E-commerce and Sustainable Packaging
E-commerce has completely changed the way we shop, reshaping the economy and distribution channels. Consumers are increasingly looking to the internet for lower costs, comparison shopping, and the opportunity to locate unique products. E-commerce continues to grow rapidly. Sales between 2014 and 2018 are expected to grow a cumulative 88.4 percent. As the rapid growth of eCommerce continues, new challenges and opportunities are presented and retailers must continue to adapt.
With more products being shipped than ever before, ultimately more packaging is being used and ending up in the waste stream. With this growth comes increased responsibility for retailers.
“Packaging is beginning to affect a greater portion of a company’s global operations, according to Tom Blanck, principal and practice leader in the Packaging Optimization Practice of Chainalytics. Improvements in that area “have the opportunity to ripple throughout the supply chain,”
How do companies adapt their processes and strategies to this changing landscape?
The first step is to understand the specific needs of packaging and how delivery in an e-commerce channel is different from a traditional retail channel. The retailer is replaced by the consumer as the focal point in the process which adds many logistical complexities. Large quantities of product are then shipped to fulfillment centers where they are broken down and prepped for shipping. From there transport providers such as UPS, FedEx and USPS collect parcels and aggregate regional packages for home delivery.
Ameripen’s recent whitepaper “Optimizing Packaging for an E-commerce World,”
points out that, “In this new environment, the three level packaging system designed for palletization and retail display becomes less efficient. In some cases, it may be less important for the primary package to serve promotional purposes and other attributes deemed necessary in a retail environment.” Secondary packaging (from the fulfillment center) now plays a crucial role in product protection and in many cases replaces the need for tertiary packages.
Optimizing package design and material selection for the needs of the entire system as well as the environment also becomes increasingly important. Optimized packaging for e-commerce may look much different than for traditional retail, due to the different demands of the respective distribution chains. The International Safe Transit Association has laid out step by step guidance on transport package optimization in its Responsible Packaging by Design guide.
“Current thinking is moving from “reduce” to “optimize”. Reducing packaging materials must be balanced with package performance as it applies to or impacts product protection. Serious consequences can result from carrying the packaging material light-weighting.”
Source: Innventia AB Model, Global Packaging Project, 6/10
A packages main function is always to provide protection for the product and if it fails to do so it cannot be considered sustainable. It is recommended to get expert assistance from ISTA testing labs to find the optimum balance between material usage and protection.
Screening LCA solutions such as COMPASS should be used during this process to facilitate material selection and concept development decisions to view environmental feedback, identify hotspots for improvement, and track the progress of your sustainability journey.