Many believe that plastic packaging is bad for the environment. But the environmental impacts of packaging aren’t black and white.
In 2019 Australia Post commissioned research to look closely at the sustainability attributes of different packaging types. According to Susan Mizrahi, Chief Sustainability Officer at Australia Post, they wanted to determine which would have the least impact on the environment when considering each one’s entire life cycle. ”When comparing virgin plastic, recycled content plastic, compostable and cardboard boxes over their lifecycle, it became clear that the recycled plastic satchels had the least impact overall,” Susan says.
“In this case, the other options were more water and land intensive over their lifetime and created more greenhouse gases. Surprisingly, recycled plastic satchels had less negative environmental impact.”
Creating a new sustainable packaging range
Packaging needs to be fit for purpose, ideally lightweight, made with recycled materials and be recyclable.
In 2020, Australia Post introduced a recycled plastic satchel range to our core range. We’ve also committed to all our plastic satchels being made from recycled material by the end of 2021.
Aside from the new recycled plastic packaging, all our cardboard boxes are now locally made and contain recycled material in their make-up. The boxes also carry the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) logo meaning they’re sourced from sustainably managed forests.
“We carefully select packaging based on what’s best for the job and the environment,” Susan explains. “Less is more so we keep things minimal yet functional. Our packaging isn’t any larger or heavier than necessary but we don’t compromise on quality so our customers’ parcels still arrive safely.
“We also don’t sell packaging that can’t be recycled in Australia. That’s why you won’t see padded bags or padded mailers made from a combination of paper and plastic anymore.”
Moving towards a circular economy
A circular economy is one that is restorative and regenerative. Packaging in this economy is designed to be reused, recycled or composted so we don't need to use new or 'virgin' materials.
According to Susan, the work on sustainable packaging solutions doesn’t just involve developing more sustainable alternatives. It also includes making it easier for customers to manage their packaging that’s ready to be disposed of.
In 2017, Australia Post adopted the Australian Recycling Label on its packaging. Two years later, we announced our new soft plastics recycling solution. We’ve now partnered with REDcycle so our customers can drop off their used satchels for recycling at over 1,800 major supermarkets across the country.
The used satchels are then remanufactured in Australia and take on a second life as furniture, signage, fence posts or park benches.
As Susan says, “Nothing is truly recycled unless the end products are purchased. We’re doing our bit by donating Australian-made furniture made from recycled satchels to local communities. This is one of the ways we’re playing our part to close the loop.”
Sustainable packaging and the partnership with REDcycle are examples of Australia Post’s commitment to reduce environmental impact. It’s also part of our commitment to helping achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals that underpin our 2020-2022 Group Corporate Responsibility Plan (PDF 6.6MB).
“There’s no negative trade-off between sustainability and business outcomes,” Susan says. “There’s only positive outcome on both sides. What’s also important to keep in mind is that sustainability isn’t an added expense. It’s spending money differently.”
TIPS FOR SENDING
Here’s how you and your small business can keep protecting the environment by using the right packaging the right way.
- Choose the right size box or satchel for your gifts.
- Reuse packaging like wrapping paper and boxes where possible.
- Choose reusable gift wrapping like ribbons, fabric or tissue paper.
- Send one box of gifts to people in the same household rather than multiple smaller boxes.
- Save bubble wrap, tissue paper and padding to package your gifts instead of using polystyrene foam.
- When shopping online, ask for ‘minimal packaging’ in the check-out notes section.
- Don’t place stickers on wrapping paper so it can be reused.
For your small business
- Use suitably-sized packaging for different products rather than a standard large box.
- Allow customers to opt out of gift wrapping at the checkout.
- Allow customers to opt in for additional packaging.
- Choose packaging made from one material. A combination of different materials like paper, plastic and foil can be difficult to recycle.
- Write any personalised notes directly on the wrapping paper instead of on a separate gift tag or card.
- Ditch the additional box if your product is already packaged and just needs to be wrapped before sending out.