What are the Green Options for Direct Mail?
Globally, we are all aware of the threat posed by single use plastics on the environment and we’ve heard about the devastating consequences for our oceans and planet.
We all have a role to play in mitigating the effects of this terrible global crisis.
Naturally, many businesses are looking for ways to reduce their use of disposable materials and become more sustainable. In the mailing industry, where I’ve worked for the past 30 years, there are some sizeable challenges to address. How can we protect our customer mailings while still acting in an environmentally responsible way and at a reasonable cost?
In this article, I will be turning the spotlight on naked mailing and looking at the pros and cons of this and other mailing options.
What is naked mailing?
In naked mailing, your marketing or magazine is addressed on a cover and not wrapped in any material. Put simply, it is dispatched in a ‘naked’ state. As well as being the most environmentally friendly mailing option, this approach is more cost effective than other options as there is no outer wrapping.
However, there are also some drawbacks:
- Inserts cannot be included in naked mailings (unless bound inside the item so they cannot fall out).
- The mailing could get damaged in transit, which reflects badly on the supplier.
- The address block could reduce the amount of advertising space on the back page or obscure the graphic design on the front page.
In spite of these issues, many businesses simply want to get their product to the largest number of recipients in the most economical and eco-friendly way. Naked mailing provides a solution to these two demands.
In my own business (Priority), we have invested heavily in equipment for naked mailing in recent years. Our customers appreciate the many environmental benefits of this approach. At the current time, naked mailing is used in just under one-third of our direct mail services and this figure is growing steadily.
What other options are available?
Of course, there are many other options available if you do still wish to wrap your mailings.
Enveloping can be used for all kinds of mailings, from letters through to leaflets, postcards, brochures and more.
The traditional method of paper mailing A4 and A4+ magazines has always been more expensive than polythene wrapping because paper is more expensive per tonne and the envelope needs to be pre-formed to be machinable.
Enveloping is also one of the least sustainable options, due to the amount of paper required, and the machine processes are only suitable for short-run requirements.
Polywrapping is the preferred method of choice for many businesses. Polythene is lightweight, it also protects your mailings from wear and moisture in transit and adds a professional finishing touch. Polywrapping can be used for many different mailings in a whole range of sizes, from A6 to A3.
Furthermore, polywrapping machines, such as the Sitma equipment used in my own business, can cope with high-volume, short-notice requirements. This has, in turn, made the dispatch costs per thousand far more attractive than paper enveloping.
However, with growing concerns over the use of plastic in the environment, many companies are now turning to more eco-friendly alternatives.
At Priority, we offer compostable wrap – made from potato starch. This is now used in 25% of our wrappings. It incurs a higher cost than polythene but customers are increasingly demanding this kind of sustainable solution. As a responsible business, we are keen to give our customers the choice.
Although we do not currently offer this option, some companies are now using paper wrapping from the reel rather than from pre-formed envelopes. Conversion kits are available for polywrapping machines – allowing either polythene or paper wrap to be used.
Paper wrapping avoids the use of non-compostable polythene but, at the same time, it naturally increases the use of paper. Furthermore, each paper wrap has to be sealed with glue – which further contributes to waste and issues around the disposal of chemical waste products.
Typically, four times the tonnage of paper wrap is needed for a pack of A4 magazines versus polythene wrap – with all the associated environmental and economic impact (heavier packages and higher postage costs).
Globally, paper consumption has increased by 400% over the past four decades – which is a concern for environmentalists in terms of deforestation.
Furthermore, the pulp and paper industries are major contributors to air and water pollution.
Finding sustainable solutions
Globally, governments and businesses have been trying to tackle these problems on numerous fronts through sustainable forest management and the use of eco-friendly chemicals. However, there is still some way to go to mitigate the environmental impact of ‘paper pollution’.
For this reason, sustainable solutions, such as naked mailing or biodegradable wraps, are a great way to reduce our environmental impact. At Priority, we are working hard to play our own role in this process and fulfil our environmental obligations.
Inevitably, customer choices are influenced by a range of factors, from cost through to eco issues. We advise our customers on the best approach for their business, taking these considerations into account.
Here are some observations that question whether paper wrapping is as eco-friendly as thought
If we accept that there is a demand for the written word on paper, we can exclude the paper used for printing a publication.
However, a recent post by a distribution company stated that in a six month period an additional 290 tons of paper was used for wrapping published titles in an additional layer of paper and that this saved 97 tons of single use plastic in that 6-month period. Everyone will agree that single use plastic is to be used with care. But modern use polythene, like paper wrap, is recyclable. Most importantly if compostable wrap had been used this would have saved 290 tons of paper and would have been as equally eco-friendly
Internet research reveals that it takes 24 trees to produce one ton of paper www.worldatlas.com/articles/how-many-trees-does-it-take-to-make-1-ton-of-paper.html
and it follows that 290 tons will require 6960 trees to be felled. Extrapolate that and it becomes 15000 trees per annum for just one supplier
If it is accepted that the paper is responsibly sourced, carbon balanced and 100% recyclable from managed timberland it must also remembered that trees do not grow overnight, and internet research shows that woodland for paper manufacture takes 10-20 years to grow.
Even if the management of timberland starts planting two trees for everyone felled to produce this 290 tons of paper there will be “negative equity” for some years to come.
If one wrapping company is using 290 tons of paper per 6 months i.e 580 tons per year, research shows that Loblolly pine, the quick growing pine of choice for paper production, will produce 0.9 to 2.5 tons of paper per acre per year.
For the sake of this calculation let’s take the average – 1.7 tons per acre per year. This will mean 580 tons of paper will require 340 acres of managed woodland to be cut every year just for one supplier.
We regularly hear criticism of the President of Brazil for allowing the destruction of large areas of forest, and that criticism is justified. However, it appears acceptable for us to operate a double standard and do something similar even when there are eco-friendly alternatives.
Paper wrapping is a relatively new departure and as commendable as it may seem these simple calculations would suggest that compostable wrap is a more eco-friendly solution. Better still, where it fits with marketing requirements, there is the option of “naked mailing’ with no wrap and that is the eco-friendliest of all.