Sustainable packaging in e-commerce: what will the future bring?

Online shopping is quick, simple and convenient – which is why it is often the preferred choice for consumers. So it is little wonder that e-commerce remains very much on-trend. But what about all that packaging? It is rarely reused, and generally ends up in the trash can. It is far from sustainable – so what can be done?

Sustainability is becoming ever more important. So it is no surprise that there are growing calls for more eco-friendly packaging for shipments. Against this backdrop, the eCommerce Competence Center, an internal consulting team at logistics company Arvato Supply Chain Solutions, has recently conducted a study into the latest packaging trends in the fashion and beauty industry.

“Although the issue of sustainability has been gaining renewed attention, not least since the Fridays for Future movement, there is still plenty of catching up to do,” explains Franziska Kier, Senior Consultant at the eCommerce Competence Center. “While many companies are using sustainable materials and clearly communicate that fact, only 15 percent allow the consumer to consciously opt out of additional tissue paper or plastic, or to opt in favor of used cardboard.”

A survey conducted by Smurfit Kappa, a leading provider of cardboard packaging, arrives at a similar conclusion for the United Kingdom. So innovative solutions are needed.

Is reusable packaging the way to go?

In addition to using the right box size for the goods to be shipped, there are other ways to conserve resources, namely through reusability. For example, the Finnish company RePack offers delivery packages (mailing envelopes) made from recycled plastic: the customer receives the goods they ordered in a RePack. After receipt, they simply fold it up to the size of a standard letter and place it in a letterbox for free-of-charge return to RePack – who then do the rest. In addition to companies such as Avocadostore and Tchibo*, the online commerce specialist Zalando* has also performed a trial with a reusable system. Moreover, this year RePack plans to roll out the mailing envelopes in the USA and to run a pilot project in Canada.

Sustainable packaging is climbing up the agenda at many companies. It remains to be seen which of the many innovative ideas succeed in the longer term – and make our online experience “greener”.

*in German only