Explore some of the economic and environmental reasons and options for shipping work using thoughtful, eco-friendly packaging.
As many potters shift to increased online sales, it becomes more important to be thoughtful about packaging and shipping, both for your business and the greater good of the environment. Choosing eco-friendly materials to pack and ship products has numerous benefits—it strengthens your brand, affects your business, and has less environmental impact.
Zero Waste and Preventing Loss
First and foremost, using packaging materials that contain less plastic and more post-consumer-content materials, are recyclable, and are biodegradable moves you closer to zero waste, minimizes your carbon footprint, and avoids contributing to the issue of marine plastic pollution. Admittedly, the least sustainable scenario is your piece breaking in transit and needing to be remade and reshipped, so ensuring safe arrival is top priority. To prevent loss, I believe that packing method matters more than materials, and packing properly with green products instead of plastic and styrofoam is all around the most effective option.
It is also worth noting that your customers care about packaging. Studies have shown that e-commerce shoppers care about how their package arrives, make an assumption about your brand based on packaging, and are more likely to reorder from you if you have thoughtful packaging.1 Of course, customers care that their item arrives in safe condition, but they also value the appearance of the package, the experience of opening it, and that it was packed with earth-friendly materials. Prioritizing packaging that communicates care for the environment can lead to repeat buyers and increase the likelihood of your customer recommending you to others.
After considering the sustainability, aesthetic qualities, functionality, and storage footprint of various packing materials, here are the materials and methods that I have tested and currently use to ship my pottery and porcelain jewelry.
- Water-activated paper tape vs. plastic pressure-sensitive tape: Choose a paper tape that is biodegradable and is reinforced with fiberglass strands. This tape is better for the environment, but I also highly recommend it for its functionality—it creates a much stronger seal, functions well in dusty environments, and is tamper resistant. Rather than using a dispenser (though you can invest in one), I simply cut pieces to size with scissors, spray with water, and press in place (1).
- Kraft paper fill vs. peanuts: You can source kraft packing paper that is recycled, compostable, and recyclable (2). This material comes in compact rolls, which saves storage space and freight costs. Though there are biodegradable packing peanuts, they still take up exorbitant storage space and can be irritating for the package recipient (i.e. they spill out, the dog eats them, they cling to your sweater).
- Ranpak Geami vs. bubble wrap: Unlike bubble wrap, Geami wrap is naturally biodegradable, compostable, SFI-certified, and fully recyclable. Geami wrap has two layers: a white tissue-paper layer and an outer layer that comes in a brown or white. The dispenser expands the outer layer as you pull it, giving it a cushion and unique texture (3). Like packing peanuts, bubble wrap is bulky to ship and store, while Geami wrap comes in compact rolls or dispenser boxes, and the material expands as you pull it out. Using this system can save on freight and storage space, is a much better product for the environment, and functions just as well—or, dare I say, better than bubble wrap.
- Stamps, string, and recycled paper mailers vs. stickers, nylon string or tape, and bubble-wrap padded mailers: stickers are a hidden source of plastic—stamps are a great alternative, economical, and easily customized. For string, I recommend a natural cotton that is biodegradable, recyclable paper string, or hemp twine, which is strong, biodegradable, and compostable (4). I use 100% recycled padded paper mailers (which use newspaper to cushion rather than plastic bubble) to ship cardboard jewelry boxes (5), but there are other eco-friendly alternatives out there if you need a weather-proof option.
When selecting the size of a box, I budget at least 2 inches of space between the edges of the box and the wrapped pots, though you can be more cautious and give more space. I do not double box. The only losses I have had were from my own error trying to cram too many pieces into a box, rather than from any shortcomings of the materials.
In the bottom of your box, create a nest with kraft paper void fill. Void fill is used to pad empty space in the box around the wrapped piece. After items are packed, fill any remaining space with more crumpled kraft paper.
Wrap piece(s) in multiple layers (5 to 6) of Ranpak Geami paper. This system is reliable and I have seen a decline in breakage since using it. My loss rate is virtually none (1 or 2 pieces out of hundreds). After polling other potters who use Geami wrap, the general consensus was that loss rate is negligible and is usually due to cramming too many pieces into a box.
Once the box is packed, apply desired stamps and seal with dampened paper tape.
- Ranpak (ranpak.com): I recommend finding a local sales rep and sourcing Geami directly from Ranpak.
- EcoEnclose (ecoenclose.com): good source for paper void fill, paper mailer envelopes, sustainable custom stickers, shipping labels, and lots of info/articles about eco-friendly packaging.
- Papermart (papermart.com): for paper twine.
- Modern Maker Stamps (modernmakerstamps.com): good option for custom stamps, branding assistance, and inspiration.
the author Jenna Vanden Brink is a full-time studio potter living and working in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She creates porcelain and earthenware pottery, as well as a line of porcelain jewelry, though her latest and greatest creations are two little girls. Learn more about her work at www.jennavandenbrink.com and follow her on Instagram @jennavandenbrink.
1 “Full Article: Eco-Friendly Strengthens Your Brand.” EcoEnclose, August 2019. https://www.ecoenclose.com/Eco-Friendly-Strengthens-Your-Brand.
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