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Outer Packaging

Outer packaging


Made from

Recycled content



Sustainable resources







Outer cardboard boxes

Trees and/or recycled pulp


Loose fill chips

Starch – GM free maize or soya


Bubble wrap




Paper loose fill



Box labels

Recycled paper/ water based or rubber adhesive



Paper/water based adhesive


Before we embark on what we use, there is the question of how does Steenbergs reduce its outer packaging, i.e. the reduce part of reduce-reuse-recycle?  The main route we have used is by getting as many of our boxes as practicable made as bespoke products to fit larger, case-sized quantities of these products, which then does not necessitate the use of loose fill packaging.  Then, wherever possible, these fold into themselves rather than being open ended, so we need to use less sealing tape.  Similarly, wherever possible, we get the packaging suppliers of our primary packaging to supply these in the same outer case quantities that we retail them in, so for example our case size for tea tins is four, so they arrive to us packed empty in fours and we can then reuse that box, i.e. we both reduce and reuse.  For internet and mail orders, we use a wide range of off-the-shelf corrugate boxes to try and get as close to the right size needed for each individual package, hence we can minimise wasted board and the need to use lots of voidfill.

We pack our products into corrugated boxes, which we either purchase from Macfarlane Packaging (packaging wholesaler for general boxes and materials for mixed boxes of products) or are manufactured for us by Garthwest, Tyne Tees Packaging or the manufacturers of our containers (packaging for Steenbergs products).   All these products are biodegradable and recyclable, as well as being reusable (although we do not anticipate many people will actually reuse them).  The recycled content varies in the range 72 - 100%; in overview, the rougher looking boxes are made from 100% recycled material, while those with a smoother finish contain some virgin paper to provide that smarter finish, for example in our gift boxes.  Where the boxes include printing, the printing inks used are water-based inks, so while they are still inks they have a lower environmental impact than some printing inks; in addition, we try as much as possible to minimise the amount of printing on the boxes to reduce the potential for sustainability issues arising from printing inks.  For details on the paper recycling system, you could look at Recovering and Recycling Paper from the Confederation of Paper Industries, which gives a good overview of the paper and pulp sector in the UK.

Within the boxes, we use a variety of different protective packaging products to try and provide all round protection for the products we send out, most of which are fragile being made from glass.  These products are biodegradable and compostable and do not contain especially nasty chemicals.  The following provides an overview of the products we may use in order of what you might see as potential issues:

Loose fill chips: these are not polystyrene loosefill chips.  We use a product called EcoFlo from Green Light Products Limited via their local distributor (Simpson Packaging), which is 100% biodegradable, is made from GM-free starch (predominantly corn/maize derived starch, which has been certified as GM free on arrival at Green Light; I accept that difficult genuinely to prove GM free corn/maize) which is an annually renewable resource and uses a low energy, steam-based process to blow the chips, whereas polystyrene is not biodegradable, is a petrochemical and uses pentane gas as blowing agent; the only way to “recycle” polystyrene is via energy capture, which is burning it for energy generation, which is not quite what most people regard as recycling.  EcoFlo conforms to EN13432 and so it is suitable for domestic and municipal composting, breaking down in water to starch, which is then digested by microbial activity by soil bacteria and fungi.  It generally performs better than polystyrene as it moulds around the products to protect them, however if there is a breakage of a liquid product, it can cause all the loosefill to break down so other products can break as the loosefill is no longer functional.  For more information, visit Green Light Products.

Bubble wrap: this is not normal bubble wrap and is biodegradable.  We use a product from Sealed Air, called Aircap Geo®, which is made from low density polyethylene and nylon, using a CFC and HCFC process, which is supplied to us by Macfarlane Packaging.  In the past, we have managed to find even greener products, but these were unfortunately uneconomic for the manufacturers so production was stopped – if someone comes across something better, please tell us.  We have tried various options for safely protecting more fragile glass jars and bottles, but in the end we have had to return to bubble wrap due to the level of breakages we had been getting from the alternatives.  Recycling of Aircap Geo® is relatively fiddly: (i) put outside in light and after 8-12 hours of sunlight, the oxidation process starts and the long plastic molecules break down into smaller linked sections; and (ii) these smaller molecules can be digested and broken down microbially by bacteria and fungi into CO2, water and biomass.  Alternatively, it can be used for energy capture like standard polyethylene bubble wrap.  For more, visit the Sealed Air website.  As an alternative, we use a similar oxo-biodegradable plastic bubble wrap from Simpson Packaging that will degrade in the soil or compost heap, which is composed of polyethylene and an oxo-biodegradable additive (which is kept secret from us as their trade secret).

Paper voidfill packaging: this is mainly brown kraft paper that is crinkled up and used for void fill packing; rarely, you might get shredded paper from paper used in our office.  We get this kraft paper from Macfarlane Packaging under the product name, FillPak Paper, supplied by Ranpak Europe.  FillPak is made from sack kraft paper, which is either 100% virgin for the 70g, but it comes from a sustainable source; kraft paper uses virgin pulp as kraft is strong paper (“Kraft” means “strong” in German), so requires a high strength of fibres which are only obtained from virgin paper.  There is a 50g version, which is 100% recycled pulp, but we found it useless as you need more paper and because it has no strength in the fibres did not actually do its job very well.  FillPak is carbon neutral, recyclable, biodegradable and compostable, as well as being suitable for landfill.  For more information, visit Ranpak’s website.  Shredded paper is similarly biodegradable, compostable and suitable for landfill.

Address labels: we use a number of different options for these.  Our core address labels are laser printed labels onto Avery QuickPEELTM recycled laser labels, which we use for our box address labels and labels for palletised deliveries.  These are 100% recycled paper labels, packed in boxes of recycled cardboard and use water-based, eco-friendly adhesive.   The labels for FedEx deliveries are printed onto labels provided to us by FedEx, but this means that they do not have any additional environmental features at this stage.  However, all labels are biodegradable, compostable and can be recycled within the normal paper and pulp recycling cycle.

Box tape: we use two types of tape to seal our boxes, one supplied to us by Macfarlane Packaging and the other by Simpson Packaging.  Most boxes are closed using a gummed paper tape from Macfarlane Packaging, which requires water to activate the adhesive on the tape using a tape dispenser which moistens and dispenses the tape.  This tape is the most environmentally friendly tape solution we have to date, and is biodegradable and recyclable through the normal paper and pulp recycling chain.  Being paper based, the tape material is also sustainable.  The other paper tape is a saturated crepe paper tape provided by Simpson Packaging, but is like more normal tapes where the adhesive does not need to be activated.  In this case, the adhesive is natural rubber and the paper is brown saturated crepe paper.  In each case, the paper is kraft paper which is 100% virgin kraft, while the core of the tape rolls is made from 100% recycled pulp and is biodegradable, recyclable and sustainable.

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