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SeaSavers Cut Plastic Ocean Pollution
Certified “green” boxes can help keep plastic foam out of rivers, ocean, birds, and fish

04/10/2017 By Craig Weatherby

The Vital Choice mission centers on health and sustainability.

From the start, we’d need to deliver frozen foods in top condition, at reasonable cost.

That basic business requirement led us to look for light, affordable, well-insulated boxes.

Packages can’t be too heavy, or shipments will be too costly for a company and its customers.

And our shipping boxes had to keep food frozen for two to three days, even during scorching summers in locales like Florida.

When we started shipping frozen fish in 2002, the only viable option was expanded polystyrene foam or EPS.

EPS foam is relatively hard to get recycled, breaks apart over time, and ends up in the oceans where birds, fish, and other creatures mistake small foam fragments for food.

But until recently — despite years of searching for alternatives — EPS remained the only practical shipping solution.

Some time ago, we began to use eco-friendly shipping boxes that rival the cost, weight, durability, and insulating properties of EPS.

We call them SeaSavers™ because they help reduce use of EPS foam, which helps protect the oceans and the creatures that call it home.

Our new SeaSaver™ shipping containers
Most of our frozen shipments now use SeaSaver packaging.

Our transition to SeaSavers has been tough, tricky, and costly — but we’re committed to walking our talk on environmental sustainability.

SeaSavers consist of three eco-friendly elements:

  • Flexible, post-consumer-recycled, purified cotton fiber insulating pads.
  • A thin, flexible, biodegradable plastic poly film around each cotton insulating pad.
  • A recyclable cardboard box that encloses the insulating pads, dry ice, and frozen foods.

Both the poly liner and cotton insulation are certified 100% biodegradable in landfills, in accordance with standards set by the American Society for Testing and Materials or ASTM*.

Follow these steps to maximize the sustainability of our SeaSavers™:

  • Separate the inner fiber pad from the outer plastic liner.
  • The biodegradable outer plastic liner can go in your garbage or plastic recycling.
  • Place the biodegradable cotton insulating pad in your garbage, yard waste, or compost.

Vital Choice customers and crew have found good re-uses for the insulating cotton pads.

Folks use them as draft-stoppers, and for protection of fragile items being moved or mailed. The cotton also makes great mulch — although birds may “borrow” it as nesting material!

One customer even creates fabric covers for the pads, and gives them to shelters for pet bedding.

Send us your re-use ideas, and we’ll share them on our Vital Green page. You can submit ideas by responding to our newsletter email, or by contacting customer service.

Note: The pads’ manufacturer claims the cotton is a safe composting material for food gardens, but we cannot verify that. If you decide to add the pads to compost, we recommend pulling them apart first, to accelerate degradation.

*In accordance with 2013 Federal Trade Commission Green Guidelines and ASTM standards D6400, 5511, D5209-91, and D5338.98.

Just as good at keeping foods frozen
Our SeaSavers match the insulating power of EPS boxes in most instances.

We pre-tested the SeaSavers™ extensively, and they proved comparable to EPS boxes for keeping our dry ice and your food frozen.

Be aware that our frozen shipments sometimes arrive partially thawed, due to shipping delays, extreme temperatures, or other factors.

And because our frozen seafood is vacuum-packed, it doesn't harm quality to re-freeze partially thawed products.

Nor does it matter if the dry ice has sublimated — i.e., turned from solid to gaseous carbon dioxide — as long as the frozen foods remained entirely or partially frozen.

EPS foam boxes remain in limited use
A minority of our shipments still employ EPS foam shipping containers.

Extreme summer heat is the chief reason why we continue to use EPS boxes on occasion.

Fortunately, they're very light — 98% air — so they minimize shipping-related fuel and emissions.

And you can use our CubeCycle™ program to recycle your EPS shipping boxes.

Working closely with FedEx for more than a year, we devised this novel program, which remains unique among online retailers.

To use our CubeCycle™ program, a customer prints a FedEx shipping label from our website, and then takes that label with their EPS box to a FedEx facility, for free shipment to a recycling center.

You can learn more about the CubeCycle™ program on our Vital Green page, which also describes our carbon-offset program and all our efforts to maximize sustainability.

Let’s review the reasons why we’ve tried so hard to reduce — and hopefully eliminate over time — reliance on EPS packaging.

EPS foam presents recycling challenges
Less than one percent of the EPS used in California gets recycled.

And, given that state’s pioneering recycling policies, the rest of the nation likely falls short of even that sorry statistic.

One problem is that EPS is very bulky relative to its very light weight, which is one reason why relatively few municipal recycling centers accept EPS foam.

(The EPS Industry Alliance offers information about drop-off recycling centers, and a mail-back program that requires payment of shipping fees.)

In 2013, about 127 million pounds of EPS were recycled, which, given that EPS is 98% air, is a huge volume of foam.

Although EPS only takes up 0.01 percent of total municipal solid waste by weight — because it’s mostly air — this bulky material occupies an inordinate proportion of landfill space.


Sources

  • Earth 911. Recycling mystery: expanded polystyrene. March 9, 2014. Accessed at http://earth911.com/home/family/recycling-mysteries-styrofoam/
  • EPS Industry Alliance. Recycle your EPS. Accessed at http://www.epspackaging.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=8&Itemid=4