How I Made My Art Sales More Eco-Friendly (and You Can, Too!)

showing off my eco-friendly packaging
The Search for Sustainable Packaging

For the past several months, I’ve been searching for eco-friendly solutions to packaging in my online shop. (I realize this is one of the LEAST sexy things about art and creative endeavors, but it was important to me, and it was one of those aspects of selling online that was eating at me as my business grew.) 

As the sales in my online shop increased, so did the amount of plastic I was sending out into the world. I need packaging that protects the paper products I ship—like greeting cards and prints—and for a while I was packaging them in cellophane bags and bubble mailers. It’s because that’s what I learned to do, years ago. Cello bags are sized perfectly, they’re cheap, and they protect the product. But is that eco-friendly? Nope. 

Here’s the bad part: NONE of that is recyclable. Not cello bags, not bubble mailers. I try to re-use materials like those that I get when I receive shipments (I’m looking at you, Amazon bubble mailers)—but from a presentation standpoint, it’s not a pretty package for one of my customers to get in the mail. No one really wants to get a recycled, bruised bubble mailer that looks like it’s held together with duct tape and a prayer.

Still, when I used cellophane, I kept thinking of that gigantic island of garbage in the Pacific, and thought, You, my friend, are contributing to that. 

There’s lots of other horrifying data out there, too. Stories that explain how the US ships its plastic waste to other countries to be (theoretically) disposed of, like this one in the New York Times and this one in The Guardian. The short version: the US ships an overwhelming amount of plastic garbage to poorer countries—and it’s overwhelming them. And there’s the recent study discussed in The Washington Post that warns there could be more plastic in the oceans than fish by 2050 if we don’t make a significant change. 

I needed an eco-friendly solution that would protect my products and not contribute to the endless piles of plastic waste. Paper likes to bend, and shipping is sometimes a brutal process. I needed to ensure that my products arrived in perfect condition. (And as someone who lives in a rainy climate and often has soggy mail in her mailbox, I knew that water was a factor, too.)

The Solution

After lots of research and trial and error, I’m pleased to have found three items that have been a lifesaver for me and my business—and they might help yours, too. 

1. Glassine bags. This is a great alternative to cellophane. It’s basically a form of waxed paper (like what your bagel or cookie comes in at the bakery). It protects against water, and it’s compostable. See one kind here

2. Cardboard mailers. These are rigid and flat, and protect cards and prints. Bonus: they can ship as a “flat” (not to be confused with “flat rate”), which is cheaper than the “package” rate at USPS. (Check them out here.) Once caveat: To use these, your item does actually need to be flat—no thicker than about 1/4 inch (details are on usps.com).

3. Compostable padded mailers. This knocked my socks off: bubble mailers made from corn starch. (It’s true!! Why did it take me so long to discover these?) They are 100% compostable and are just as protective as the typical bubble mailers made from plastic. (Bonus: the kind I found say I’M COMPOSTABLE right on the front, so the recipient knows, too.) They are available here.

The result? Paper products that have two layers of protection, a nice presentation, and are completely recyclable or compostable. These eco-friendly products cost only a little more than their plastic-based counterparts—especially if you can buy in bulk. I’ll gladly pay just a little more for products that cut down on waste, and my customers appreciate it, too.