The Shipping and Packaging Carbon Footprint: How we all can Help Manage Holiday Waste

Who in the North doesn't love the winter holidays? Early winter darkness opens the door to  enchanting Christmas lights,  concerts, greenery, holiday snacks and libations. Somehow, Christmas morning, we turn a cheek with underlying distress when we are faced with piles of boxes, wrapping paper, ribbons and plastic packaging. Here we are, facing a new world with climate change, and for the consumer there is disheartening news about the lack of recycling opportunities of our waste. While Nuclear Fusion energy, electric cars and lab meat is out or reach for most right now, there is hope for our home planet. There are also things we can do as companies and consumers to create awareness in ourselves and eventually others when it comes to energy use and waste disposal. A good first step is to observe your packaging this holiday season.

Craft Tape
paper packaging
stack of boxes with craft tape

Assess the use of plastic in your packaging

The good: plastic is above all a moisture barrier. Products like Mushroom spawn and cultures, plants and other biological products require water to stay viable so holding in moisture is essential, it also prevents your package from arriving wet, damaged and unusable with the carbon used to return or replace the shipment. The bad: difficult to recycle and in most cases, is landfilled or ends up as persistent microplastics in the environment. If possible, try to reuse any plastic bags you receive in shipments!

Assess the use of materials used to box and seal your package

What kind of tape or fasteners are used to seal the box? Look for packages using gummed paper tape as it can recycle both at the recycling center and also in your back yard compost pile or as a footprint for your backyard mushroom bed. Re-enforced gummed tape uses fiberglass strings to lend strength to the paper tape but these strands take a long time to decompose in your yard. These may be filtered out at the recycling center, so leave this kind of tape on the box as it goes into your recycling bin. Cellulose tape is compostable but not recyclable, remove that tape if it is not going to be home composted. It is fine for mushroom beds but not in the recycling bin unless removed.

What is used to cushion your product?

Look for paper "dunnage", cellulose peanuts or other paper based cushioning. Also, conscientious packers putting together your package will be thoughtful about item placement for little movement and little dunnage.

How many separate deliveries does it take to pack your order?

Small companies can be responsive to your shipping needs by alerting you to the maximum weight or volume or number of items that can fit into a single box. The more you can maximize the use of a single shipment the better it is for our environment and your wallet.

Consider dislike or damage before you return a plant or bag of spawn before insisting on a replacement.

Most common in the mail order garden industries, replacements due to damage from shipping is most often a burden that must be absorbed by the company, not the shipper even if the fault is with the shipper. Asking for a replacement to very minor damage increases the cost of the product as well as an unnecessary burden to the environment from the fuel use to replace the product. Always call the company to discuss the damage and assess the necessity of a replacement.

Other Considerations:

Request that the company you like to do business with use greener packaging. Small businesses prefer to have environmental practices but it is up to us as consumers to let the company know that you want it.... The squeaky wheel gets the grease!

And finally- shout out for White Rot fungi that degrade lignin: paper packing is sustainable; it comes from forests, most of which are managed for renewal. White rot fungi, many of which we can grow for food, have long evolutional ties to allow for degradation of paper products. These are some of the most promising organisms that may help us deal with our waste problems!


What we're doing at Field & Forest Products:

At Field and Forest Products, we use gummed paper tape, cardboard boxes, paper dunnage and metal staples to construct and pack your product. We use plastic and bubble wrap when absolutely necessary and with mushroom spawn it is often the only choice. A recent study showed that consumers are only likely to tolerate green packing up to a 10% price increase, and often green packaging is well over that benchmark for small businesses that don't have the purchasing power for large volumes of green alternatives. Nevertheless, the more we ask, the more likely that plastic-based packaging will become a thing of the past as new technology develops and becomes cheaper and realistic for a small companies to use.