Have you ever ordered something online only to have it arrive on your doorstep wrapped in huge amounts of packaging, unsure how to stop it going to waste? Alternatively, have you ever found yourself trying to send a parcel, and suddenly having to pay a small fortune for boxes and packing materials to keep something safe?

Both of these are rooted in the same issue: the right resources in the wrong places.

Realistically, there are fragile things out there that need some extra care for transportation. But there also has to be a limit to how many virgin materials (especially when it comes to plastic products like foam packing peanuts) we continue to utilise only to throw away or send to recycling. Yes, there are times when packaging is necessary, but I have a feeling we already have all the packaging materials we need to exist in the world. We just need better systems for keeping them in use.

In the general pyramid of refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle, and rot, reuse comes before recycle for a reason. Firstly, recycling still requires energy to dismantle and re-manufacture products. Secondly, much of our recycling is shipped abroad to be processed. While China has stopped accepting imported waste, recycling from the UK ends up in countries such as Malaysia, Turkey, Poland and Indonesia instead. Often these countries can’t handle the amount we send to them, and it ends up burned or in landfill. So, while bubble wrap may be technically recyclable in some areas, it’s still not ideal to send it to be recycled as a first option. Similarly, many cardboard boxes are now made from recycled content, but ultimately they always begin their lives as virgin paper.

As we work to move towards a more conscious future, a large part of this looks like transitioning to a more circular economy. As we overhaul our perspectives and approaches to do this, new systems also come into place that help make these things achievable. And one that I’ve discovered is Packshare.

What is Packshare?

I discovered Packshare when I first moved to Cornwall. A combination of having recently moved house and receiving deliveries a little more frequently due to my job meant that I had quite a lot of cardboard, and I wasn’t sure what to do with it. It was all perfectly fit for reuse, but I didn’t know how to get it into the hands of people who could actually use it. I came across Packshare on Facebook by chance, and suddenly I had found a solution.

The idea behind Packshare is simple: it’s a website that helps people communally source packaging. Whenever someone receives a parcel they can use the website to find local small businesses who can reuse the packaging material it came with, both keeping this packaging in use and helping small businesses save money, as they don’t have to buy packaging in. The concept came to co-founder Louisa as she worked in a local Falmouth business. She was doing a lot of packing and was looking into a way for the business to get their packaging back to reuse it. It turned out this wasn’t economically possible, but it did birth the idea of Packshare, as everyday individuals constantly receive deliveries with no viable use for the packaging once it reaches them. She realised that things like bubble wrap and boxes are still perfectly reusable, people just needed to know where to take them.

How does it work?

The website itself is incredibly easy to use. You simply enter your postcode and the type of packaging you have to give (options include small or large cardboard box, bubble wrap, air pockets, packing peanuts, jiffy bag, poster tube, paper, plastic bags and more), and the website will tell you which businesses will take it and where they are. Then you just take your packaging there and drop it off. Easy as that.

Since I discovered Packshare, I’ve been using it regularly and with no problems at all. Whenever I get deliveries I save all the boxes and packaging, and then when a little has built up I’ll use the website to take it down to whichever local businesses may need it. Imagine the impact this could have if it became the norm for everyone to Packshare, diverting this waste from landfill and recycling across the country. It would ease the strain on our recycling and waste management systems, it would reduce energy and emissions caused by recycling and manufacturing virgin products, and it would encourage our society to think in more circular and collaborative ways, which is incredibly important when trying to change things systemically.

So how can we get involved?

Packshare is still a new venture, meaning that right now if you put your postcode in there might not be any businesses near you who are using it, but Packshare are hoping to get as many businesses as possible across the country signed up ASAP. Many of them would benefit from Packshare’s services, they just might not know about them yet. So, the best things we can do as consumers are:

  • Use the website if you can.
  • Sign up to receive packaging if you run any kind of small business that could use it (for example, my friend Holly from Leotie Lovely reuses small parcel envelopes to mail out the children’s book she wrote).
  • Ask businesses that are local to you to sign up to receive packaging too.

There’s a huge range of businesses that can take different types of packaging. Most of my boxes have gone to a local tattoo studio, I have no idea what they use them for but they’ve always told me it’s really helpful for them, while also helping the environment. Plus, even if businesses near you aren’t interested in the environmental aspect, it’s also an economically smart move that reduces their costs. Everyone wins, and nothing gets wasted.

So let’s continue to move away from a single use, linear mindset, and towards a more circular way of thinking, by spreading the word about Packshare and getting as many people on board as we can. It’s simple, it’s easy, and it’s effective. I love using it, and I think you will too.