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How to design package waste out of your home & office

How to design package waste out of your home & office

One easy way to create less waste at home or work is to have a plan for the after-life of everything you buy and a good place to start is packaging

When you really think about it, there is no such thing as waste. If we are really honest, waste is simply stuff we no longer want or need. But what if, when you purchased something, you factored in the consideration of its residual impact? (ie: the waste created by the product you purchased, if any.)  Ironically, there are so many ways to think about waste that the very act of doing something about it is a global industry. It's also a big industry because we are creating a fucking big pile of waste, every second, every where.


Start your own circular economy anywhere you can

There are many many places to start and the best place to start is anywhere. Anywhere that makes sense in your life. Possible the most excellent 'anywhere' place  to start is packaging because it is the most pervasive, but one we think of the least.

The problem with packaging is that we see past it. Mentally, we buy shampoo, not a plastic bottle. Of course we now know that the plastic bottle lives on, way after the shampoo has gone. Packaging not only costs planet resources, but it often costs more than the stuff inside it. And that's why it's the best place to start an awareness journey.

Packaging and Shipping

Packaging can be single wrapping - the packet something comes in (glass, plastic, tin, nothing) and or if it is shipped, it is temporary double wrapping (bubblewrap, plastic bag, paperboard etc).


These options for home and office packaging help you make better choices. They are in order of most least worst to least least worst for consumables:

  1. For obvious reasons, the best packaging is no packaging. (A product can only score 100 for packaging on Ekko Product Score if you have Zero Packaging.) Anything you buy that has zero packaging means you have designed out waste from the start. 

    There are two ways to achieve zero packaging. Buy products that come with no wrapping at all, like solid soaps and shampoos. Or when you go shopping and buy things like produce or pencils for the office, don't put them in the shop supplied back. Put them in your own bag or in your own hand!
  2. The next best option is Home Compostable packaging. Home Compostable packaging literally breaks down in the same way as food. Typically home compostable packaging is paper or compostable plastic. Look for recycled paper packaging and make sure if you use plastic that it says compostable (preferably Home Compostable), not biodegradable.


    Note: If packaging says it is Compostable and does not mention Home, take that as meaning it is Industrially Compostable. This means it really needs to go to an Industrial composting facility to break down quickly. It will often still compost at home or in landfill, but more slowly.

    If packaging claims to be biodegradable, oxo biodegradable and does not mention compost, it is most likely plastic and at best will break down into microplastics, which is of course a very bad idea.
  3. Reusable. The next option is reusable and it has an order of its own. Glass and metal are infinitely reusable and easily recycled. Just make sure the glass isn't tempered. If  you find yourself having to use plastic packaging, try and use at least partially recycled plastic, if not all. (How do you know? The label will tell you if it's recycled. If it says nothing, that's your answer.)
  4. Recyclable. Most packaging is made of soft plastics, which are readily recyclable at your local supermarket. Start a soft plastics bin, line it with one of your plastic bags like a bread bag and every time it's full, pop it in your reusable shopping bag and take to your next supermarket visit.

    Some stores will take back containers for recycling, especially things like shampoo and cosmetic containers. Biome Eco Stores in Brisbane will take any of your body product packaging, not just their own products.

    (Note: Compostable plastics do not go into recycling. Hard plastics go in your council recycle bin - apply the scrunch test.)

Shipping supply chain

Unless you grow and make something yourself, pretty much everything is shipped at some point. While you cannot easily influence trucking / logistics supply chain shipping, you can often choose what something is shipped to you in - and that does influence the specific shipping packaging supply chain. You just have to ask.

Shipping logistics, waste and carbon neutrality

Australia Post recently reported that under coronavirus lockdown, parcels are criss-crossing the country at a rate equivalent to Christmas - two million parcels a day. And that is just Australia Post's network, accounting for a whole pile of GHG emissions. 

Sendle joined the delivery market in Australia in 2016 and harnessed the incredibly wasteful courier network. Sendle fill empty trucks going back home to deliver their parcels and challenge Australia Post on both cost and carbon neutrality. (Australia Post finally responded to the Sendle challenge in September 2019 and purchased carbon credits to offset their delivery network.)

Packaging for shipping

Shipping parcels is a big big short life packaging user. Many eco sellers - we could list hundreds, like Bare Body Beauty, Eorth, Bare Beauty Essentials and A Wicked Scrub recycle packaging from others for their shipping. In the broader supply chain market, there are now compostable bubble wrap satchels and delivery satchels in the market.

When you are buying online and aren't offered compostable or recycled options, we'd encourage you to let your favourite supplier know about the alternatives. If your supplier has any kind of climate and planet awareness, they will appreciate your advice. There are heaps of shipping and packaging options for businesses on 

5 waste exit points for every household or office

One excellent way to organise your waste and have your team members be aware of it, is to have a bin for every waste exit point. Use a small bin, not a big one as size signals acceptable contents. It also keeps the bin clean and unsmelly because it has to be emptied often. The only exception is Exit Point 5 because the size of  your other bins should be enough to carry about 2 pairs of shoes.

  1. Landfill
  2. Soft plastics
  3. Recyclables
  4. Food scraps
  5. I'm giving this stuff to someone, eg Op Shop / local Facebook page


What does Circular Economy | Cradle to Cradle | Biomimicry | Industrial Ecology etc really mean?

Managing your own waste into non existence or into something more useful has  names like Circular Economy | Cradle to Cradle etc. You may know what these terms mean or have seen them around (and Ellen Macarthur Foundation has a great summary of their history and champions), but they all relate to one thing. Designing the end of something's life into its existence. 

Image: Stature Australia via Better Packaging Co
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Jennifer Nielsen

It's so easy to minimise waste - and there are so many well designed solutions. Some actually made for minimising waste and some right there in front of you. All we need do is Stop. Think. Act. Believe in yourself, your intellect, your nose, your eyes, your taste. My favourite organisers:
- Buy food beautiful storage (I just paid some silly amount of money for 2 Alessi Circus tins_
- Buy food glass jars that match - large and small, for later use
- Invest in stackable pyrex dishes - the plain ones. They last longer and stack easier. You'll never buy clingwrap again
- Buy a sodastream with 2 gas bottles for changeover and always have 2 on the go in your fridge
- Buy clothes like tattoos. Forever. And piece them together like you are inking a story on your back over time
- Trust your own senses for Use By dates. Honey, for instance, never goes off. So how can it have a use by date of next year? Tuesday, 1 February 2022