Let’s talk about a topic that is deeply important to me (…and that my friends run a mile the moment I start on about):
As you probably know, I run an online shop. This means that three or four times a week, I spend a few hours processing orders for lovely people around the world, and sending out tarot and oracle decks, books and more.
These are not cheap decks, and I’m very aware that my store is a ‘treat shop’, a place you visit for special things, magical things, items for self-care and spirituality, creativity and more. When people shop here, they are typically spending a fair chunk of money on something they will hopefully treasure, and I spend a good amount of time advising customers on their choice of deck. I believe that this is a shop people use intentionally and carefully. I want to honour that intention, and I want to honour the work of the many independent artists and writers who create the goods that I sell. I want to celebrate the love, care and intention at every stage in a deck’s journey, from creation to arriving in my store, from being chosen by a customer to being packaged and sent out ,…and of course, when it is received.
So I go to lengths to ensure that the moment a package from me arrives really feels like a treat. Attractive packaging, decorated with pretty stickers, tissue paper and a nice thank-you note help customers to feel good about their purchase. Before things really took off last year, I had the time to doodle hearts, stars and moons on each package and pen each address in my best handwriting. Sadly those days are over! But I still package each and every order with love and care.
However. I am balancing the ‘treat factor’ against environmental concerns. It is easy to go wild on eBay, buying lovely glittery paper, plastic-based stickers, colourful plastic padding and fun padded mailers… but for me, this is not okay. I want my shop to have as light a footprint as it can, and a big part of this is being mindful and careful about the packaging I use.
So here is my current policy-in-practice:
No new plastic
One of the most important principles for me is that no new plastic is used in my store. None at all, save that which comes with products themselves (many decks are shrink-wrapped in cellophane, for example.)
But this can be quite a challenge!
A bubble-lined Jiffy bag is the classic mailing option for fragile goods. But currently, due to the way these are constructed, these can’t be recycled. Rubbish! So – how to protect goods without the need for new plastic?
I use a lot of bubble wrap to ensure goods arrive in great condition – but crucially, this is all 100% reused, and is separate from the paper envelope. I have a friend – Chris – who does appliance repairs in my hometown. He saves up bubble wrap for me from the many parts he orders, and brings it to my house when he’s working nearby. I then spend pleasant hours listening to my favourite podcasts whilst sorting and trimming, removing ugly tape, neatening torn edges and stocking up my packing shelf with lovely tarot-deck-sized squares of wrap. He brings me large airt-fileld cushions, too, and other types of plastic padding to re-use. It feels good to engage this deeply with the plastic my shop uses, to be really conscious of it.
I often think about finding a more organic type of padding – like Lush’s edible ‘packing peanuts’ – but I believe that re-using plastic that already exists (and would otherwise go directly to landfill) is a better option than creating demand for more new ‘stuff’. I am always reviewing this policy.
I recently replaced brown plastic parcel tape with compostable paper tape (yay!) but there’s one element I’m still working on here – sellotape. I don’t use much, but it holds the bubble wrap in place when needed. I’m still looking for a biodegradable alternative to sticky tape (add a link in the comments if you know of something!)
The red and white tissue I use to wrap most decks is 100% recycled from post-consumer waste, acid-free, recyclable and fully compostable. (I don’t usually put tape or stickers on this, so that you might reuse it if you wish!)
The compliments slips I include are printed on recycled paper, too.
If you receive your goods in a white envelope, this is 100% recycled paper from UK post consumer waste (including the padding – there’s no plastic at all in these envelopes ). The white mailers that I use are described as ‘the most ecological padded mailer on the market’. They also look pretty nice! Sadly they’re not sturdy enough for all of the items I sell.
If you receive your goods in a re-used Jiffy bag – well, it’s re-used! Every so often, when my collection of incoming Jiffy bags outgrows its box, I have a Jiffy amnesty: all shop orders that day will be mailed in re-used envelopes. (I try to make up for the sometimes-scruffy packaging with extra heart stickers and doodles!)
If your goods come in a new brown cardboard envelope or box, this isn’t recycled, but is fully recyclable and compostable.
If your goods come in a taped-up cardboard box, this is re-used! I collect these every few weeks from the local whole food shop.
Compostable & recyclable
My intention is that once the re-used bubble wrap has been removed, a customer will be able to place their entire packaging in the compost bin. And 99% of the time, this is the case (especially now I’ve ditched plastic parcel tape.) Aside from the bubble wrap, I also re-use newspaper, brown paper and other paper as stuffing to protect goods, and all of this is entirely compostable.
If you don’t have a compost bin, your packaging can go in the paper recycling. Better still, provided it hasn’t been kicked around too much by the postal system (and sadly that does happen) you can often re-use the mailers I send. Please do, wherever possible!
..and this is a work in progress.
I am as yet unable to implement my policy 100%. Occasionally an order is an awkward shape and I have to go to the post office and buy a non-environmentally-friendly container for it. Sometimes I have to use plastic tape on a box to ensure it is safe. In the UK I am legally required to seal the few liquid products I sell, and I currently have to use parcel tape for this (but I’m looking into alternatives!) One of my suppliers of packaging currently only sells through Amazon…which I find deeply frustrating! I have a life-long Amazon boycott and it does my head in that I have to shop there every few months in order to get the packaging I like. (I won’t tell you how long I spend researching alternatives…but it’s a lot!)
But, dear reader, customer, packaging nerd who has read this far – know that this is a work in progress and I am completely committed to reducing my shop’s environmental impact as much as I possibly can. I want to consider every element and every function within my shop (including the parts I don’t see). This is really, really important to me and I am open to genuine, helpful suggestions.