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I'm an somewhat active seller on eBay, selling random stuff (mostly electronic stuff) I collect through the year while I'm at school as a supplementary income. I never need to buy most of my shipping material, since I collect and reuse everything that pass through the house and at my mom's office. I give the extra on Kijiji, such as the 3 huge trash bags full of packing peanuts I received while ordering some parts for my car. Even though most padded envelopes contains plastic, I still prefer to reuse them than buying new envelopes with cardboard or fiber padding. Same thing with the bubble wrap, packing peanuts, foam wrap, etc. I also include a small handwritten note in all my packages thanking my buyer for his/her purchase and politely asking them if they could reuse/donate/recycle any still good shipping material.
The only area where I'm still trying to find a good alternative, is for the tape. For a couple of years, I was using all the leftover rolls of shipping tape I could find. However, I've exhausted my supply and still haven't found a green alternative. Here's the trick : I need a way to protect the shipping label from the element. I sell on eBay and print my shipping label directly from the Canada Post website, in partnership with eBay, which gives me a good discount on shipping price, which means lower shipping for my customer. I use plain printer paper (on the verso of already used paper, of course :P ) but this is less than weatherproof. I already had an undelivered package caused by a label that was unreadable because of water damage. I don't want it to happen again, because of the cost of time and money (buyer has to wait longer to receive the item, and I have to spend again to ship it).
So far, my only option is to use paper tape to seal the box/envelope and use transparent, plastic tape on the label. However, I still haven't found a local retailer that regularly stock paper tape at an affordable price. Right now, for the price of 1 roll of paper tape, I can get 10 rolls of plastic tape, and by special order only. Buying it online makes it cost prohibitive, since if the retailer ships to Canada, they charge a leg and a arm to do so. I don't make a lot of profit on my items, just enough to help pay some expenses while I'm at school (university), so paying 10$ (+ tx & shipping) for a single roll of tape would leave a sizable gap in my profit margin.
Is there any other options I don't know about ? If not, I need to bite the bullet and admit that there is just so much somebody can do.
I have several ideas. First, before changing products, I would focus on using less. I think shippers often use way, way more tape than they actually need to use to seal a box. So only use as much as necessary to protect the label and close the box. Second, could you try covering the label with natural cellulose instead of plastic? Real cellophane bags could be cut to cover the label and then taped on with paper tape. That is what comes to mind. I wonder if anyone else has ideas?
I too struggle with this since I participate in PaperbackSwap and SwapADVD and find that shipping plastic-free is a challenge. Paper tape is my preference, but it's expensive and I often find myself recycling what packaging material I can. I LOVE your idea to include a note asking the recipient to recycle/reuse – going to borrow that one!
Depending on how large the electronics are, you could make your own shipping envelopes out of lightweight cardboard (I used old file folders, perfect for the DVDs), wrap the item in some shredded recycled paper, and staple shut.
As for the label protection, that's trickier. If you can get your hands on some paper ream wrappers from an office or business that uses a lot of paper, those are usually made of thicker, coated (maybe w/plastic?) paper which would hold up to the weather. You could cut to sheets that would fit in your printer and print to them. Or, perhaps save the plastic windows from envelopes and use paper tape or glue them down over your label (assuming you have glue you need to use up). At least that way, you'd be giving those pesky windows one more use before they get tossed.
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