Shop Talk: Towards truly environmental packaging

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):

Packaging!

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!)

Recycled

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.

20 comments

  1. Nico says:

    Not boring at all, but very informative and interesting. I wish more sellers would be so mindful like you! For sellotape, there is Tesa Ecologo Environmentally Friendly Clear Adhesive Tape available in the UK. Perhaps you’d like to give it a try .

  2. Siobhan
    Siobhan says:

    I LOVE this. Thank you for sharing your process. People need more real-time examples of people caring about and working through, the reuse, reduction, and recycling of their materials to know that it is within reach. Thank you for your leadership, Beth.

    • Beth
      Beth says:

      Thank you Siobhan! It’s good to hear this is interesting to some folks, as it’s a big chunk of Little Red Tarot’s brainspace. I’m happy to share my ideas and practices and host a conversation about doing business more lightly xx

  3. Mary L
    Mary L says:

    Thanks for sharing this, and for being so thoughtful about your process. I love seeing more transparency and consideration of the environmental impacts of witchy consumerism. The personal touch and energy that goes into mindful packaging just adds to the experience of investing in a new deck or other soon-to-be-beloved item.

    • Beth
      Beth says:

      Right? It’s so important that witchy shops (I mean all stores) don’t only think about the things they sell, but also on the processes that underpin the selling. To me it seems ridiculous to sell (for example) wiccan supplies but then dishonour the earth with environmentally unfriendly packaging.

  4. Clara says:

    I always find these posts super interesting and it’s great you are putting so much effort into reusing and recycling! I only wish I could shop in the LRT shop more often ;)

  5. rataplata says:

    Great to read!
    In turn, I also try to recycle / reuse all the packaging materials I get.

    You mentioned listening to your favorite podcasts; would you mind sharing what some of those are?

    • Beth
      Beth says:

      Sure! I especially love On Being, Popaganda (from Bitch), and the New Yorker’s poetry and fiction podcasts (especially The Writers’ Voice), and catching up with Cerys Matthews on BBC 6 Music, Travelling Folk on BBC Radio Scotland and A’ Mire ri Moir on BBC Radio nan Gaidheal (yeah, I like folk music a lot!) but I also listen to Welsh lessons, witchy, social justice & business stuff (Awarepreneur and Wild Mystic Woman are both great). and lots of other things. (Because I have a thing about data storage I rarely subscribe to podcasts which means I’m always forgetting which great new things I’ve discovered!)

  6. Marianne says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this – you won’t be surprised to know this is a topic close to my heart! I worry about this all the time, how to find a happy medium between going plastic free and protecting precious cargo (no one likes a tarot deck with dinged edges!). Luckily through my work at the bookshop I do wind up with plenty of bubble wrap to reuse so I can avoid buying new plastic, but the mailers I package in could be improved. You’ve motivated me to get around to fixing that!

  7. Melanie Lucia says:

    Thanks Beth. As a customer of LRT I always appreciate the care you put into packaging – it does make my purchase feel special! Your diligence in keeping it as environmentally friendly as possible is not only important but inspirational – and it works! Every package I receive from you is either reused or recycled. I look forward to visiting the shop soon! Oh and while I’m here, small request – would you be able to share more photo’s of the Wanderer’s Tarot Solar Edition? Cheers x

    • Beth
      Beth says:

      Thanks Melanie, I’m so glad this is meaningful to you as a customer.

      I’m well overdue a photoshoot of many of the items I sell – watch this space :)

  8. Jen Rouse says:

    LOVE THIS Beth, packaging is massively important to me, thanks so much for sharing. We keep a drawer for reusing old jiffy bags/ tissue paper etc, and for me personally seeing that a shop has reused packaging is a massive selling point. Also avoiding not just plastics but plasticised stickers. It is amazing how often you buy an environmentally friendly product that is unnecessarily wrapped in plastic. I am always happy to pay more for eco-friendly packaging (and fair wages and all the rest of it). Unfun fact: I read the other day that some tea bags are 25% plastic, how gross is that?

  9. Love, love, love that, dear Beth. It reassures me on my way of reusing packaging for my Etsy shop. As much as I love good packaging as a customer, as clearly can I see how fast it can get out of control. Thank you for giving us a closer look at your packaging policies.

    Blessings,
    Sabrina

  10. Patrina says:

    I have a alternative for your cello tape conundrum, Washi Tape! Made of Rice Paper so it’s highly renewable and recyclable/compostable. Plus its stupid cute and comes in so many patterns and colors it’ll make your head spin.

  11. Shan says:

    Thank you for sharing – as a fellow eCommerce store owner myself always looking to reduce our environmental footprint, it’s good to know I’m not the only one spending so much time and effort on this. It’s harder than it should be to source good recyclable or compostable packaging in my experience. Super interesting read and I LOVED receiving the package from your store – the stickers and messaging card made it super personal. Looking forward to ordering more!

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