Ethical Business Perspectives: Reusing Packaging Isn't Easy.
Updated: Apr 13
I'm in an interesting perspective on business. We started The Sustainable Store to fund our conservation work. We aren't looking to be the next huge mega store, with million pound turn overs. I'm also a conscious consumer, I expect a lot from companies that I order from. So I think I have a bit of an interesting perspective, not heavily invested in making this scene seen perfect- but interested in opening up discussion on how to progress.
When I order something from an ethical business I fully expect plastic free packaging, and also, preferably reused. Because it seems obvious- reusing packaging saves money and resources, right?
I don't think it's that straight forward. And here's why- from the perspective of a tiny operation, with considerations for those bigger companies trying to do the right thing.
1) Reusing packaging takes time. It's as simple as that. Businesses might get lots of packaging sent to them- but sorting this packaging into something usable, takes time- and lots of it. Peeling off tape, flat packing, checking for damage, sorting and mostly- storing.
2) Reusable packaging needs a lot of space! Lots of different shapes and sizes of packaging of course comes in handy for packaging on parcels of lots of different shapes and sizes, but storing reused and flat packed boxes takes up more space than virgin packaging does- that arrives completely flat packed and organised. For me, on a small scale, this isn't too much of a problem although enough to notice- and enough to realise it's a commitment. On a larger scale, this represents a REAL issue. Storage space, costs money, and probably requires energy for heat. It is harder to maintain over time.
3) It's not always the right size. Simple logistics. We normally get posted our stock in huge boxes. I have actually tried cutting down boxes and remaking them into something smaller- and more suited to the product I'm sending. However, this is extremely messy- takes a really long time and is not always so secure. This is not practical over time and for many orders. Slightly larger boxes can be padded out with packing paper- but in the effort to reduce packaging- this is something we try not to do often. So if we don't have the exact size reused box- we just simply cannot post in reused packaging!!
4) Some people do not like reused packaging. It's a hard fact. We have people request smart packaging- and so we still need to purchase ethically sourced, new packaging. Some people are gifting products on, some just simply want something pretty. Because bear in mind- sometimes packaging is really actually rather ugly too- an old cereal box or similar, not necessarily the chic brown cardboard.
5) Sometimes reusing packaging might mean using plastic packaging. Somethings are sent in plastic envelopes. This sucks, I know. Sometimes stockists believe that this is the safest option. We always ask for plastic free packaging but sometimes wishes don't come true. This has only happened a few times- but if we have the Jiffy bag- and we think the customer could also reuse- we'll send it on in a plastic package- i.e. creating the least waste. This makes sense right? But doing this is actually pretty scary for an "ethical business owner" because there is the chance that your plastic wrapped low waste parcel will end up with somebody who doesn't quite understand the full extent of you trying your best- and will put a rant on the very large UK wide plastic group... The conversation is great, and it's better to change the system and all that, but just understand that it's a bit nerve wracking...
So, after talking through the difficulties of reusing packaging, I really hope you have a new found respect for small businesses who go out of their way whenever they can to reuse packaging. It might not seem like a lot, but behind the scenes it involves huge investments of time, energy and sometimes yes even money to send/ packaging something for you in reused packaging. And a THANK YOU to those small businesses who, even though its trickier, ensure they keep reusing whenever they can!