Is Plastic Sustainable?

Plastic is a complicated subject for the packaging industry. Plastic materials are often chosen for packaging because they are strong enough to protect products like clothing, books, and shoes while being lightweight and flexible. This reduces the costs and carbon emissions of shipping and transportation—good for the pocketbook and the environment.

Pile of plastic trash with backlight

At the same time, just 14% of the plastic packaging used globally is currently recycled, while 40% ends up in landfills and 32% in ecosystems. (The other 14% is used for incineration or energy recovery.) Recycling centers often don’t accept single-use plastic packaging such as bottles, grocery bags, and serviceware such as straws and cutlery because they can fall into the crevices of recycling machinery and/or “gum” it up. Instead, they end up in landfills and marine life—why some states and countries have moved to ban single-use plastics.

See what we mean about complicated? The truth is, plastic packaging is sustainable if reused and recycled correctly. Most plastic packaging can be recycled up to six times, according to the British Plastic Federation. (By contrast, most experts say a corrugated box can be recycled a minimum of seven times.)

Completed mailers in box

Let’s look at Premier’s poly mailers. In 2015, we installed an in-house poly bag operation at our corporate headquarters in Louisville. They’re among our most popular packaging options because they’re easily customizable, strong enough to offer product protection, flexible enough to handle unique SKU shapes, and lightweight enough to reduce shipping costs.

Our poly mailers are recyclable too, at plastic recycling drop-off locations—just like grocery bags, bubble wrap, and other soft plastics. First, cut all labels out of the poly mailer and throw those in the regular trash. Then place the remainder of the poly mailer in the specialty recycling bin. The plastic from flexible packaging will be recycled into containers, crates, pipe, railroad ties, and new bags and film.

Then again, you may be like us and re-use the poly mailers you receive to ship your own personal packages. Just put your item inside, tape the poly mailer shut, and make sure your shipping label covers the one from the company that originally sent you the goods. Done!

If this seems unnecessarily thrifty, like something only your relatives who lived through the Great Depression would do, consider: At least 20% of plastic packaging can be re-used multiple times until its quality deteriorates, according to ScienceDirect. Why throw something away, creating environmental headaches, when it’s still usable and doesn’t cost you anything?

Greater reuse and recycling of plastic in general would keep it in a circular, closed-loop ecosystem and away from landfills and the oceans. Is plastic packaging sustainable? Yes, if we simply make the effort.

Contact us today to find out more about our poly mailers and other sustainable packaging Premier offers.