Eco Friendly Packaging - Reduce, Reuse, Rethink
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Sustainable Packaging

Curlicue NZ's current packaging:

Back at the end of 2017, after quite a lot of thinking and research, I started using a new gift box to package and protect my Curlicue NZ jewellery.

It was made from a cardboard base and a food-grade PVC clear lid. I had believed all parts of the box and packaging were fully recyclable (even the re-purposed bubble wrap insert which could be recycled in soft plastics), so I called it my Eco Gift Box.

Small and large gift boxes - back and front_composite photo
My eco gift boxes with recyclable PVC lids

The idea behind these gift boxes was that you could keep and see your jewellery in the box, and whilst inside the box, the jewellery would be protected from air, moisture (and therefore tarnish) and scratches (from other jewellery). Such good intentions! 

These gift boxes were then wrapped in tissue paper and tied up with paper ribbon. So it felt like you were receiving a gift – whether the jewellery was for you or someone else.  

 Gift wrapped box with green paper ribbon

Premium Gift Wrapping

However, I still had my ‘Premium Gift Service’ option available too. If you purchased this, along with an item of jewellery, the piece would be gift wrapped and placed in a gorgeous flax kete (woven bag), along with your chosen homemade gift card, inside of which I would write your personalised message and wrap it all up (in re-used bubble wrap) to be protected during transit. The item could then be sent directly to the gift recipient!

But, with my introduction of the gift boxes and ‘free’ gift wrap – the Premium Gift Wrap option was not so popular anymore. Whoops! 🤦‍♀️

Also, despite some initial dismay at the use of plastic – the reception of my gift boxes and packaging was quite positive. When I explained that the boxes were meant to be kept – but could also be fully recycled (because the lid was made from clear PVC – like soft drink bottles), it made more sense.

Researching “Recycling”

Nonetheless, at that time we didn’t know that much of what went into our recycling bins, was actually not recycled at all, and large amounts of it was then sent overseas to be ‘disposed of’!! 😱

I – amongst many other New Zealanders – have definitely learnt a lot in the last few years!

Even now, the Auckland Council has a fairly long list of what is ‘accepted’ in their recycling bins:

Items you can put in your recycling

Recycling around NZ

Yet, according to www.recycle.co.nz, “not all plastics are recycled. Some types (1 (PET) and 2 (HDPE)) are easier to recycle than others. Some get contaminated with food waste and cost more to be recycled (take-away food and drink containers). Some plastic types (3,4,5,6 and 7) are often not worth recycling. This is because there is low value in the recovered plastics as they are harder to recycle and/or manufacturers struggle to make any profit from them.”

Furthermore, different Councils around New Zealand accept different things (and it’s the same in other countries). The Auckland Council seems to be the only one (in NZ) that accepts all the current recyclable items. Even then, if you live on Great Barrier Island – the rules are different. For example; many Councils in New Zealand do not accept lids of any kind – as they are so small, they do not get picked up and can go into the wrong area – such as paper, therefore contaminating a whole load. That whole load then would have to go to landfill rather than being recycled!

So it seems that just because an item has the recycling sign ♻️ on it, it doesn’t mean that item can actually be recycled in your area. And – actually – there is no regulations about use of the ♻️ recycling symbol. Technically anyone can put it on their packaging – whether their item can be recycled or not!

“We are all responsible for waste, it starts with us and ends with us.

When we buy products we also buy any waste associated with the products.

Recycling helps reduce our waste footprints.”

~ www.recycle.co.nz

In terms of what can (and can’t) be recycled in your area – you really need to check your local Council’s website. As I live within Auckland, I do have more options in terms of what can be recycled. However, I’ve also learned that the less that goes to be recycled – the better! Recycling still takes a huge amount of energy – especially for plastics – so it’s actually best to reduce or reuse first and foremost.

Which means, I’ve now changed my mind about the sustainability of my ‘eco’ gift boxes and going forward, I am looking to replace them with something else. But what?

What does “sustainable” actually mean?

According to the dictionary; “sustainable” means something is:

  1. able to be maintained at a certain rate or level.
    “sustainable economic growth”
    • conserving an ecological balance by avoiding depletion of natural resources.
      “our fundamental commitment to sustainable development”
  2. able to be upheld or defended.

According to Rutgers; sustainable materials are “materials used throughout our consumer and industrial economy that can be produced in required volumes without depleting non-renewable resources and without disrupting the established steady-state equilibrium of the environment and key natural resource systems.”

Packaging Requirements

First of all, we all need to remember that the main purpose of packaging is to protect the item it holds – both through the postal system, and then at home as a treasure to keep. So – here’s a list of items that I currently use for my packaging, (at various stages):

  • Boxes with cardboard base and PVC lid
  • Reused bubble wrap – to protect the whole item in transit, and as foam inserts for my boxes
  • Tissue paper 
  • Circular and address recyclable labels
  • Product tags/ business cards – 1 product, 2 purposes 😉
  • Anti-tarnish tabs – helps to keep your jewellery shiny!
  • Jewellery Care Cards – containing information on how to care for your jewellery, and also information about the packaging (on the reverse) – all completely recyclable
  • Home compostable courier bags
  • Biodegradable cellulose and paper packaging tape
  • Paper ribbon or cotton cord 
  • Thank you cards, gift tags/ cards – recyclable and/or biodegradable
  • Flax kete – reusable

Looking after the environment and becoming as sustainable and environmentally friendly as I (and my business) can be is definitely important to me, both now and for our future generations. I will endeavour to do as much as I can to make Curlicue NZ as sustainable as possible – both by reconsidering my packaging and also where my jewellery components come from.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle – and Repurpose

Interestingly, NZ Post has just completed some research on which of their packaging options would be the most sustainable and have the least impact on carbon emissions. You can read more about it here. NZ Post have committed to 100% reusable, recyclable, or compostable packaging by 2025. Effectively, the best option for them (currently) is to use 80% recycled plastic courier bags that are made here in New Zealand. Even the home compostable bags had a bigger carbon footprint (they are currently derived from petroleum based products.)

They also found that “the research showed the carbon footprint for the biodegradable courier bags (the home compostable bag and both paper bags) was also found to be heavily dependent on the end-of-life treatment they received. When placed in the anaerobic environment of a landfill, these items produce methane (a potent greenhouse gas) and this can become the leading form of emissions – up to 58% of the total emissions in the case of the padded courier bag.”

However, according to R3pack (where I get my compostable courier bags from): 

Compostable bags can be reused again in many different ways. Reusing them is a great way to reduce waste.

  • Turn them inside out and they can be used as a courier bag once more
  • Weed matting
  • Seedling bags
  • Food waste bag 

Once it’s a bit worse for wear you can then either compost them at home or through a commercial composter. The other thing I love about R3 pack is that they are a New Zealand company, all their products are made here, all their products are environmentally friendly, and there is also the option of a 100% recycled plastic courier bag (rather than 80%). Not sure why NZ Post can’t use them?!

R3 pack A5 Compostable Bag
R3 pack A5 Compostable Bag
R3 pack 100% recycled plastic bag
R3 pack 100% recycled plastic bag

So, the responsibility for the sustainability of packaging really lies with the end receiver. What do you do with your packaging?

I assume that most of my customers have a similar environmental view (that looking after the environment is paramount), to me, and that therefore they will either reuse my courier bag or compost it.  Accordingly, it won’t have the carbon emissions stated above. For the moment, I will continue to use the compostable courier bags. I can reconsider this again later (when I next need to order more). 

To Reuse? Or not to reuse?

Ever since I started my business, I’ve also reused bubble wrap – that I already have (I’ve never bought any, but still have a massive box full of the stuff!)

So far, I’ve reused it as protection around the whole purchase during the all-important transit phase, as well as repurposing it into inserts inside my boxes – instead of using foam.

Large box of reused bubble wrap

I had been wondering whether to continue using it – despite it being plastic, or recycle it all into soft plastics and purchase/ use something more ‘environmentally friendly’, such as paper or cardboard. I even asked you about it! 😊

I do believe – as I already have it – that it would be more environmentally friendly, and require less energy (and money) to reuse what I have already, rather than buying anything else new, no matter what it’s made from.

Other packaging options

Some years ago, I acquired some other packaging materials, from a cousin who was closing her own shop.

The items included some small velvet bags, paper bags, small cardboard boxes and other bits and pieces. Until now, I’ve not really been able to use most of the items, as they didn’t ‘fit’ with my packaging options.

However, I’m now thinking that I will use what I can, whilst I’m taking the time to decide what’s best for you the customer, Curlicue NZ as a ‘green business’  – and of course – protecting the jewellery! 😁

I may still need to purchase extra packaging items – e.g. for my larger earrings and necklaces etc. 

Most likely, I will try a few different things out – so watch this space!

Conclusions:

It has become obvious to me through reading and research for this blog (and my current packaging dilemma) that there is no “one solution” to this problem. 

Being environmentally friendly or completely ‘sustainable’ in all areas is difficult to achieve, and I can only continue to strive for improvement, rather than perfection. 

I now realise I will need to re-examine my packaging regularly! 

At the same time as offering ‘sustainably elegant’ jewellery, I want to continue providing customers with an awesome ‘unboxing’ experience. I.e, I don’t just want my items to be wrapped in a small bit of tissue! Even if it is ‘just for you’ – it should still be special! 😊

I would also like to offer a 100% reusable, or easy to recycle, packaging for my jewellery, that is complementary to (rather than in competition with) my premium gift wrapping service.

Ultimately, my packaging needs to protect the item I have spent time lovingly crafting by hand for you – the customer AND provide excitement and happiness when you open it up! 

So – what are my sustainable packaging decisions? 

  • I will stop using the boxes (with the PVC lids) – except for display purposes and use in shops
  • I will continue to use the compostable courier bags
  • I will continue to reuse and repurpose the bubble wrap I have
  • I will use up the other packaging I have available, until I work out what is most environmentally friendly, sustainable and practicable for Curlicue NZ going forward.

What do you think about sustainable packaging? Do you have any suggestions or comments to make? If so, I’d love to hear from you!

SHOP

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Reused bubble wrap and compostable courier bag
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