The polybag has a lot going for it. It allows magazines to be transported without fear of damage, gives the subscriber an unobstructed view of the cover, acts as a convenient source of revenue, where advertisers’ outserts can be neatly tucked, and compared to bulky paper envelopes, it brings down mailing costs substantially. But while it may be a publisher’s ally, the polybag has some negative qualities that could make it a target for environmentalists.
The majority of polybagging is manufactured using polyethylene, which is made from a byproduct of oil refining. Its strength and low cost makes it the perfect carrier for thousands of magazines distributed across the country each year.
Unfortunately, consumers can find themselves confused as to how to dispose of these wrappings. The ability to recycle plastic films in Ontario does exist, but varies from region to region. For example, while the City of Toronto does not currently accept plastic films in its recycling program, it hopes implement changes by November 2008. Until then, polybags will end up where all other non-recyclable materials go—the landfill.
Exploring enviro options
Publishers do have the freedom to use biodegradable or compostable wrapping material through Canada Post and USPS machineable mailing systems. However, both have set requirements for transparent wrappings’ clarity, strength, thickness and anti-static abilities. As long as the product meets these standards, it can go through machineable mail sorting uninterrupted.
There are many packaging companies throughout Canada and the United States that have opted to incorporate biodegradable or compostable material into their product lines. Last year, Toronto-based Econopac introduced an FDA-approved cellulose-based film that has since been used for promotional items and direct mailing campaigns. In order to ensure that all postal requirements are met, the company forwards samples to Canada Post prior to mailing, so the use of this product in publications mail could very well be possible.
There are also options for publishers who wish to make a positive impact through environmentally friendly wrappings, but don’t wish to give up the convenience of traditional plastic bags. EPI Environmental Products Inc., the Vancouver-based developer of an oxo-biodegradable additive called TDPA (Totally Degradable Plastic Additive), has experienced international success since introducing the product six years ago. The additive speeds up the degradation process of plastics, such as polyethylene and polypropylene, without affecting its performance. TDPA acts as a catalyst, allowing the product to which it is added to degrade at a rapid speed—a few months or years as opposed to decades or more —and can be customized to a client’s shelf life expectations.
People are often too quick to point the finger at plastic bagging as an environmental evil. But there are new ways of looking at polybagging—a product that can happily fit into the recycle, reduce, reuse model.
“The best strategy is to use less of everything,” says Stephen Simco, sales associate for Montreal-based Transco Plastics, a manufacturer that incorporates TDPA into its biodegradable films. “After that, consider what has the least footprint. Using ethylene can help, as it is a byproduct of fuel.”
Transco also reuses the scrap that is created during the production of its plastic films, making new products from the fragments left behind. “All plastics that are oil-based are recyclable,” he says, pointing out that it is up to the consumer to ensure that they are kept separate from bio-based products when disposing.
Solutions for the future
The future of polybagging, however, ultimately lies in the hands of film manufacturers.
Tuppy Blair, Circulation Management Association of Canada’s environmental chairperson and circulation director for CCMC Sports Group, believes that with time and effort, an answer that will satisfy everyone’s needs can be achieved.
“As an industry, we need a company to create (the product), the publisher to use it, Canada Post to distribute it and the municipality to accept it,” she explains. “Hopefully all four sides will work together to create a solution.”