Green Talk

Interview with Package Pals

Is your home full of packaging materials that you have kept since lockdown that you cannot bear to waste? Well, you would be glad to learn of Package Pals!

Package Pals is a circular packaging initiative that aims to reduce the amount of single-use packaging by collecting used ones and re-distributing them to companies like us. This has become all the more relevant through the lockdown period, where online sales were massively boosted, resulting in a large amount of single-use packings being used to deliver goods to customers.

Despite the materials being “single-use”, they often are able to be used again if kept in good condition as they are simply used to contain the product that is meant to be shipped, and this is where Package Pals comes in to help ensure that these materials are not wasted.

Let us learn more about the story of Package Pals, some insights about how they work, and other tips to get you started on your sustainability journey today!

What inspired you to start Package Pals?

Package Pals was started after a simple question: ‘what am I going to do with this poly mailer?’ The idea came about after observing the amounts of packaging waste generated by the rise in online shopping – both in general and as a result of COVID-19 – with people not knowing what to do with them or throwing them away.

While recycling facilities don’t take in poly mailers, due to their multi-material nature and the lack of a significant supply, another idea was to reuse it. The amount of packaging waste generated yearly was definitely increasing – and accelerated due to social distancing measures – while some second-hand thrift sellers were starting to use second-hand packaging but struggled to find a consistent supply.

Thus, the idea of a centralised collection system to redirect packaging from consumers to businesses for reuse came about – a solution that would kill two birds with one stone.

How does Package Pals help to reduce waste?

Packaging is often thrown away after one use, despite being in almost-new conditions. Instead of having to dispose of them, we provide an alternative stream for such waste, and give them new life by passing them onto businesses for reuse. These businesses thus don’t have to buy brand-new packaging as well, creating a closed-loop system between consumers and businesses where fewer new resources are involved.

How does it benefit the donor?

We’re guessing that one of the major incentives that draw donors to our initiative is their passion towards this cause (environmentalism), and how they can see that they’re directly contributing to making a difference towards this cause!

The poly mailers and other packaging you donate will end up being used by another business instead of ending up in the landfill. Since we encourage sellers to post pictures of them using our packaging and to tag us, our followers can see that for themselves and may even spot the exact same piece of packaging they’ve donated.

We also know of many sellers who use our packaging, and who also donate to us on a regular basis. The beauty of our initiative is that it isn’t just limited to sellers, as people who aren’t business owners can also use our packaging for their own mailing, packaging or moving needs. It’s a centralized system that we hope for anyone to contribute to, and to benefit from.

 

What types of materials do you collect?

We mostly collect plastic materials, with the exception of paper envelopes. We also collect poly mailers, padded envelopes, large paper envelopes (A4 or larger), clear plastics wrappers, and bubble wrap. However, we have currently paused collection for clear plastic wrappers and bubble wrap until January 2021.

We do not accept variations of bubble wrap, such as styrofoam padding or air pockets. We also do not accept any form of food packaging, even if it is clean or was not directly in contact with food. This is for hygiene purposes.

 

Why should you donate your waste?

Rather than letting your packaging waste be incinerated and thrown in our landfills, they can be repurposed with us! Especially since these ‘single-use’ packagings are made of good materials and can actually be reused several times with minimal damage, this slows down the rate at which waste is being added to our bins.

The recycling rate of plastic has slowed down a lot locally and globally, due to decreased demand, and we’d like to transition away from looking at recycling as a solution and to prioritize reduction and reuse instead.

We also hope that saving your packaging will help consumers realise how much waste their actions generate, as well as develop a conscious mindset towards their shopping habits.

In addition, donating your packaging to us, this provides us with the supply for our orders, so that businesses don’t have to buy new packaging!

Did you face any challenges when starting out?

We were definitely worried about the receptiveness of our project and the idea of second-hand packaging, both from consumers and businesses. Especially because we started on a whim, one month after the idea was conceptualised, the number of donations and orders we received in our first month began to stress us. However, we began receiving more attention on social media after our first month and saw increasing support for our project and cause! (elaborated in our answer on starting the project during COVID-19!)

 

What are your goals for Package Pals, and how are you working towards them?

Something that has always been a key focus of ours is education and outreach! We hope to use our social media as a platform to spread awareness about packaging waste, address misconceptions, and overall encourage a conscious mindset towards waste and shopping.

We currently have a team of publicity volunteers who help us with research and make posts on various topics related to e-commerce and packaging waste! These are mostly posted on our Instagram, and we hope to expand to Facebook and even LinkedIn soon.

We also work with schools on educational campaigns and the setting up of drop-off points. We’ve also attended talks hosted by schools and webinars for the general public. Through such events, we hope to boost our reach and hopefully inspire young minds to start taking action or even start projects of their own.

Another goal for us is to reach out to more businesses and drive impact in the mass consumer market. Although Package Pals started out as a simple idea, we’ve been super fortunate that many businesses and organisations resonate with our cause and have reached out to collaborate.

Though we started out as a small team of 19-year-olds, this has shown us that we have the potential to make an impact on a corporate level. Thus, we not only seek to show the demand and consumer receptiveness for more sustainable packaging options, but we also strive to work with retailers to tackle packaging waste on an operational level.

 

Are there any other ways sustainability has been incorporated into Package Pals?

Between conducting meetups and collecting packaging from our drop-off points, we seek to use public transport as much as possible to minimise our carbon emissions. However, since we do receive some of our donations in large quantities, we travel by car sometimes.

Aligned with our cause to reduce waste as much as possible, we use the back of receipts and scrap paper as mailing labels, as well as paper for our stamps!

We also seek to reuse unaccepted packaging, such as those that are too small or have defects, for our own purposes. For example, we use small clear plastic wrappers to hold our stamp inserts or use them as mini trash bags when we’re out. However, please try not to donate packaging that we don’t accept still, as it takes time and space to sort and store (and we also have more than enough ><)

What was it like starting up Package Pals during the Covid-19 period?

We started planning for Package Pals in April and officially launched it in May, which was during the lockdown period. In our first month of operations (this June), we were worried about the take-up rate and support for our project, as our donation and seller sign-ups were slow and numbers were below what we had hoped for.

Despite feeling strongly about our cause, I think we largely questioned whether others felt the same. We also jumped into this project after 1 month of discussion (and meeting), largely driven by passion, so there were a lot of conflicting thoughts and doubts on our minds regarding our personal efforts and ambitions.

Though we did identify the circuit breaker and people not having a reason to leave their homes as a possible reason for these low numbers as well, we also questioned whether the numbers would actually increase with the introduction of Phase 2.

However, in July, we gained a tremendous amount of support online, which was really only possible because of those shared about our project on social media, such as their Instagram stories and on Facebook groups.

We definitely did not expect such exponential growth, and we’re incredibly grateful for those who saw value in what we do and helped spread the word, as well as those who reached out to us for collaborations since.

We’ve thus seen an increase in donor and seller sign-ups, likely due to the introduction of Phase 2 as well, and the introduction of drop-off points at our partnering businesses.

Overall, it’s incredibly heartening to hear that people and businesses want to do something about packaging waste, even despite the current circumstances steering us away from focusing on the environment, and we’re grateful that we can help them do so, both through our operations and education.

 

Are there any common mistakes people make while recycling?

Because recycling guidelines are sometimes unclear, sometimes people throw items into the recycling bin “just in case” it can be recycled. However, this can lead to contamination. Drink bottles and other food packaging should also be washed before being thrown into the recycling bin. Contamination can lead to an entire batch of materials being unrecyclable!

If you’re unsure if something can be recycled, you can reach out to NEA 🙂

 

If there are any concerns that donors may have and your answers to it

Privacy and personal details found on the packaging is definitely key concern donors have. We check all our packaging before they’re distributed and remove details such as addresses and phone numbers if they’re found on mailing labels. However, we also encourage donors to remove such details with a permanent marker or by tearing off the mailing label before donating if possible. This helps us speed up the sorting process which is often time-consuming due to the large volume of donations we receive!

 

Any advice to people in general on how to live more sustainably

The key to living more sustainably starts with the heart! While many may be daunted by the idea of ‘going green’, we emphasise a lot the idea of developing a conscious mindset!

All of us here at Package Pals started small as well, and while people may question the significance of small actions, those are what helped us develop a conscious mindset towards our actions and what we consumed.

For example, before buying bubble tea, ask yourself if you really need or want it. Before clicking checkout on your shopping cart, ask yourself how often you’ll use the products you’re buying or if you agree with the business’s practices. Before throwing something away, think of ways you can repurpose it, such as the back of receipts as scrap paper!

On a larger scale, we encourage people who have identified problems they’d like to tackle to take action in their schools or workplace!

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