In 2009, Nobel prize-winning economists Joseph E. Stiglitz and Amartya Sen released a report that highlighted the importance of shifting our perspective of a country’s excellence from purely economic metrics to one that includes the collective wellbeing of its citizens and its sustainability. However, this begs the question, “What does it mean to live sustainably?”
Achieving sustainability starts with changing the way we consume and dispose of things, such as the materials used to package products that we order and ship, and those that we purchase at a store. There is little to no knowledge regarding how packaging can and should be recycled after a single use.
Amid the Coronavirus pandemic and its accompanying boost to the e-commerce industry, the world has been relying more on online purchases. The need to understand the dire impact of using and disposing of packaging materials has become more important than ever before. According to estimates by Salesforce, digital sales in the United States skyrocketed to 77 percent of all retail purchases in the second quarter of 2020, which demonstrated one of the new challenges that may arise in the post-pandemic future – the almost unmanageable wave of packaging waste. The sudden increase in digital sales has led to increased demand for packaging waste, and as a result, the production of cardboard boxes increased by 9 percent in the first half of 2020.
The most common packaging materials include cardboard boxes, bubble mailers, polyethylene bags, and paper envelopes. A greater awareness needs to be at the forefront of consumers’ thinking about how numerous package recycling options can have environmental and other impacts on the environment.
Why Is There a Need to Recycle Packaging Materials?
Although packaging materials have become an indispensable part of life in these “new normal” times, they have also proven to be a menace. Increasing the rate of recycling discarded waste can help protect both our environment and our economy.
Minimizes Carbon Footprint
The production and shipment of packaging materials results in an increased carbon footprint. For instance, in the United States alone, 70 thousand tons of cardboard for packaging are produced annually, virtually all of which ultimately becomes waste. That equals a loss of almost 1.4 million trees each year. The forests from which these trees come play an extremely important role in maintaining biodiversity and a healthy ecosystem. Reusing and recycling cardboard boxes helps save trees and ultimately leads to minimizing global carbon emissions. Moreover, according to PAC Worldwide, the greater weight of cardboard boxes, in comparison to other packaging materials, results in increased vehicular emissions during transport.
According to the EPA, of the 292.4 million tons of waste generated by Americans in 2018, only 69.1 million tons (23.6 percent) were recycled. This waste was comprised of approximately 67 percent paper and cardboard, 4 percent plastic, and 29 percent other materials. The plastic material in padded, bubble mailer envelopes serves as protection for the mailed contents. Despite being one of the most reliable packing and shipping/mailing materials, these padded envelopes are non-recyclable. However, if the plastic and paper could be more easily separated from one another, both could be recycled. But the easiest, most sustainable approach is to reuse these bubble mailers and help save oceans by keeping the plastic from being tossed into them.
Water is one of the basic necessities of life. It’s why space exploration has focused on determining if there is evidence of water on Mars that could have supported life. Similarly, water is as much an essential element among the several industries that produce paper and plastic. It is reported that producing a single sheet of A-4 paper requires almost 10 liters of water. By reusing the paper and cardboard produced each year, we can save a great amount of water, which is being depleted from the Earth at an increasingly greater rate.
Regulating packaging waste and reusing it can result in savings to the social costs of waste reduction. Social costs refer to the sum of all operational costs, recycling costs, costs associated with waste disposal at landfills and incinerators, etc. Recycling also helps to save on the “extra costs” required for waste management operations, costs involved with the selection, collection and sorting of waste packaging materials. Reusing packaging material also saves production costs that would otherwise be incurred by producing the desired product from virgin material.
Here’s how we can reduce our packaging waste and minimize our ecological footprint:
- Cardboard Organizer – Decluttering the spaces in our homes and keeping them organized is quite a task. During COVID lockdowns, people all over the world began to significantly increase their online ordering. This has resulted in more cardboard boxes being delivered to all of our doors. These boxes can be used for storing clothes, clutter, files, documents, and so on.
- Reuse Corrugated Cardboard Boxes – These can be reused at least seven times before becoming too weak for further use. They can also be broken down and flattened and taken to the nearest recycling bin.
- Reuse Bubble Mailers – All of us receive products and mail shipped in bubble wrap and bubble mailers. Over time, we tend to collect quite a heap of them. Therefore, spending a dollar or so on new mailers for things we want to mail, when we already have plenty of them, is a waste. Those that we already have can be taped to repair minor issues and reused.
However, bubble mailers tend to get dirty and worn out as a result of opening, cutting, and handling. Reusing them may not leave a very good impression, especially for a company that ships products to buyers. The buyers might complain about the poor packaging quality and might reduce their purchases in the future. We cannot let this be an issue, as environmental benefits come with a price. We need to compromise about just a few things in order to be able to achieve others.
Considering the above-mentioned benefit and reuse options, it is imperative to shift towards a sustainable lifestyle, one involving greater reuse and recycle options. It will not only help cut costs, but will also help reduce environmental impact.