I received a package today. Inside, along with my merchandise, was one packing pillow — an inflated plastic balloon to take up space and keep my purchase from knocking around. The pillow was green and labelled “EarthAware Recycled Film by Automated Packaging Systems. 95% pre-consumer recycled material.”
An environmentally-friendly packaging pillow? The manufacturer’s web site describes EarthAware this way:
EarthAware® Environmentally Friendly Films for Eco-friendly Packaging – Biodegradable* and recycled films offer a more environmentally responsible packaging option
This sounds cheery, and I discuss the difference between the Impression and the Meaning elsewhere in a Critical Thinking post. Impressions aside, is a recycled shipping pillow a sustainable practice as defined in this blog? Is Automated Packaging Systems (APS) on the vanguard of sustainable industrial practice? A click on the EarthAware link opens the APS Materials page. Turns out EarthAware is one type of plastic film out of 18 types the company uses to manufacture all manner of plastic products. EarthAware is the only category that indicates any recycled content. In the context of this page, it is clear to me that APS brands its recycled products not to save the earth but to capture some sales.
We can nit-pick over sourcing and labeling of packing materials and argue over the ecological benefits of recycled LDPE, but I want to posit a more radical and fundamental notion. Forget about the packing material and its recycled content: buying consumer goods through the mail is an unsustainable practice.