Updated: Apr 9, 2020
Which is more eco-friendly? The kraft mailer or polymailer?
This was the dilemma I faced as a new small online shop who needed the most cost-efficient packaging to ship my small goods (i.e. pins and stickers), but wanted to be environmentally mindful as well.
As a seller on Etsy, I needed to accommodate a standard shipping label size of 4x6 inches, so my options were limited down to mailers. The most common mailers used are kraft mailers and polymailers.
Mailers can come with bubble or without. Without bubble, kraft mailers are typically rigid and 100% recyclable without having to remove the paper labels, while polymailers are recyclable, but the labels must be removed before they can be recycled. Therefore rigid kraft mailers would be better except, flexible polymailers are much more efficient for packing bulkier items such as clothes.
However when you add the bubble factor in, the recyclability turns upside down.
The bubble of a poly bubble mailer is built from the same material of the mailer itself, so many vendors advertise poly bubble mailers as recyclable. However, just like the flexible polymailer, the paper labels must be removed before being recycled or else the poly bubble mailer ends up in the landfill. To remove the paper level, it is recommended to either peel the sticker off (which many times the adhesive is just too strong) or cut off the label part which still ends up going into the waste.
As for the kraft bubble mailer, since the mailer is made from a different matter, the bubble is glued directly in the mailer. Because they are composed of two different materials, these two materials must be separated before each material can be recycled accordingly. It is almost impossible to do so due to the adhesive that ensures the bubble securely protects the mailer's contents. And to be realistic, no one has time for that.
So with bubble mailer's, interestingly, a poly bubble mailer has more recyclability potential than the kraft version. However, factoring human laziness or lack of knowledge, both versions most likely will end up in the landfill.
After further research to find a solution that accommodates laziness or lack of knowledge, there are padded mailers made completely from kraft. However, because these types of products are still relatively new, eco-mailers are not as cost efficient. It simply comes down to your personal decision of what kind of impact your business will have on the environment.
Below are a few 100% recyclable kraft mailers
I haven't personally tested out these mailers yet, but I'm hoping to get some in so I can do my part and prevent making more waste than I need to. Hope this provides a little more insight to anyone shipping with mailers!