Shipping, The Economy, The Environment, and You

Posted by Dylan Ribb

I work for a fairly well known company in the Portland area. I handle inventory control and Shipping and Receiving. I see a lot of products come in that say “Eco”, “Green”, “Environmentally Friendly”, and other green buzzwords all over them. This, I would imagine, is an attempt to cater to those who are eco-conscious and want to purchase products that are environmentally friendly. I would say that good portions of our customers consider this when they make a purchase, and as such the marketing ploy seems to be quite effective. What is ironic to me is the fact that these products usually come covered in layers upon layers of plastic and are shipped with boxes full of Styrofoam peanuts and plastic packing materials. Not only are the products sealed in plastic packaging, but they also have an extra layer of plastic around them to make sure that the packaging doesn’t get any unnecessary dings, and then it shoved into more plastic to make sure they don’t get broken in shipping. Additionally, almost all of them come from China. I would say that I see about 20 boxes a day packed like this. I don’t know about anyone else, but I find this kind of backwards in terms of what the company is saying they support and what they are actually showing with their packaging and shipping methods. Not only does this see far from “Eco-friendly”, it also seems downright expensive.

In contrast, the last company that I worked for had very different shipping methods. They were a company that focused on “Peace” oriented products that are made from recycled glass and other recycled materials. This company, rather than buying boxes, recycles the boxes that are given to them by friends of employees or customers. They do use packing peanuts and plastic bubble-wrap, but only sparingly and usually it’s recycled in a similar way to the boxes. We also have to consider that a glass sphere actually has a need to be protected, whereas a piece of Chinese plastic probably isn’t nearly as fragile. They also used shredded newspapers, recycled cardboard, recycled brown paper, recycled cardstock for their signs, and other more “eco friendly” materials to ship their products. Not only did this enhance the image that they were trying to portray, but it also saved them a LOT of money.

How does this relate to us as individuals? I’d say it’s pretty clear. The next time you go out to ship Christmas presents or birthday gifts, consider how much you might be saving in terms of money and environmental impact if you decided to use recycled brown paper instead of bubble wrap and Styrofoam. Consider how much you might save in terms of boxes if, instead of buying a box from the UPS store, you found some old boxes in your or your neighbors garage and used those to send out your packages. This also goes for companies. If you run a company, don’t break down your boxes and throw them in the dumpster. Call around and see if anyone needs some recycled boxes, or better yet, use them to ship your own products and cut your materials costs significantly rather than cutting someone’s hours or salary. Not only will your wallet feel better, but so may your conscience.