Got Gifts to Ship? Try a Green Option

Photo by Cinnachick, Flickr Creative Commons

Now that the last pre-Christmas shopping weekend has come and gone, it’s time to get those gifts shipped. But who should send ’em for you?

During the past few weeks, The Perch has offered tips to be more eco-friendly in deciding which gifts to give (make your own) and which products harm the earth less (environmentally friendly make-up).

Here’s the scoop on how shipping services—the U.S. Postal Service, UPS, and FedEx—have ramped up their green efforts.

All three now offer packaging (e.g., boxes, envelopes) in mossy shades of green. USPS products take into account energy and water use and human and environmental health, and are completely recyclable. Most FedEx packages contain anywhere from 70 to 100 percent post-consumer recycled material. And you know those annoying foam packing peanuts terrible for the environment but often used to protect breakables? Now you can bring them back to your local UPS store for reuse, staving off their eternity in a landfill for a little while.

The big three shippers also tout their alternative-fuel fleets of vehicles. The Postal Service has tens of thousands on the road, with more than 500 ethanol-powered in Minnesota alone. FedEx claims that since 2005, it has saved 45 million gallons of fuel by optimizing the routes its planes take. On the ground, that company has more than 170 commercial hybrid trucks in North America. The UPS fleet contains hybrid electric and hydraulic hybrid, compressed natural gas, liquefied natural gas, propane, fuel cell, and electric vehicles.

These facts don’t affect you much (except, of course, that it’s nice to know these companies, which ship millions and millions of packages each year, are taking steps to lessen their environmental impact). So which should you choose? And what can you do as individuals?

The three seem relatively equivalent in their eco-friendliness. In terms of what action you can take, here are a few pointers:

- Send your gifts as early as possible—a somewhat moot point, I know, this late in the holiday season. That reduces the need for a package to hop on a plane to reach its final destination.
- Take advantage of printing out labels at home, an option offered by the USPS. Then ask your mailman to pick up your packages during regular mail delivery. This saves time and produces no additional carbon footprint from your drive to the post office.
- Put gifts all going to the same place in one box, when possible, to decrease the resources consumed in packaging. If you need to cover a box before sending, reuse old brown paper grocery bags.

For more information about the green initiatives of these companies, go to the USPS, FedEx, and UPS Web sites.

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