.

– Biodegradable packing peanuts are available, made from grain sorghum and corn starch. I first remember coming across these as a child and thinking that they looked like one of my favorite snack foods… so I used to eat them. They tasted ok, but kids, don’t try this at home – I’m not sure if they are treated with other chemicals :).

– For environmentally friendly soft foam in rolls, starch-based products such as GreenCell have the added bonus of being anti-static – great for cushioning computer parts and electronic equipment.

– Another food based packing product is popcorn. Very springy and easily biodegradable

– Usually used for the garden, pea straw has good cushioning properties, so it’s suitable to use as a packing material. The recipient can then mulch it straight into their garden.

– Consider using cushion packaging made from one hundred percent post consumer waste paper

– For wrapping, use recycled paper, same goes with boxes – go for boxes made from recycled cardboard. Most post offices and stationers provide these products.

As for the bubble wrap you do receive; try to keep it – and resist the incredible urge to pop the bubbles :). Re-use it and tack a note onto the wrapping stating “recycle me!”