There’s nothing like the thrill of getting something you ordered online in the mail. Part of the joy and convenience of ordering items online is when they actually arrive. But that packaging that wraps those perfect items could actually be hurting the environment. Many e-commerce packages are sent in materials that are harmful to the environment, but a new wave of companies is setting out to create more sustainable packaging solutions.
- E-commerce sales are expected to double in the next decade.
- Online shopping packaging contributes huge amounts of waste.
- Large companies like Amazon are taking steps to cut back their packaging and group orders together.
- Startups are creating sustainable packaging from recycled materials.
- In order to provide a complete customer experience, e-commerce companies need to take steps towards sustainable packaging.
Dangers Of Packaging
It’s no surprise that Americans love to shop online. Every year, 165 billion packages are shipped in the U.S., which uses enough cardboard to equal more than 1 billion trees. That doesn’t even consider the waste from the plastic air bags and additional packaging that keep items safe in transit.
Other common packaging options aren’t much better. Many packages contain materials that are difficult to recycle and are harmful to the environment. Many e-commerce companies, including Amazon, have started packaging more items in bubble mailers, which are lighter and allow for more items to be placed on planes and trucks. However, mixed materials of plastic and bubble wrap often can’t be recycled and instead block the recycling systems and slow down the process. When a bubble mailer gets stuck in the recycling machinery, the entire system has to be shut down to cut the package free. The materials not only aren’t recyclable themselves, they literally stop other items from being recycled.
E-Commerce Sustainability Efforts
As e-commerce grows at a staggering rate—online sales are expected to double in the next decade—many retailers are increasing their sustainability efforts to cut back on packaging. Amazon, the largest e-commerce retailer in the world, offers “frustration free” packaging on some items, which sends items in their original packaging without excess boxes. Amazon recently doubled down on its efforts in the program by asking vendors to adopt new packaging standards and threatening to fine small retailers if they don’t comply. It also introduced a new program for Prime members earlier this year that allows customers to choose their “Amazon Day” and get multiple orders delivered on the same day in an effort to combine orders and cut back on packaging. By cutting back on overboxing, or items being sent in multiple boxes, Amazon has eliminated more than 500 million boxes and 244,000 tons of packaging materials. CEO Jeff Bezos also recently signed The Climate Pledge on behalf of Amazon to advance Paris Climate Accord goals by 10 years, even though his own company could arguably be doing much more for sustainability and climate change.
Another e-commerce leader, Target, recently re-designed its three most common box sizes with fun designs that encourage shoppers to reuse the boxes and turn them into race cars, dog houses or other items. The idea is that if the boxes are enticing, customers will find another use for them instead of throwing them away.
Innovative Packaging Solutions
As environmental concerns grow, a large number of startups and smaller companies are creating innovative packaging solutions. The aptly named Package Free Shop mails its household items and health and beauty products in completely recyclable and compostable boxes and uses paper tape and wrapping that can also be recycled. Startup Limeloop recycles billboard wraps to create durable shipping pouches that can be reused up to 2,000 times. Companies send orders to customers in the mailers, and then customers attach a pre-paid return mailing label to return the pouch to the company to use for the next customer.
Noissue is another startup that creates compostable mailers made from corn starch that break down completely within six months. 3M recently developed the Flex and Seal roll of packing material that is completely recyclable and seals on itself. Companies or individual sellers simply cut the material down to size and fold it on itself to create a secure, recyclable package. Many of these sustainable packing solutions have yet to expand beyond a niche market. If companies want to make a real difference in their packaging, they need to think bigger and leverage new technologies and products.
Sustainable packaging has a huge impact on the environment and customers. E-commerce companies have a responsibility to take care of the environment. They need to be accountable for the repercussions of their mass experiences. Sustainability is an issue that all customers and brands should get behind.
Online shopping will only continue to grow, and unless we take strong steps towards sustainable packaging, the size of our landfills will grow right alongside it. Forward-thinking companies need to deliver a great experience in all areas for their customers, including how they send their packages.
Blake Morgan is a keynote speaker, customer experience futurist and the author of two books including her new “The Customer Of The Future.” Stay in touch with her weekly on her newsletter.