Small Business // Having a More Eco-Friendly Business

on Jan 04, 2020

Are you a small business owner (or thinking of starting one) that is striving to become a more eco-friendly business? Hooray for a great decision! 

Now you're probably asking yourself "where do I begin? what's the best road for me to take?"
There's so much information out there, from so many places - it may all seem daunting. 

But have no fear! I have done tons of research and collected a bunch of information for you to help you make an informed decision on the future of your business' eco-footprint. Included in this resource page are sources on where to find more sustainable printed materials and packaging products!

Resources & Links: (click to jump to section)

  • 1. What does Eco-Friendly Mean? Material Types, Certifications, and Plastics.
  • 2. End-of-Life Cycles. Recyclable vs Biodegradable vs Compostable
  • 3. Packaging for Your Art & Merch. Cello Bag Alternatives
  • 4. Shipping Containers, Void Fill, Shipping Labels, and Shipping Box Guidelines
  • 5. Tapes, Stickers, Stamps, and Decoration
  • 6. Print Companies & Manufacturers
  • 7. Packaging Supplies
  • 8. Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
  • 9. Acknowledgements, Thank You's, and Recommended Reading

A note from the author:

Sustainable packaging is often more expensive and is not as accessible to everyone. Don't take this resource as pressure or judgement if you don't offer sustainable packaging!

You also don't have to be "perfectly" sustainable - there is no perfect solution!! But even small, positive changes are great steps towards a better future for everyone.

This resource will be a constant work in progress as I find and add more information and resources. If you found it helpful, share with your friends! 

Consider sending me a tip on Ko-fi

Tips are not required, but always appreciated! 

What Does Eco-Friendly Mean?

Eco-friendly literally means earth-friendly, ie. not harmful to the environment.
Being "eco-friendly" also encourages preventing contributions to air, water and land pollution. You can engage in eco-friendly habits or practices by being more conscious of how you use resources. For more information, check out my Earth Day, Every Day post

It's become a broad term and an increasing number of products today are described as “eco-friendly” - however, not all of them live up to the name.

recycled vs recyclable

Recycled content contains recycled material. Recyclable is the end-of-life option to be properly sorted & converted into a new (recycled) material.

Is paper eco-friendly?

Yes... and no. 

There is a significant impact on the environment with virgin paper production. Pulp and paper production generates a massive amount of industrial air, water, and land emissions. (It's the 3rd largest emissions generator in Canada and 6th largest in the United States.) The paper industry is the 5th largest consumer of energy in the entire world. Read more over on The Environmental Impact of Paper Production and Paper Waste Facts.

It's estimated that 26% of all waste in landfills is made of paper and paper products.
When paper rots, it emits methane (a greenhouse gas) and when its burned or composted, it releases carbon dioxide. 

Paper IS recyclable though, but not everyone recycles. Try to buy recycled paper products and encourage your friends, family, fellow small business owners, and your customers to make an effort to recycle any paper products you sell. 

certifications & emissions

noted material content

Let's talk about PLASTICS

Plastic waste has become a huge global concern. Nearly 400 million tons are produced every year - while 79% of ALL plastic ever produced ends up in landfills, or as litter in our environment. 

But new, more "sustainable" plastics are being developed - so lets go through some information associated with different ones.

If plastic is recyclable, that means it can be reprocessed at an industrial plant and turned into other useful products. However, global analysis by the AAAS found that less than 10% of all plastic waste ever generated has been recycled.

Most plastics, even non-biodegradable ones, will degrade if given enough time (but could be hundreds of years) but many will break down into smaller pieces and remain as microplastic.

  • Plastic Recycling - Certain types of plastic bags and film can be recycled (#2 & #4 polyethylene). They should be sorted separately from the rest of your recycling -- but it will always depend on your local material recycling facility. The most well-known and readily available locations to drop off these plastics are at grocery stores.

End-of-Life Cycle for Materials

Out of all the sustainability-related terms you hear tossed around today, recyclable is probably the single most used and distinct. Merriam-Webster defines recyclable as, “to make something new again” which, in its essence, is pretty simple.
But it's become a "catch-all" term for sustainability... and not everything is "recyclable."

When choosing your products and your packaging, it is very important to consider its end-of-life:

➜ What happens to your products and your packaging materials after it gets into your customer's hands?
➜ If your packaging is recyclable, do your customers have access to recycling programs?
➜ If your packaging is compostable, does it need to be composted in a commercial facility or can it be done at home? 
➜ With any of your sustainable packaging - do your customers know how to dispose of your packaging materials?

You won't ever have the full answer to most of these questions and it'll vary greatly on your customer's location and desire to make an effort to recycle and/or compost - but they're good ideas to keep in mind when choosing what path you want to follow!

And with that, the terms you should familiarize yourself with are recyclable, biodegradable, and compostable

Packaging & Shipping Your Art/Merchandise

So you've made some art and/or merchandise - now how to package and ship them? There are an infinite number of ways to package your items, but lets talk about some of the most well-known and most-used methods in the artist community. 

Cello Bags & Alternatives

Cello bags are a very popular packaging material - used for all sorts of products in both small and large-scale businesses. They are easily accessible and inexpensive...

Cellophane is a thin film made of regenerated cellulose from wood, cotton, hemp, and other sources. Cellophane cannot be recycled - but uncoated cellophane bags are 100% biodegradable (may take months to break down.) However, the production of cellophane is incredibly harmful to the environment - and, during its biodegrading process, produces a lot of methane.

Compostable Cellulose bags are plant-based and are often biodegradable and compostable -- but they're typically only compostable in commercial facilities, not in your standard home compost pile. 

Avoid anything labeled as Polypropylene. It is a non-breathable, non-biodegradable plastic. They are cheaper to manufacture, so many companies have moved to this material, especially in food packaging, but may still label the bags as cellophane bags.

Depending on the company selling them, "cello" bags are made from cellophane, cellulose, or polypropylene (or some blend of these and other materials).

Be wary when purchasing cello bags from random sellers as they may not know or be 100% upfront with the actual content makeup of the bags - so they may not be as eco-friendly as they claim.

ReusableRecyclableBiodegradableCompostable
Hemp Bags
✓✓✓✓
Burlap Bags✓✓✓✓
Glassine Bags 
✓✓✓✓
Kraft Paper Envelopes✓✓✓✓
Natural Linen Bags✓✓✓ + ✗✓
Organza Bags✓✗✓ + ✗✓
Eco-Cello Bags✓✗✓✓
Dry Wax / Parchment✓ + ✗✗
✗
✗
Plain Tissue Paper✓✓ + ✗
✓ + ✗
✓
Tracing Paper✓ + ✗✓ + ✗✓ + ✗✓ + ✗
Vellum✓ + ✗✗✗✗
Newsprint✓✓✓✓
Paper Bags✓✓✓✓

Shipping Containers, Void Fill, and Shipping Labels

When shipping out products to your customers, the possibilities for actually packaging your items for shipment are endless. You've learned the difference between recyclable, biodegradable, and compostable and some basic material types -- so now, how do you pick what to use to ship your items and where to get your supplies from?

Below, I've listed out common shipping mailers/containers and the pros & cons of each!
There's no perfect fit for everyone - so read through and see what works best for you.

* Make sure to use Recyclable shipping labels on materials that can be recycled to improve the overall recyclability of the material; and to use Compostable shipping labels on compostable mailers!  (This includes any decorative stickers too!)

ReusableRecyclableBiodegradableCompostable
Standard Bubble Mailer
✓✗✗✗
Polymailer✓✓ + ✗✗✗
Flat Paper Mailers
✓✓✓✓
Rigid Mailers / Board-Backed✓✓✓ + ✗✗
Kraft Paper Padded Mailers✓✓✓✓
Cardboard Boxes✓✓✓✓
Recyclable Bubble Mailers*✓ + ✗✓✗✗
Compostable Mailers*✓ + ✗✗✓✓
Mailing Tubes✓✓✓ + ✗✓ + ✗

Void Fill

The term "void fill" or "box filler" refers to any type of cushioning/padding you add to your shipping package in order to protect goods whilst in transit to your customer. 

Not every package requires void filler - it greatly depends on what you're shipping, how fragile it is, and the type of shipping container you use.

If you're a creative person like me, I know you probably want a nice presentation for when customers open their packages - being eco-friendly in your packaging doesn't mean your presentation has to be boring!

Shipping Labels

Make sure to use Recyclable shipping labels on packages that can be recycled to improve the overall recyclability of the material; and to use Compostable shipping labels on compostable mailers! 

Want to save on ink? Thermal labels, while a bit of a up-front investment, require NO INK. 

Boxes & Postage Guidelines

A lot of people are afraid of switching to boxes to mail small packages because of weight - afraid that it will increase shipping costs.

But there's a lot of options out there for light-weight but durable corrugated boxes that shouldn't increase your weight too drastically!

There also some country-specific rules and guidelines to keep in mind!

If your country has specific guidelines for minimum sizes/weights to qualify for low-cost shipping on boxes- send me a message, and I'll add it to the list!

Tapes, Stickers, Stamps, and Decoration

After picking the type of shipping container you're going to use - how are you going to seal it closed (and/or decorate it?)

Packing Tapes

Most adhesive tape on the market is plastic/cello, but you can limit the biodegradability of your package materials by using plastic tape.

(This also includes tapes such as scotch tape, painters tape, masking tape, and duct tape. Try to limit their use in your packaging, if you can.)

A note on the recyclability of boxes with cello tape:
Boxes with standard plastic packing tape left on cannot be left to biodegrade properly -- but they can still be put into your curbside recycling.  The tape removal will be handled by the recycling facility - but it's on a case-by-case basis (some cities or haulers may require you to remove it completely when putting boxes into curbside recycling).

Cardboard boxes are normally soaked in water and broken down into a pulp so the fibers can be reused. The tape will come away - but too much tape in the system may cause clogs in the machinery. 

Decorating Your Packages

But what if you want pretty packaging? A nice presentation can offer a great experience for your customers!

There's may ways to do spruce up your packaging. Eco-friendly packaging doesn't need to be boring!

Eco-Friendly Printing Companies & Manufacturers

I've gathered some links to printing companies that are offer eco-friendly printing options for prints, stationery, business cards, and other printed collateral.
This is not an extensive list and I will be adding companies as I find them / they are recommended to me.
(Anything marked with a star is a personal recommendation!)

Below is a table of "cards" with information about these companies. Clicking on each of the card will bring up more information about what they offer and their sustainable practices. You can search, sort, and filter these cards as well!

Eco-Friendly Packaging Suppliers

Below are some links to companies that offer eco-friendly packaging and shipping supplies. This is not an extensive list, and I will be adding companies as I find them / they are recommended to me. (Anything marked with a star is a personal recommendation!)

Below is a table of "cards" with information about these companies. Clicking on each of the card will bring up more information about what they offer. You can search, sort, and filter these cards as well!

Frequently Asked Questions

I see a lot of the same questions when it comes to "how to be a eco-friendly business." Those frequently asked questions can be found below.

If you have a question about something that you didn't see in this resource guide, please let me know and I can add it to the resource!

Acknowledgements, Thank You's, and Recommended Reading

I am completely blown away by the love that this resource has gotten since I published it. Thank you for reading and for taking steps to be a more eco-conscious business. 

A huge thank you to everyone who has commented & shared on social media, and to those who have sent me a tip over on Ko-fi. 

This resource will be a constant work in progress as I find and add more information and resources. If you found it helpful, share with your friends!

Consider sending me a tip on Ko-fiGet $20 off your order of $50+ from EcoEnclose!

4 comments

  • Melody WongAug 05, 2021

    This is the best resource I’ve come across about this topic!!!!!!!!!!!! I’m so glad it popped up on my twitter feed bc I absolutely love how thorough you are in explanatations and literally everything. Thank you for making and sharing this!!!!

  • Kristina / Cheery HumanApr 23, 2021

    This is an incredible resource. Thank you so much for taking the time to put it together to help small businesses like mine become more eco friendly!

  • Julia Mar 10, 2021

    Thank you SO much for taking the time to put this list together! I really appreciate it a lot!
    Julia

  • VexMar 10, 2021

    This is SUCH a valuable resource, thank you so much for making this

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published

You have successfully subscribed!
This email has been registered