While home deliveries were already booming pre-COVID-19, the pandemic pushed e-commerce into overdrive. With this in mind, we explore how packaging producers are meeting unparalleled demand with sustainable solutions that are safe, protective and hygienic, as well as how circular systems are eliminating waste in the new e-commerce era.
Meeting the demands of DTC
Excess packaging continues to be a pressing issue for consumers purchasing via e-commerce. In 2020, 93% of Americans received packages with excess space inside the box, and 73% received packages twice the size or more than necessary. Time to ditch double boxing.
Sony is packaging its home theatre system in an L-shaped box instead of a traditional rectangular one, with the packaging wrapping around the exact shape of its contents to eliminate unused space. The switch has reduced transport CO2 emissions by 15%.
Nivea has collaborated with Amazon India to create 100% recyclable, plastic-free boxes for its skincare products that don’t require additional outer packaging. They’re 15% lighter than its previous shipping boxes and support Amazon’s Frustration Free Packaging initiative.
Nike ships its Space Hippie sneakers in a single 90% recycled and 100% recyclable shoebox printed with plant-based ink – ditching the double box altogether.
Safe & Secure
Thanks to COVID-19 contamination fears, hygiene is a key consumer e-commerce packaging concern. To help allay these concerns, multinational packaging producer DS Smith and US coatings manufacturer Touchguardhave developed a patented anti-viral coating for cardboard delivery packaging. It’s proven to kill 99.5% of a number of given viruses and bacteria (including COVID-19) within 15 minutes of contamination, while still allowing for 100% recyclability.
Light & Low Profile
Low profile, lightweight packaging options that count as a large letter and fit through the letterbox have gained new relevance as brands seek convenience and lower delivery costs.
Optimised for All Purposes
Consumer demand and retailer requirements for sustainable and easy to open packaging (such as Amazon’s Frustration Free Packaging Programme) have left some brands struggling to develop packs that work across shop shelves and e-commerce.
British brand Garçon Wines’ trademark flat wine bottle is a best-practice example of a format born from necessity, with the potential to disrupt an entire industry. The company initially developed the recycled PET bottle for letterbox gifting, but has demonstrated its relevance across the supply chain.
Its lighter weight and pragmatic shape means more bottles fit on a palette, resulting in reduced transport emissions and cost efficiencies, with the business reporting great wins in the context of Brexit-related haulage implications. It also saves space on shop shelves and in consumer fridges. The flat bottles are already sold in large supermarkets across Sweden and Finland, where PET bottle return rates are 84% and 90% respectively (Reloop Platform, 2020), adding to the bottle’s sustainability success story.
FMCG brands and restaurant businesses are embracing reusable packaging systems to reduce waste in the e-commerce era. In line with this thinking, businesses are stripping single-use plastics from their offerings to avert consumer criticism and meet new government waste regulations.
Reusable Shippers Cut Emissions
US start-up Boox is reducing e-commerce cardboard waste by loaning brands its colourful reusable Velcro-sealed plastic boxes. These can be used up to 200 times before being reduced to plastic chips and remade into new boxes. The recipient can use the box to make returns to the brand, or fold it down and send it back to Boox to be cleaned and used again. Brands using the service include London’s Ren Skincare, LA fashion brand Boyish Jeans, and Massachusetts seasoning merchant Curio Spice Co.
Olive offers a service (via a browser extension) whereby consumers can consolidate multiple online purchases from different brands into one shipment, delivered in a single reusable shipper within a week. The durable box can then be used for returns, or collected empty by Olive.
Keeping Packaging in the System
TerraCycle’s zerowaste packaging initiative Loop allows consumers to choose to have products delivered in refillable packaging inside a protective reusable container, which in turn can be returned to Loop to be recirculated again. The rentable approach is also being adopted by brands in-house, like UK produce delivery company Abel & Cole. Members of its Club Zero service are sent loose pantry items like pasta, rice and oats in reusable and recyclable plastic pots to be collected upon their next delivery. Similarly, Dutch grocery delivery service Pieter Pot delivers its goods in glass jars and pots transported in burlap sacks. The jars are collected dirty (to avoid spills) upon next delivery. Since launching in 2020, the service claims to have saved 180,000 items of disposable packaging. Canadian company Fresh Prep is applying this thinking to meal kits, creating a zero-waste packaging system. Each pre-portioned ingredient comes in a reusable plastic and silicone container, which fits neatly into an outer case for stability, and slots straight into the fridge.
Protecting your products and ensuring the delivery boxes are not full of plastic or un-recycled material is another key factor. Only about 9 percent of all plastic waste is currently recycled and as such, single-use plastic packaging accounts for nearly half the plastic waste found in nature. prAna In August, prAna, an early member of the US Plastic Impact Alliance and a leader in sustainable, outdoor fashion, announced the Responsible Packaging Movement, a program designed to create industry-wide change. Since 2010, prAna has successfully eliminated more than 17 million polybags from the supply chain and its new initiative takes it a step further by collaborating with other industry brands.
Vela – a durable, paper polybag alternative, Vela bags are weather resistant and protect their contents from humidity, moisture, and dust. A product of family-owned Seaman Paper, a company that now focuses on lightweight paper solutions used in packaging, the Vela bag officially launched at the beginning of this month. Although the bag was designed with apparel companies in mind, it has potential beyond that.
Flexi-Hex is a range of plastic-free packaging solutions made from recycled cardboard that use a honeycomb design and are ideal for replacing bubble wrap. Flexi-Hex Air is a lighter, tissue paper-based packaging ideal for smaller, fragile objects.
Circular Meal Deliveries
Reusable packaging start-ups are helping restaurants offer sustainable meal delivery options.
BarePack – a sustainable takeout packaging start-up is collaborating with meal delivery service Deliveroo to offer customers the option of deliveries in its reusable boxes and cups from participating restaurants for a small deposit. Further examples include New York’s DeliverZero & Dispatch Goods.
Starbucks South Korea will eliminate all disposable cups by 2025, replacing them with a circular cup system.
Wake Up Call for Legacy Brands
Legacy brands often find it hard to bring new news or to stay relevant. What better way to make your legacy brand shine bright?
Unilever is using a new technology to launch the first ever paper-based laundry detergent bottle. This ground-breaking technology has been developed in partnership with the Pulpex consortium, a collaboration between Unilever, Diageo, Pilot Lite and other industry members.
In Italy, a pouch for Finish Powerball Quantum dishwasher pods from Reckitt Benckiser uses a 100%-recyclable mono-material film supplied by Mondi.
A new bag-in-box package for Dreftlaundry liquid, the Eco-Box, sold via e-commerce from Procter & Gamble contains 60% less plastic than a traditional rigid container. And P&Ghave also unveiled its first paper bottle for Lenor in partnership with Paboco, which is set for a pilot trial in Western Europe in 2022.
Somat Excellence 4in1 dishwasher caps from Henkel. A cardboard-plastic lid, an innovative lid solution from Greiner Packaging.
L’Oréalis collaborating with French packaging company Albéa to redesign standard cosmetic tubing. The carton-based tube uses a paper-like biomaterial to replace most of the plastic that is traditionally used in cosmetic containers.
No More Virgin Materials
The beauty industry’s packaging waste problem is widely reported.
Considering that L’Oréal alone produced over 137,000 metric tons of plastic packaging in 2019 (Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 2020), the need for change is urgent. The multinational is taking action through a partnership with international carbon recycler LanzaTech and energy company Total, which has resulted in the world’s first plastic packaging made from captured carbon emissions.
After a redesign, bottles of German haircare brand Nature Box are almost entirely made from Social Plastic – plastic that has been collected by people living in poverty before it can enter oceans and waterways. The company is now working to replace the remaining 2% of virgin plastic with recycled content, too.
US haircare brand R+Co’s new diffusion line marries luxury and sustainability. Bottles and jars are made of 100% post-consumer-recycled material, canisters are 100% aluminium, and tubes are constructed from bioresin sugarcane plastic – and all come in rich, saturated shades.
What does this mean for your brand?
Act on Consumer Feedback
Consumers are faced with more choice than ever before, and they’re not afraid to look elsewhere if a brand’s packaging doesn’t meet their sustainability standards. Make sure their concerns are heard – for example, via apps like Jybe, which scores restaurants on sustainability-based consumer feedback – and make the necessary amendments.
Do you need help viewing consumer behaviour from a different perspective? Let’s discuss how to approach this.
Consider Peripheral Circular Services
With the adoption of circular packaging solutions picking up pace globally, think more broadly about the kinds of services that may be needed to ensure their success going forward – like Dishcraft, which washes reusable packaging items. For example, can you provide logistics for packaging collection? We can help you communicate this positive change to your consumers.
Wake up. Wake up. Wake up.
Time to act now, if you haven’t already. Burying your head in the sand is no longer an option. What change are you going to make and how are you going to communicate those changes for good to your consumer, especially avoiding being tarnished as ‘green-washing’. Let’s work together in identifying your ‘changes for good’ opportunities and explore how they can be communicated in an engaging and compelling way.