Aug 13

Sustainable packing materials/art production


Greetings everyone,


I am writing from an artist's studio located in Berlin, Germany (Studio Olafur Eliasson) and am thrilled to have just stumbled across SIC. As an artist's studio that is deeply committed to reducing our carbon footprint and combating climate change, we are constantly seeking out sustainable solutions in the production and shipping of artworks. As the resident conservator in the studio, I am of course additionally concerned about the characteristics of the materials we are using and whether they are suitable for the delicate artworks we produce.


At the moment, we are looking to overhaul the synthetic packing materials we use in the Studio (PUR/PE foams, Tyvek, etc.) in exchange for natural/sustainable options and I would be very interested if anyone has any information on alternative packing materials and their viability in transporting/storing artworks, (i.e. resistance to microorganisms, out-gassing, acidifying, aging characteristics, etc.) or whether simply recycling the synthetic materials we already use is enough of a step in the right direction? I am looking into a PE foam recycling program with Sealed Air and was wondering if anyone has any experience with them. They recycle used non cross-linked, closed cell PE foam into new non cross-linked, closed cell PE foam, but I question whether transporting the foam in a truck across Germany plus the recycling process are actually “sustainable.” I've come across a few alternatives to our synthetic packing materials, but have not been able to find related research in the field of conservation and am unsure whether these products, such as paper filled "pillows" or natural felt/cork (which eventually release sulfur/acids) can withstand our specific demands in the shipment and storage of artworks. Any leads or suggestions would be greatly appreciated!


Because we also discard hundreds of disposable gloves (mostly latex) every month, I started looking into disposable glove recycling programs, such as the Kimberly Clark program. Unfortunately Kimtech gloves aren’t ideal for our needs, so I am interested in finding a latex recycling program in Europe if anyone knows of anything.


I’ll post updates on our discoveries in the Studio, as we are often testing alternative materials, and hoping this discourse can move us all towards sustainability in conservation, art production, shipping, storage, and beyond.


Kind regards,



Hi Kimberly,

thank you for your interesting post. Unfortunately, sustainable solutions in the production and shipping of artworks is not a well-discovered field. The packaging industry has made progress towards sustainable and innovative packaging materials but even though plastic packaging is getting more and more competition some of the concepts are still questionable. I suggest taking 3 points into consideration when you want to pick a sustainable packing and storage material.

- Resource consumption of the upstream chains and the manufacturing process (energy, water, resources, environmental consumption). As you mentioned, also take in to account where this product was produced or where the materials are coming from and what energy is needed to bring it to your local dealer.

- Reuse: Are you able to recycling or reuse the product? How long is the live span of the product? How does the waste disposal work after the live span?

- Conservation: Make sure the products don’t emit volatile organic compounds that interact with the material surfaces. Also, take into consideration that even though some materials are sustainable they can constitute another risk. (keyword: pest or microbiological infestation) Carrying out Oddy Test and working on a good airflow and low Temperatures and RH levels in your collection environment can help to minimize the mentioned risks though.

I hope my thoughts helped a little and I really much looking forward to the updates on your discoveries!


Best wishes,



P.S the following article might be interesting for you: Kracht, Kerstin. 2017. Diese Kiste rettet vierzig Bäumen das Leben. Restauro (Munich) (7): 24-27.

Dear Gina,


Thank you for your thoughtful response as well as the informative article.


I’ve been grappling with the issues surrounding sustainable materials in the context of art transport for the past few months and have come to a few conclusions. Sustainability in the sense of using biodegradable or natural materials in lieu of synthetic materials is not compatible with the criteria we have as conservators, as they deteriorate too rapidly and are often acidic and/or produce VOCs.


As you’ve already noted, I’ve also come to the conclusion that the best course of action at the moment is to assess the manufacturing processes, sources of the materials, recyclability, and general impact of the synthetic materials already in use.


While not entirely sustainable, we are attempting to reduce the amount of synthetic materials we use in packing as well as using recycled / recyclable synthetic materials. Ethafoam offers a PE foam (Ethafoam 220) manufactured with up to 65% recycled PE. I’ve also found polyester batting (needle punched and without binder) manufactured with up 80% recycled polyester. The only issue with these recycled materials is that their the polymer chains are shorter than their newly produced counterparts, which means that they will start to deteriorate a bit sooner, but for transport and short-term storage, they are more than acceptable.


We are still seeking a solution for the amount of discarded gloves we produce in the studio. As I mentioned in another post, the Kimtech recycling program is geared towards medical/pharmaceutical fields and requires an annual volume of 20,000 gloves to partake in the program, which means we are ineligible. In the meantime, we are trying to use washable nitrile coated nylon gloves when applicable, and latex finger cots when only the fingertips require protection.


I will keep everyone posted on any other developments and look forward to continuing this discourse.




Hi Kimberly, I work with a consulting company that specializes in sustainable packaging materials. While some of the options may not be specifically developed for artwork and the heritage field, it's possible that there might be some options out there for you. Why don't you send me an email at my company address:, and I can introduce you to my point-of-contact directly to see how we might be able to help!


We're working with a company at the moment that produces Expanded PLA that functions more or less identical to polystyrene packaging but is industrially compostable. Essentially, it's sytrofoam made from corn or sugar cane starch.


I hope that helps!! We also have a contact with a company that is in the process of developing viable packaging materials made from PHA (bacterium synthesized from renewable feedstocks like soy, canola, and palm), which should be extremely useful in the near future. Please let me know if you have any questions, and I look forward to hearing from you!

Thank you for your response, Sarah!


I am familiar with packing foams made from various starches and while I hope these nascent developments in sustainable packing materials can be implemented on a large scale in other sectors, I'm afraid they are not suitable for the transport of artworks or cultural heritage for the reason that they not only lack the impact resistance necessary for the safe transport of objects, but are also incredibly hydrophilic and can deteriorate rapidly if exposed to prolonged humidity.


Hopefully, there will be improvements in the near future, as you mentioned, but I don't think we are quite there yet.

7 days ago


If anyone doesn’t know the examples of sustainable materials, then here they are bamboo, wood, hemp, wool, linen, straw, clay, stone, sand, beeswax, and coconut. Thanks and Regards, cheap essay paper writing

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