While Anaita Sarkar was pregnant with her second child, she launched online fashion retailer Olivia & Co from home. Before long, business picked up and Sarkar was shipping nearly 100 orders a day – all in plastic packaging.
“I was getting really frustrated. If we saw people opening their packages [on social media], the products were wrapped in plastic and I felt kind of ashamed,” she says. “That’s when I realised there had to be something more sustainable.”
At the same time Sarkar’s partner, Vikram Davé, was working for a Sydney-based online retailer and witnessing first-hand how wasteful the ecommerce industry can be.
“I was seeing on a large scale the almost complete disregard and ignorance of the amount of waste produced while operating a business,” he says. “The biggest one for online retail is obviously the packaging – things just get chucked in the skip or not recycled properly.”
The pair did some research and found that the best alternative to plastic was paper bags – which aren’t really suitable for shipping – and there weren’t any eco-friendly options out there.
So they launched Hero Packaging, with their own range of eco-friendly, biodegradable bags, in 2018. A number of Australian fashion labels are now using the mailers to send online deliveries, including Jac + Jack and Zanerobe, as are larger Australian companies, from yoghurt maker Chobani to Lush Cosmetics.
The bags are available direct to consumers, too – a sustainable postage option whether you’re sending something to a friend or selling clothes on Depop.
Hero’s mailers are made primarily from three compostable ingredients: corn starch, cassava root (from a common South American shrub) and a polymer called PBAT, or polybutyrate, which binds them together. PBAT is a biodegradable and compostable material which – when combined with materials like corn starch and cassava root – behaves similarly to plastic.
The final product is a lightweight, durable, waterproof matte bag that looks slicker than traditional plastic shipping bags, and which you can put it in your compost bin at home once you’ve opened it. If you don’t have a compost bin, Hero’s bags are still biodegradable, so they’ll break down in your rubbish bin too.
The mailers will break down in a compost bin in 90 to 120 days, and they take two years to decompose in landfill – compared to the 20 years it takes a regular plastic bag to disintegrate and the more than 400 years for thicker plastics such as water bottles and typical shipping mailers.
Sarkar says an early roadblock to getting the business moving was a lack of production facilities in Australia, so she and Davé looked overseas. Their bags are produced in China then shipped to Australia to receive home-compostable certification from Plastics Australia, as well as biodegradable certification from the Biodegradable Products Institute.
“Eventually we would love for the bags to be made in Australia, but at this stage there’s nowhere we can do it,” Sarkar says.
Davé wants people to hold retailers more accountable for their sustainability practices, and says consumers have the power to push brands in more eco-friendly directions by calling them out online, and choosing to shop with ethical brands.
“Businesses are a big part of the problem, so putting pressure on them and how they choose to achieve their sustainability goals is where we’re focusing at the moment,” he says. “Our long-term goal is to eradicate plastic in the shipping process – not just in Australia, but globally.”
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