13 - 2008

UPS doesn’t get it — or care what we do with their bubble wrap envelopes

A few weeks ago I had ordered Seventh Generation’s “Naturally Clean” book, which they were giving away for free on their site. The book was lovely … but it came to me in a UPS-branded, all-plastic, bubble-wrap envelope.

When I receive bubble wrap, I save it to reuse. If I get too much of it — or if I receive styrofoam peanuts — I walk them over to our local shipping center for them to reuse. But I wasn’t sure what to do with this all-plastic envelope, which arrived too scuffed for most of my shipping services (I am selling off old books from my grandmother’s estate and sometimes sell items on Amazon) to allow me to use.

I wrote to Seventh Generation mentioning my displeasure with their publisher’s shipping methods. (They did not reply.)

And then I spent some time on UPS’s Web site and found an area where I could ask THEM what they advised me to do with the envelope, since they had made it. From a company that huge, with an obvious environmental footprint, I anticipated that they would have a definite response for me.

My original question, as I submitted it on the UPS Web site:

I recently received a book from Seventh Generation. I was disappointed that the fulfillment contractor shipped the book to me in a heavy, large, UPS plastic bubble envelope.

As far as I can tell, this packaging is not recyclable. Can you please let me know if there is any way to reuse or recycle the packaging?

The shipper was Fulfillment America ….

“Todd” responded:

Thank yo [sic] for your inquiry. Over the years, UPS has increased its purchases of materials with recycled content.

Reusable Bags
To date, we have used more than 4.43 million reusable bags in the U.S. and Germany to
bundle and sort small packages within our system. Each reusable bag eliminates the need
for more than 600 plastic bags.
Since the program’s beginning in 1995, our reusable bags have prevented more than 36,000
tons of plastic from entering landfills. In 2005, we purchased 1.5 million additional
reusable bags. This will reduce the amount of plastic bags landfilled by 4,990 tons.

Responsible Packaging
We introduced the industry’s first Reusable Next Day Air envelope in 1998, which is bleach
free and 100 percent recycled fiber (80 percent post-consumer). While it cuts down on
waste by allowing one envelope to be used twice, the Reusable Envelope also provides
convenience to customers, like mortgage brokers and attorneys, who have to ship documents
for their clients to sign and return. [Comment: This is all well and good; too bad my envelope wasn’t reusable.]
In 1998, UPS accepted the challenge from The Alliance for Environmental Innovation to
improve the environmental profile of packaging in the transportation industry. Our express
packaging was redesigned to eliminate bleached paper and increase the use of postconsumer
recycled content — changes that not only reduced paper usage, but also reduced
the amount of energy used in the manufacturing process by 12 percent.
Additionally, The UPS Store locations have an ongoing effort to encourage consumers
to bring in foam packing peanuts to be reused and recycled.

I hope this better helped answer your question.

Please contact us if you need any additional assistance.

I responded:

Hi, Todd – I appreciate your response, and UPS’s efforts to use more recyclable and reusable materials.

However, your response really didn’t answer my question at all. My question was whether you could direct me to a method or a source of recycling the bubble-wrap UPS envelope that I received. Can someone please respond specifically to that question?

Todd responded:

Your local recycling facility should be able to accept this packaging for recycling. I hope that you will afford us the opportunity to serve you in the near future. If you have further questions or shipping inquiries, please feel free to contact us.

Please contact us if you need any additional assistance.

I responded:

I have not found a local source that can recycle bubble envelopes, which is why I asked you — even the local EcoCycle site, which is considered one of the most advanced recycling facilities in the nation. They say bubble wrap can be taken to a UPS store for reuse, but they don’t mention bubble envelopes (http://www.ecocycle.org/htrg/index.cfm). Treehugger.com interviewed a local (Denver, Colo.) Waste Management head who mentions bubble envelopes as non-recyclable (http://www.treehugger.com/files/2007/11/introducing_wes_1.php). Our local recycling service does not even list bubble wrap or bubble envelopes among items that can be recycled (http://www.denvergov.org/Recycle/tabid/425783/Default.aspx).

I would love to have information about what can be done with bubble envelopes. I write a blog on green topics and I know my readers would appreciate the information. If this is beyond your scope of resources, does UPS have an environmental officer who might be able to address the question?

Thanks so much for your help.

Todd responded:

Well, actually, he didn’t respond at all.

The PR department blew it off, too

… although they at least tried, at first. I decided I would give UPS one more shot. I did an online search for UPS and environment and came upon the name of a contact in the UPS media relations department. Surely, I thought, they have an environmental officer. Surely, it would be no big deal for the PR person to connect me. On Sept. 17, when I was early for a doctor’s appointment one morning, I gave Elizabeth R., the PR person, a call. She answered her phone, took my information and said no problem, she’d get back to me right away.

On Sept. 22, she e-mailed me to say she was still looking. I thanked her.

On Oct. 6, I e-mailed her again to see if she’d made any progress.

That pretty much covers it. No response.

Either they have no answers, or we’re just not important enough to earn a response.

What will I do with the envelope? I could use it as padding inside a plain envelope for shipping something that doesn’t have requirements, use it as padding inside a box, or I could turn it inside out and tape it together so it looks “clean.”

After that, I guess it’s off to the landfill — and I’m newly motivated to be sure my padded mailers are filled with paper, not bubbles, from here on out.

Do any of you have any answers? Know a way to recycle bubble wrap?

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