For Staples, Eco Friendly Packaging - That's not easy!

For Staples, Eco Friendly Packaging - That's not easy!

I realize I am negatively paraphrasing their marketing slogan but the change is quite appropriate after reviewing the packaging of an order they just shipped to us here at Salazar Packaging. As a customer, I admit I love Staples but as a provider of eco-friendly packaging products, and as a citizen of the earth, they are very disappointing. I am sorry Staples, but picking and packing an order while utilizing sustainable packaging products and procedures, quite frankly, has never been easier.

Complainant's Exhibit A and B

Staples packaging
The photo above shows the three items we ordered whose combined volume is 582 square inches. The box they used was a 16” X 10.5” X 12.25” high, which provides 2,058 square inches of packing space. Because the box was almost four times larger than it had to be, 600 (un-inflated) square inches of an inflatable void fill product had to be used to fill the oversized void.  Before you think this is just another story of a packer using the wrong box to fill an order, the green “wanna be” picture gets much worse for Staples.

“Upon further review”

Staples, you should know that scrutinizing is what we green minded people do. We examine, we question and we point out deficiencies or failed opportunities to make a positive green difference. I could not help but notice the box that was used featured an automatically erecting bottom. One of the key features of this style box is that it usually does not require tape to seal it. For whatever reason, the Staples packager felt it necessary to seal it anyway with a two-foot length of 3” wide plastic tape. They also used an identical length to seal the top of the box. Why is the bottom of the boxes taped? Why do they use 3” wide tape when most of the world uses 2” wide tape? There may be some legitimate good reasons for this substantial tape waste but having done hundreds of packaging audits in similar situations, I can tell you the reason is usually something incredibly profound like, “I'm not sure. That is what we've always used."

“But wait, there's more…”

On a late night TV commercial, that line usually precedes a bonus item designed to make an already incredible offer, even better. In this case, it makes a bad story even worse for Staples. They decided to print an eco message on the box that stated it contains “40% total recycled content/25% post consumer content, minimum."

Staples recycled content

Simple logic and minimal math skills tell us that the post consumer waste (PCW) is somewhere between 25 percent and 40 percent. Basic sustainability and packaging knowledge tells us that those are not impressive figures for recycled content or post consumer waste. In fact, “minimum” is probably an accurate way to describe Staples' green effort.

Before you think this is another shameless plug for our Globe Guard (100 percent PCW) boxes (which it is) there are MANY boxes out there that are greener than the one Staples chooses to use for their packaging. In today's eco-minded market, 25-40 percent recycled content (PCW or not) is "table stakes” or where the green meter begins measuring results. In any case, this is not the quality of packaging used by a company truly serious about being green.

Meanwhile, back to the void fill

The inflatable bags Staples uses are not particularly green but they are recyclable. Today there are biodegradable, oxo-degradable and formulations that are made of 100 percent recycled plastic but Staples' void fill bags are none of the above. The manufacturer however does offer a web address so a Staples customer can theoretically find out where and how to recycle it. How cool and eco friendly is that?

I hate picking on any company, especially one I genuinely like but I think this story makes a legitimate and important point. With apologies to Kermit the Frog but not Staples, today it is easy being green and it usually reduces cost. All it takes is a little effort and a good supplier.

Dennis Salazar is the president of Salazar Packaging Inc. This article originally appeared on his blog, "Inside Sustainable Packaging."