Designing for Sustainability – How to Reduce E-Commerce Waste in the Packaging Design Phase

This article has also been published in the Packaging Strategies October 2018 issue.

By Jerome Magniet, President, Global Market Development – Food, Aptar Food + Beverage

As e-commerce continues to grow, consumers are putting greater pressure on retailers and packaging manufacturers to lessen the impact that packaging has on our environment. According to GlobalData (globaldata.com), ethical packaging has become a more mainstream “must have” quality when purchasing a product. Sustainability-conscious consumers are seeking packaging that aligns with the circular economy concepts of designing out waste and pollution.

Today, excess waste from the e-commerce supply chain is piling up in garbage and recycling bins around the world. Mixed in with unnecessary tertiary packaging waste are the damaged products that did not survive the e-commerce supply chain.

Brands and retailers are taking extreme measures to protect packages that have not been designed to withstand the rough e-commerce distribution. They are taping spray nozzles, bagging liquid products and securing rigid lids to address the common issues of products leaking, caps untwisting and rigid packages cracking. Additionally, brands are using excessive tertiary packaging to protect goods. Besides creating an unpleasant unboxing experience to consumers, tertiary packaging creates waste since it is not always recyclable and often discarded upon arrival.

Energy waste is one more factor that needs attention. When products are damaged during shipping, not only are the products themselves ruined, they often end up in landfills, and the energy used to create, transport and dispose of the products is wasted. To replace the damaged item, additional energy is used to manufacture one additional item, its packaging and protective packaging as well as the additional carbon emissions generated from transportation.

Partnering for Packaging Progress

The hashtag #packagingfail has grown in popularity on social media as shoppers continually receive single items inside enormous boxes with excess air pillows or have to untape, unbag and break down excessive packaging. There are many protective layers used in today’s shipping practices but, the truth is, it’s not all needed.

E-commerce giants such as Amazon are actively working to address issues of oversized boxes and protective packaging through the Amazon Packaging Certification program. A 2017 press release stated that the program contributed to eliminating 181,000 tons of packaging and 307 million boxes since its launch 10 years ago.

While this addresses some of the waste issues, the responsibility also falls on manufacturers, suppliers and CPGs to reduce product waste and minimize excess tertiary packaging. Packaging companies can make a difference by collaborating with retailers like Amazon. One way to do this is through Amazon’s Packaging Support and Supplier Network (APASS) program. With this certification, packaging companies provide services directly to vendors, sellers or manufacturers related to packaging design and testing in compliance with Amazon’s guidelines and certification test methods. In addition, packaging manufactures also have the opportunity to partner with regulatory agencies to set standards for recyclability through public policy.

Companies should also consider partnering with waste management suppliers to better understand the recycling stream and to play a role in educating our communities about recycling practices.

A Packaging Design Mind Shift

When it comes to responsible packaging, a “Design for Sustainability” (D4S) approach is key for the development of future products. Companies need to consider how a product should be designed according to where it will have an impact along its life cycle.

Companies can also implement an eco-design approach using lightweight designs that will still withstand the rough e-commerce shipping and handling supply chain. They can also start to reduce the use of raw materials and seek opportunities to use mono-materials to improve the recyclability of the product at the end of its life. Identifying and using renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind power and hydroelectric energy, are additional sustainable practices that manufacturers can implement.

CPG brands should also look to partner with packaging companies that provide e-commerce–capable solutions such as sealing technologies, locking actuators, snap-top closures and pouch fitments. These solutions are engineered to withstand the vibrations, pressure changes and drops that occur in the e-commerce supply chain, therefore reducing product waste.

By rethinking primary packaging for the e-commerce supply chain, brands can reduce secondary and tertiary packaging waste, energy and damaged products. While a primary packaging redesign is an upfront investment, brands that significantly lower charges associated with shipping damage will contribute to downstream savings and bottom-line efficiencies. By partnering to reduce e-commerce packaging waste and to create design solutions that suit both brick-and-mortar as well as e-commerce business models, brands will see fewer effects to their bottom line associated with damaged products while providing consumers with the e-commerce experience they deserve.

 

Jerome Magniet is the President of Global Market Development  – Food for Aptar Food + Beverage. He has 20 years of experience in innovation and renovation strategies, marketing, R&D, and people development. Prior to his current role, Magniet spent 17 years at Nestlé and held multiple roles with international assignments, including the innovation program director where he was responsible for breakthrough innovations across the value chain for systems and products. Visit www.aptar.com, and follow Aptar on LinkedIn and Twitter at @aptar.