Much-reviled but necessary protection, now with recycled content

We don’t like those plastic polybags our products come individually wrapped in from the factory. They’re plastic, which is made from petroleum. They’re hard to recycle. And unless you make a concerted effort to prevent it, which we do, they can end up in the trash.

That said, polybags provide vital protection for our products during shipping and handling. And, we’re happy to say, after a lot of work, we’ve managed to mitigate some of their environmental harm by sourcing ones with recycled content and continuing to recycle them as we’ve been doing for some time, all the while continuing the search for better alternatives

The good news: As of spring ’20 the polybags we use to protect our products will contain varying percentages of recycled content—ranging from 20%–50%, and averaging 28%

The even better news: Beginning in spring ’20, we moved to polybags made with 100% recycled content that are Global Recycled Standard (GRS) certified (meaning the recycled inputs are determined to be true waste diversion).

Why do we use polybags?

Short answer: We need them to protect our products. Wanting to get rid of them entirely, we did some research at our Reno Distribution Center in 2014 to see if we could happily live without them. We found, however, that because the cardboard boxes our products are shipped in from the finished-goods factories often arrive at our distribution centers broken, torn or open, our newly made clothing and gear ran the risk of exposure to dirt, moisture and physical damage. Polybags protect them during this leg of transport

And polybags continue to protect our products once they arrive at the DC, where they are stored, moved around on a conveyor belt transport system and packed. As a test, we sent some garments through that process unprotected; about 30% suffered damage.

From the DC, we then ship products on to our stores, dealers and customers, and once again there’s the risk of damage. So, as much as we dislike them, the polybags serve the vital function of keeping our products in excellent condition every step of the way.

Does Patagonia recycle its polybags?

Yes. Though we’ve had to figure that one out. That’s because polyethylene film, the material polybags are made of, is not commonly recycled in U.S. municipal recycling systems. We recycle all the polybags we collect in our stores and our Reno DC by shipping them to Reno, then sending them on to TREX, a decking company in nearby Fernley, Nevada, where they are made into TREX composite products, like plastic lumber.

Has Patagonia considered using biobased, biodegradable or reusable packaging options?

Yes. We have searched, and we continue to search, for better packaging solutions that both reduce our environmental impacts and enable us to protect our products. Over the years we’ve investigated numerous biobased, biodegradable and reusable bag options, and have not yet found a good solution. There are opportunities and limitations with all the options we’ve considered. We’re still looking.

Until we figure out a better way, we believe our best approach now is to use polybags made with 100% recycled content and continue to ensure they, and everything we possibly can, are recycled.

We encourage Patagonia dealers to also recycle your polybags. Patagonia polybags are made with plastic film #4 (LDPE film). Visit Earth911 at the URL below to find recyclers in your area.

Visit Earth911 for more information.

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