PACKAGING

Packaging: Effective Actions   Back to Resources

  • All plastics and packaging materials produce significant amounts of waste, even if biodegradable or compostable. 

  • The most critical issue to consider is the afterlife of the discarded packaging. Many one-use plastics such as bubble wrap and plastic tape end up incinerated, in landfill or in the oceans. 

  • 'Eco-friendly' alternatives for commonly used materials are generally preferable. Care must be taken to ensure that these products are sustainably produced and are as free as possible of embedded economic and social inequalities within their production chains. It is important to thoroughly research the origin and manufacturing processes (as well as carbon footprint and life-cycle sustainability) of any packaging material.

  • Packaging increases the transport weight of artwork, creating a bigger shipping footprint - especially if artworks are being flown between galleries.
  • In an effort to try and avoid plastic wherever possible, prefer 'traditional' materials such as glassine, paper tape, recycled card, and quilted blankets and straps. 

  • A product's eco-nature is dependent largely upon what local disposal or reuse services are available. All materials must be disposed of properly. See here for more information on recycling. 

Crates 

  • Shipping crates are generally made from wood and often have a short life. 

  • Although wood is a natural material, keeping trees in the ground is crucial in the fight against global warming. Recycled wood should be used over virgin wood. Wood is often pressure treated to improve its lifespan and durability, which involves the use of harmful chemicals. 

  • There are some new crates on the market designed to be reused that can be rented and returned. Made from durable plastic, they are adaptable, lighter and more economical.

  • Cardboard crates, if made from recycled materials, are a viable alternative for smaller works. 

 

Bubblewrap

  • To be avoided at all costs. Paper alternatives exist and starch based bubble wraps are available. There are issues with the post-life processing of starch based plastics, but this is still preferable to fossil-fuel based plastics.

  • Avoid plastic bubble wraps which advertise themselves as being 'bioplastics' or 'oxo-degradable’. These are usually petrochemical based plastics, and though designed to break down quicker than other plastics, may still release harmful residues. 

 

Cardboard

  • Card and paperboard are generally preferable.  Make sure cardboard comes from recycled pulp rather than virgin trees. Do not use card that has been waxed or laminated with a plastic layer.

 

Packing Blankets

  • Good as long as they frequently reused. Make sure they are made from natural fibres (no polyester), and manufactured by ethically and socially responsible companies. Best used with cotton straps.

 

Polystyrene and Foam Packaging 

  • Polystyrene should never be used. It is one of the worst materials from an environmental and public health standpoint. 

  • Replace blue foam frame corners with recycled cardboard.
  • Replace polystyrene with compostable packaging foam. This is becoming more widely available in various sizes and can be safely dissolved in water after use.

 

Polythene 

  • There are some new compostable, starch-based products that can replace polythene sheeting. Available in two grades - one is lightweight and home compostable, good for short term use. There are heavier ‘industrial compostable’ versions. These are more durable but may not be suitable for long-term storage.

 

Tissue Paper

  • Make sure it is not treated or coated, and is made from recycled materials. Recycle properly after use.

  • Be mindful of using too liberally, as the paper industry and its impact on deforestation is a major issue.

  • 'Eco-friendly' alternatives made from bamboo or recycled sugar cane are generally preferable, but may have been produced with embedded economic and social inequalities. They are not inherently greener than materials made from recycled wood pulp, so check sources. 

 

Packing Tape 

  • Plastic packing tape is to be avoided. 

  • There are good eco packing tapes available, which have been sustainably strengthened to compete with polyethylene based tapes.

 

Masking Tape

  • The adhesive in most tape is made from plastic and the surface of the paper is often coated in a plastic resin to improve durability. This is still preferable to plastic based tapes if no other option is available.

  • Look for tapes with a natural rubber adhesive. There are sustainability and inequality issues with natural rubber production, but these are probably a better option than the plastic alternatives.

 

Glassine

  • Most glassine is acceptable, but check it has been produced using a mechanical process rather than the application of chemicals. 

 

Cotton Straps

  • Use sustainably grown or recycled cotton which has not been chemically treated.

 

White Cotton Gloves

  • Same rules as cotton straps. Always buy gloves that are ethically manufactured, unbleached, and polyester-free.

  • Wash and re-use to the point of failure. 

 

Disposable Nitrile Gloves

  • Nitrile is a synthetic rubber and its disposal can be a complicated process. There are biodegradable versions available, though they are often in short supply. Try to use use cotton gloves and wash them regularly.

 

Please see news section for more information. 

 

EFFECTIVE ACTIONS

  • Ask shipping companies how much, and what type of, packaging they use per artwork.
  • Carefully audit packaging purchases and commit to reusing material whenever possible. 
  • Only dispose of materials if absolutely necessary and when doing so, always recycle responsibly. 
  • Avoid single-use plastics. Choose durable and long-lasting organic based packaging made from recycled materials. 
  • Look out for and invest in new developments (for example Mycelium Composite which is made from a network of fine fungal roots).

 

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