Category Archives: Environmental consciousness

Recyclable Tyvek® Mailers? Not Really.

Is it legitimate to say that a product is 100% recyclable when, in reality, the majority of municipalities won’t accept that product for collection?

This contradiction has always left me scratching my head.  Why? Technically DuPont™ Tyvek® high density polyethylene (HDPE) material can be safely incinerated BUT only if the product gets sorted and collected.  Tyvek has a collection problem and they know it: they’ve put well-intended but impractical programs in place to address the issue.

I did a little detective work, and here’s what I learned:

1.  Most municipalities won’t collect Tyvek envelopes.  Waste Management, with over 25% market share in the solid waste services industry, states: “there’s no single answer to what is acceptable for recycling, since municipal programs vary.”  So digging deeper at the municipality level, I found that many municipalities collect HDPE but only if they are in the form of containers:

#2 HDPE : Examples: Milk jugs. Juice bottles. Bottles for bleach, laundry detergent, some household cleansers.  Motor oil bottles.  Butter, oleomargarine, and yogurt tubs.

2.  In response, DuPont has created a recycling program in partnership with Waste Management but get this — it requires you to pay them $15 to get the kit!  Then the burden is on you to mail your recyclable Tyvek to them.  If you are a household or a small to medium business – or if you are a large corporation sending packages to these kinds of recipients – how likely do you think Tyvek recipients are going to buy a kit, separate out all the Tyvek, and mail it back?  Not very likely.

So think hard before you use Tyvek – because you are putting a product into circulation that most likely will not be recycled.  There are other protective mailers out there that do the job and are authentically 100% recyclable through your local municipality.

Sari McConnell at smcconnell@conformerinc.com

6 Tips to Avoid Overpackaging

  1. Take out a measuring tape. Measure the length, width, and thickness of the contents you want to mail.  This will help you shop for the right package that will fit your contents.
  2. Don’t buy more than you need. Using a packaging solution that is far bigger than your contents requires more filler so your content don’t shift inside and get damaged.
  3. Think about the requirements of your packaging solution. This avoids overpackaging and overspending.  Does it need to be waterproof?  Does it need to protect something fragile?  Do you need perimeter protection or top/bottom protection or both?  Is it recyclable?
  4. Who is doing the assembly, you or someone else? Will it be used in a fulfillment center environment, or will it be assembled on the boardroom table by office staff?  Consider whether pre-assembly and peel-and-stick closure is a “nice to have” or a “need to have” feature.
  5. What is your shipping method? If postal cost is a big consideration, head to your shipper’s website and review your options through the cost-savings lens of your carrier.
  6. Plan ahead.  Don’t make your packaging a last-minute decision.  That almost guarantees that you will overpackage and pay too much for the privilege.

Send me your overpackaging stories… and tell me how you overcame your addiction.

Sari McConnell at smcconnell@conformerinc.com

Jon Stewart Goes Bananas on Packaging

Del Monte's Single-Serve Banana in Plastic



Did anybody catch Jon Stewart’s latest inductee to the Pantry of Shame on “The Daily Show” last night?

The Del Monte  Single-Serve Banana, an individual banana (wait for it…) wrapped in plastic.

As you know, we’re big fans of “right packaging,” not overpackaging.  And the banana is Mother Nature’s best example of right packaging: biodegradable, durable, conforms to fit contents perfectly.

“So what function,” as Jon Stewart nails it home, “does the bag serve that the peel does not currently serve?  A product for people who love bananas but hate their biodegradability?”

Jon Stewart challenges us to think differently about the status quo in politics and media coverage five days a week.  Our hats are off to Mr. Stewart today for challenging America to think differently about its packaging choices, too.

Click here to see Jon Stewart go bananas over packaging.

And we’ve got a few ideas of our own.  See our 6 Tips to Avoid Overpackaging.

Sari McConnell at smcconnell@conformerinc.com

FAQs: What is FSC- or SFI-Certified Paper?

Since Conformer encourages all of our customers to use environmentally sustainable paper stocks, this question comes up a lot.  What does FSC-certified mean?  Is that the same thing as SFI-certified?  What’s the difference?

FSC stands for Forest Stewardship Council.  This is a non-profit organization that provides a third-party certification service to the paper industry to “promote management of the world’s forests.” It ensures that your paper is coming from sustainably harvested forests, meaning that it comes from a renewable source.  According to the FSC website, “plantations must contribute to reduce the pressures on and promote the restoration and conservation of natural forests.”   How does it do this?  The Forest Stewardship Council has developed a Chain of Custody process — effectively, an inventory management system —  that enables you to trace your paper stock back to the tree it was harvested from, thereby ensuring it came from a sustainably managed forest.

If the manufacturer is FSC-certified as an organization, that gives them the right to placed the FSC logo on products it manufacturers.  Alternatively, if the manufacturer is not FSC-certified but simply sources FSC-certified paper stock, your sustainably harvested paper is still exactly that but cannot have the FSC-certified logo printed on it.  Both are viable and “good” options.

SFI stands for Sustainable Forestry Initiative, and it is also an independent auditor of good forestry practices.  It is simply an alternative to FSC-certification and is just as good an indicator of sustainably harvested paper stock. 

These two organizations can be greatly credited for ensuring that trees get planted on this planet by the very industry that depends on them.  There’s some unconventional wisdom at play here, but I can’t think of another industry more committed to planting trees than the paper industry.  And that’s good news for our planet.

Sari McConnell at smcconnell@conformerinc.com

FAQs: Can I Afford to Buy Eco-Friendly Products?

Many of our clients are surprised to hear that eco-friendly presentation and mailing materials can cost the same or less than unfriendly materials. Unfortunately, the marketplace has been trained to assume that making eco-friendly choices comes at a price.  I’ve seen businesses eliminate (needed) materials altogether in an attempt to go green because they don’t think they have budget-friendly options.

Eco-friendly can be budget-friendly by aligning with smart buying principles:

– Buying power.  If your supplier makes a major investment in buying, let’s say Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)-certified paper (more on that topic here), then the cost of that material becomes very competitive against less environmentally attractive stocks.

Economies of scale.  The Conformer portfolio made of recycled milk jug poly costs the same as buying it from virgin poly (recyclable, but not made of post-consumer recycled material).  Our base materials come from a poly extruder that specializes and extrudes milk jug poly in volume.  Then it becomes an aesthetic rather than a price-based decision.  That’s ideal.

Long-term eco-commitment of your vendors. Becoming FSC-certified is an arduous process with upfront costs. But once an organization has realigned its operations to comply with the Forest Stewardship Council’s specifications, the ongoing costs of this inventory management system become operationally streamlined.  Vendors that dabble in green products don’t achieve this cost benefit.

Buying quality products.  Durability reduces the probability that your materials become insta-trash.  In other words, if it looks like junk, it gets junked. If your presentation and mailing materials can survive the journey from the printer to storage to fulfillment to more storage to possibly mail processing to your customer’s desk — and still look good doing it — your materials will more likely be reused by your customer.  (And you get bonus points if your name is all over it.)

Tell us about your experiences sourcing eco-friendly materials on a budget, and we will gladly shine the spotlight on you here on the Conformer Products blog.

Sari McConnell at smcconnell@conformerinc.com

Fresh Eyes

I try not to burden my soul too much with New Year’s resolutions. Rather, I see the new year as a way to see things with fresh eyes. It doesn’t hurt that New Year’s forces me to push back from my desk for a few days, clear my head and think fresh thoughts.

Perhaps that’s why so many of us go into organization mode in January. We view our surroundings with fresh eyes and see that things could be different, better.

January’s Fresh Eyes are a gift to inventors like us at Conformer. We are innovative 365 days of the year, but some days are easier than others.

Fresh Eyes can be a force for positive change, rather than tired New Year’s resolutions. When was the last time you took a fresh look at your sales kit, for example? Does your presentation folder limp along, or is it actually making a positive contribution to the overall impression on your customers? When you send out a package, use your fresh eyes to determine whether you are making the best eco-friendly packaging choice that, again, makes a positive contribution not only to the Earth, but also to your brand and to your customer.

And speaking of brand, I often turn to Branding Strategy Insider, brought to you by my Hallmark mentor Brad Van Auken and his smart new business partner, Derrick Daye, whenever I need some fresh-eyed inspiration.

So no resolutions for me this year… I will inspire myself to go to the gym, I swear!

Sari McConnell at smcconnell@conformerinc.com

Hall of Shame #9: Bubble Mailers, a Slow Death

I think consumers are smart enough to recognize “greenwashing” when they see it.  Greenwashing, a term whose origin seems derived from “brainwashing,” is when a company spins its product in a way to position it as more eco-friendly than it actually is.  Keep that in mind as you read the following and decide for yourself whether or not you’re being “greenwashed.”

Ingredients of a Bubble Mailer

Can you read the ingredients list on the bubble mailer photo to my left? It says “100% Recycled Paper/10% Post-Consumer” and “10% Recycled Plastic.”  At first glance, the use of recycled material seems like a great thing, doesn’t it?

Let’s pull this product apart a little though, no pun intended.  A bubble mailer is a kraft-like paper bag with plastic bubble material sealed to its interior.  [Did you know that this bubble material was invented in 1960? (See Wikipedia.)  Bubble material is a pretty ancient technology that was cutting edge in its heyday.  Remember the 1967 movie “The Graduate” when Mr. McGuire says “Plastics!“?]

In any case, everybody knows you need to separate your recyclables — paper goes with paper, plastic goes with plastic- so that these materials can be recycled and made into something new.  In a traditional bubble mailer, these two media are sealed together and it is difficult to impossible to separate them.  So even though the product may be made of recycled material, the bubble mailer cannot be recycled.  To the landfill it goes, where it will sit for hundreds of years, just like a baby’s diaper.  

My attempt at separating a bubble mailer

Clearly this bubble mailer’s manufacturer is attempting to put more recycled content into its product so that’s good.  But at the end of the day, the end result is a product headed straight for the landfill, and that’s bad.  So tell me, readers, do you think this bubble mailer should be in Conformer’s Hall of Shame?
-Sari McConnell at smcconnell@conformerinc.com