OLD IRVING PARK — A small online shop is giving new life to Chicagoans’ padded envelopes and thin plastic mailers, reusing them to ship second-hand merchandise.
Peter Proctor, 24, was unemployed when, in March 2020, he started Novo Lifecycle Products, an “environmentally conscious” online shop that he runs from home to resell clothes, electronics and other goods.
Proctor knew that because his business required him to ship products around the world — a heavily energy-based process — Novo had to reduce its environmental impact in other ways.
“I realized that I couldn’t go out every weekend to buy plastic bags for the shipments. It felt wrong,” Proctor said.
That’s when Proctor thought of reusing old Amazon envelopes he had at home to package and ship his products. The solution proved to be effective.
“At first, I would collect boxes and envelopes from family and friends. Then it became friends of friends, and now my business is at the point where we post on Facebook environmentalist groups,” Proctor said.
To organize the process, Proctor involved his partner, Aleksandra Plewa, 25. She periodically posts on Facebook groups, inviting people to drop off their used envelopes or arranging to pick them up herself within a 3- to 5-mile radius.
“We want to keep things as local as possible. Obviously, we don’t want to spend a bunch of gas driving around and adding pollutants,” Proctor said.
Facebook users’ reaction is fast, and in a few hours Plewa had dozens of answers and pick-up appointments to arrange. Among them was Cherie Travis, an active member of the group Chicago Environmentalists. When Travis saw Plewa’s post, she was enthusiastic and immediately started spreading the word.
“I’m collecting envelopes right now, but it’s not about me,” Travis said. “I love that I’m just a piece in the puzzle of Chicagoans being environmentally friendly, whether it is by composting, repurposing or donating.”
Over the past year, Novo’s envelope collection has grown significantly. At first, Proctor and Plewa collected a couple of hundred boxes during their runs, but now they’re gathering more than a thousand, requiring them to rent a storage unit.
The process requires time as all the packages need to be divided by size and materials, and every envelope has to be in decent condition.
The containers’ edges can’t be broken or cut, and the old shipping labels need to be removed to protect people’s information. Then, Proctor prints a new label — with his sustainably sourced shipping label — so his customers know “this is a proudly recycled package.”
This initiative is becoming more and more popular, and Proctor and Plewa have big projects for the near future.
“We want to reach out to more local businesses that ship products on a regular basis, and we want to give them the option to do that with reused packaging,” Proctor said.
Businesses often don’t have a sustainable option for envelopes and boxes. Bubble mailers and other shipping envelopes are expensive, and alternatives made of recycled materials are even harder to afford. That’s why Proctor wants to dedicate a large portion of his business to collecting envelopes and providing them to those who need them.
“Financially, I have no idea if this is going to be viable,” Proctor said. “But we want to collect the bags and offer this option to other businesses. Even if we’re not making a profit out of it, it’s still a way to negate tons of waste not only from garbage, but also from recycling programs.”
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