As online shopping continues to expand — the average American ordered 15 parcels online in 2016, up from fewer than 10 in 2012 — we’re shipping more and more packages across the country.
A necessary part of those packages is packaging itself: the boxes, plastic, bags of air, shreds of paper and other disposable materials that wrap items as they travel.
Of course, some of this packaging is necessary. Unlike most store-bought items, shipped products need to withstand transportation via truck, train and plane. Often items are packaged in branded cardboard boxes by the retailer, only to be packaged in other, larger cardboard boxes by the shipper.
But the more we ship, the more packaging waste we generate. Environmentally conscious consumers have started calling for waste management, such as recyclable or less wasteful packaging. It’s also a socially responsible move for shippers to be concerned about their environmental impact.
Shippers need to seek innovative solutions to reduce waste generated by packaging. The good news is that there are plenty of strategies worth trying try: new materials within boxes, new and better boxes and better consumer education.
1. Turn to New Packaging Materials
Shippers can start by reducing the volume of packaging materials in each parcel and by making them out of recycled material.
Many shippers have already phased out packing peanuts, since Styrofoam is notoriously difficult to recycle, and replaced them with plastic bags filled with air. These weigh almost nothing, which can save shippers money. But it’s important to ensure that the plastic waste is recyclable—and that end customers know that.
Shredded paper is a good option for items that aren’t breakable, but need to be kept in place. Your firm may not have enough shredded paper to pack every item you ship. Start by figuring out exactly how much you generate, and perhaps you could introduce it to the shipping of one or two lines of small products.
A general waste directive best practice is to minimize the amount of filler material in each package. It’s tempting to surround each object with bubble wrap, padding and air pockets, but it’s seldom necessary.
To reduce your overall use of packaging materials, you’ll need better-designed boxes. That brings us to step two.
2. Adopt Cartonization Software and Technology
Shippers have been looking for ways to shrink their packages since carriers began basing fees on dimensional divisors about five years ago. Many are beginning to turn to cartonization software, which helps them design and produce custom boxes for their products or fit their products better in existing boxes.
First, if your company has the resources and production volume to make custom boxes for each item, consider doing so. You can all but eliminate the unnecessary space that needs to be filled with packaging materials by choosing to use eco-friendly packaging.
Second, cartonization can make your whole fulfillment process more efficient, reducing both waste and spending. Do purchasing agents know how many items fit on a pallet? Do warehouse stockers know which cartons they should use for which items? Several reliable technology companies have introduced this kind of software, and it’s constantly improving.
In both cases, companies need to consider pricing. If you try to ship parcels that are large but lightweight, you’ll face dimensional divisor-based rates, which are usually higher than standard rates. But if you ship too many small parcels, you may feel you’re paying too much because you’ll encounter minimum carrier fees.
Software can be immensely helpful in making these complex decisions. If you’re curious about cartonization but not sure where to begin, a Reveel consultant can help. Reach out to us today.
3. Incorporate Educational Materials Into Your Packaging
Most Americans are set in their recycling habits. Maybe they throw soda cans and glass bottles into the bin but paper ends up in the trash. Maybe they think they can recycle corrugated cardboard but not cereal boxes. So even if your packaging material is recyclable, end-line customers might not know proper waste disposal.
This could be as simple as printing a large “recyclable” logo on each box, or adding a sticker that explains how to dispose of shredded paper and air-filled bags.
Remember, these instructions can also be good for your brand. Consumers value corporate social responsibility, and reminding them that your packages are recyclable not only helps them make eco-friendly choices for themselves — it tells them that you share their values.
Finally, if you’re serious about reducing your company’s packaging waste stream, examine your own supply chain to find out where and how your packaging materials are made. If they aren’t already made from recycled or biodegradable materials, consider a new supplier. Also, make sure you’re recycling in-house materials.
By ensuring your materials are sustainable from end to end— manufacturing to packaging to the end consumer’s disposal— your company can demonstrate to an increasingly eco-conscious public that you’re serious about reducing waste generation.
Plus, of course, you’ll reduce waste. We’re all grateful for that.