ROB CARLE, Head of Sales, e-commerce at DS Smith, UK Packaging asks how can e-commerce packaging design help the environment?
We live in an age of e-commerce. Patterns of buying are changing. Time-pressed and digitally connected shoppers are making more and more of their purchases remotely. E-commerce is the fastest growing retail market in Europe and North America , and it’s predicted that by 2021 the UK could be sending 3.9 billion parcels a year .
This is great for consumer convenience and ease of buying. To support that, the packaging industry is taking up crucial new challenges – how to give shoppers the right experience, how to make every aspect of e-commerce supply chains work efficiently and how to make the very best use of packaging materials.
It’s possible to keep packaging to a minimum, and use materials that are sustainable and recyclable as far as possible, while continuing to add value through brand impact and sales success.
BOXES TO FIT
Shoppers want the right sized box to arrive. No-one wants to pay to ship fresh air, to transport oversized packs or to use more packaging than necessary. It’s unsustainable, both from an environmental and an economic point of view. Nonetheless, there is a real challenge. When you consider the breadth of the product ranges offered by online retailers, and the almost infinite combinations of products purchased and shipped together, you start to understand the complexity and scale.
However, progress is being made. At DS Smith, for example, we have developed a pioneering new packaging technology called Made2fit. This innovation enables right-size packaging to be created and significantly reduces the movement of a product in transit. At the same time, it tackles wider challenges in the e-commerce supply chain. These include: better product protection, reducing logistics costs, eliminating void space and often making the use of polystyrene and bubble wrap unnecessary. Eliminating materials, that aren’t needed or can’t easily be recycled, helps make packaging solutions environmentally friendly.
Another key environmental consideration is whether a product can be easily returned. For products where return rates are high, packaging should be easy to open, and then easy to repackage and seal, if necessary. If the consumer needs new packaging to return an item, this just uses up more resources. We work closely with our customers to design packaging that makes returns easy, and is easy to recycle at home.
In today’s market, packaging performs multiple roles. It must be strong so that it can safely transport the goods to the customer. It must also look good and project the retailer’s brand, so that the customer feels some of that ‘retail magic’ when opening it. But equally important is that it is environmentally responsible. Packaging is no longer about one-size-fits-all, rather it’s about tailor-making boxes that are sustainable and reusable, and that reduce both cost and excess materials.
A CIRCULAR PROCESS
Corrugated packaging in particular is an essential part of a circular process that minimises waste. In fact, more than 80% of corrugated packaging in the UK is recycled, a higher rate than for any other major packaging material. We can go from box to box within 14 days with our closed loop model. This allows cardboard boxes to be made, used, collected, recycled, converted into paper and made back into cardboard boxes again, from start to finish in as little as two weeks.
Good packaging prevents waste and at DS Smith our team of packaging strategists always strive to find the best packaging solution, using no more material than necessary. That being said, one of the principle roles of packaging is to protect the product. If we don’t use enough material and products become damaged, the environmental impact is negative.
The right packaging protects far more resource than it consumes – that’s as crucial as ever in the fast developing world of e-commerce supply chains.