Changing the materials we use in our office, for packaging and correspondence to become a more sustainable business is a big challenge. It is, however, a core commitment of a fair trade enterprise and Principle Ten is all about respect for the environment.
WFTO Principle 10
The World Fair Trade Organisation (WFTO) continuously updates and strengthens its principles. Principle 10 in its current form includes:
Many of these mostly apply to the production side of a fair trade enterprise, but it does not stop there. As an importer or a buyer of fair trade products, you too have a responsibility to play a part in minimising environmental harm.
Where to begin?
The first question to ask with regards to plastics is:
‘Which ones are absolutely necessary, and for which is there a non-plastic alternative?’
Clearly, it would be uneconomical, and also disrespectful to the producers, to use packaging that does not protect goods from knocks or water damage. In recent years there have been some exciting innovations in this field. Where plastic packaging is deemed absolutely essential, consider these options:
Compostable vs Biodegradable
Compostable materials break down entirely to carbon and water, so compostable packaging made from plants will break down in just a few weeks when discarded in a normal garden compost bin.Industrial compostable packaging requires a composting temperature of 60°C to enable it to break down. Lower temperatures delay this process by months or even years.Both processes produce a little amount of methane upon breakdown. Great Wrap explains why not all plant-based packaging is equally good. Cornstarch and sugar cane are popular materials but they are still forms of intensive agriculture. A technology that uses waste food or feed stocks that sequester carbon dioxide is the ideal and such a process exists. A biopolymer is currently being made from seaweed. It can sequester carbon 35 times faster than a tree so seaweed based packaging can actually remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
When you reuse a box or mailer bag, attach a little note explaining your intentional reuse of materials. Sinerji’s note reads: “I’m not that pretty. It’s because I’ve been reused for the sake of the environment. That makes me beautiful.”
Who wouldn’t respond well to that?
Check out Avirida for examples of packaging solutions. They take pre-used cardboard boxes to a local laser cutter and make them into custom sized new boxes. Then, to take it one step further, they make their own glue.
I have compiled a list of eco-packaging options that are available in Australia n the image below, with the help of Fair Traders of Australia, Gina Bradley of Ethica and Louise Visser of Sinerji. Some of these offer cute designs, and some have customisable options for your own branding. Explore their websites and ask them questions if you can’t see the answers you are looking for.
Another challenge because they need to be sticky, and glue often contains plastics. Our researched companies do have non-plastic or compostable glue options or, alternatively, you could make your own. Using recycled paper for the labels is optimal. I found several recipes for homemade glue and you could experiment with these:
Tags on garments or other products can also be made from recycled paper and attached using cotton or jute twine. Do check out your twine however - some look natural but may actually be plastic based.
How you package your products for mailing to customers is only the end of the supply chain. Talk to your overseas suppliers about using less or no plastic in their shipping packaging. It may take repeated requests to achieve a change in habits but keep on asking and explain why, that it is a key principle of fair trade practice.
Bear in mind that in less developed countries waterproof warehouses and postal centres are not necessarily the norm, and so completely avoiding plastic packaging may have to be changed to minimising it instead. Everything changes in time so it is worth reviewing what is possible at intervals.
Sinerji suppliers in India now use home compostable cornstarch-based garment bags which can be reused several times before being composted. Regeno is one resource for eco-packaging in India.
Your more environmentally friendly practices need not stop at packaging. Think office stationery, refillable pens, pencils, an online rather than paper based filing system, solar panels, an electric car, public transport or maybe a bicycle and your legs! Thermal printers require no cartridges and are good for labelling.
Consider what appliances you need to buy. Long warranties, quality machines and simple models without too many parts to go wrong and replace are a good idea. It may be old-fashioned, but repairing rather than buying a new appliance will keep all that metal and plastic out of landfill for a bit longer.
Where to now?
Feeling overwhelmed? Start with just one aspect of your business and make changes there. Gradually move to other areas and encourage your suppliers and your team to come up with their own greener ideas.
The Fair Trade Association of Australia and New Zealand (FTAANZ) is here to support you and to make every aspect of fair trade the normal way to do business better. Reach out to us directly or to FTAANZ members to share ideas and to ask for advice in this or other areas.
Make your competitors green with envy!