Will sustainable packaging become an ecommerce differentiator?

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One of the joys of attending Internet Retailing Expo regards the conversations you have and the viewpoints you hear. And there was a keen discussion about whether sustainable packaging is the way forward and how it, perhaps, may become a norm as consumers demand it in future.

Indeed, several suppliers exhibiting at #IRX18 were extolling the green and sustainable aspect of the packaging materials they sell. It was fascinating, for instance, to observe one demonstrate a cardboard based product, made from recycled materials, that offered all of the protection required in transit like plastic bubble wrap.

And paper products offer several environmental advantages over plastic. Firstly, they can often be made from recycled paper material, or otherwise sustainable wood resources can be used. But importantly they are also biodegradable and don’t persist in the ecosystem for thousands of years like plastics do.

And there is no doubt that the consensus has changed and Sir David Attenborough is the driving force. His recent Blue Planet II programmes that looked at the devastating impact that plastic items in the sea have on wildlife and the environment in general has opened up eyes to their polluting damage to a wider public. There have been campaigns to stop single use plastics used by chains such as Starbucks and Wetherspoons and the government is also considering a tax on single-use plastics too akin to the 5p charge for carrier bags.

These are all paraphrased comments from the discussion I had with sellers (my notebook and pen were not poised and ready to take verbatim notes but these vignettes effectively illustrate some of the viewpoints garnered). But the general thrust was striking:

I’m trying to cut down on plastic use in my personal life so it feels wrong not to try and do the same when I’m selling online.

Sometimes shoppers do ask me not to use a Jiffy bag because they can’t be recycled.

It could be good as a marketing angle. Make a big thing of: “we use green packaging”. That could attract customers.

It all depends on the the cost. But if it’s not much more expensive then we’d ditch plastic for paper if it works as well.

It seems like plenty of sellers are willing to consider new systems and materials because the costs are increasingly converging: sustainable packaging is not prohibitively more expensive these days and it is also as effective. And it could soon also be an opportunity for promotion as public concern worries more about plastic use.

26 Responses

  1. The eBay branded packaging listings for the items that can be bought with the monthly coupons states that the bubble mailers and plastic mailers are 100% recyclable.

  2. I don’t think the amount of people willing to pay more is enough to consider it a differentiator.
    Sure there are a few, a higher percentage if you sell, say, health food products or herbal extracts for example.
    but for the vast majority of ebay sellers, no, customers won’t be willing to pay a penny more, the vast majority don’t even bother reading the item description these days, so how are they even going to know about your recycled packaging to make an informed choice? they won’t, never mind be willing to pay more for it.

    if green packaging becomes cheaper than plastic, then it will become the norm.

    massive companies like amazon may need to resort to the will of the vocal minority, with regards to sustainable packaging, especially when they’re forced to provide it at no extra cost to the consumer.
    For the rest of us who need to order a roll of bubblewrap and price accordingly, if you’re going to go green, do it for your own conscience, not for the return on investment.

  3. Packaging is likely to play a differentiating role in a number of ways not just from a sustainability perspective. The USPS Office of Inspector General recently issued a fascinating paper on the subject encouraging shippers think about how they use the outside and inside of the box for a whole host of value adding purposes. Like a lot of USPS OIG papers it is well worth a read.

  4. Well we use about 7 miles of bubble wrap a year, and i can assure you that if we were to change to the ‘eco’ bubble wrap we would pay alot more. Plus you have to question some beliefs… Just because it says eco doesn’t always mean what you think it does. it could mean made from recycled plastic…. to a lesser or greater extent. It could mean it’s bio degradable… but as many now know sometimes this means under certain circumstances which don’t include landfill!. oh an the fact that many councils now use incineration rather than landfill so biodegradable means nothing! Oh and of course the fact that most councils won’t recycle bubble wrap anyway…
    So yes it sounds good, and some will jump at it, but in the real world it doesnt always add up. We howver do reuse any bubble wrap we get with new stock (if possible), we try and source recycled cardboard boxes and indeed again reuse boxes our stock comes in. In fact if we can reuse it we do. We even advertise on our local facebay sites when we have a glut of used boxes so people can have them for free for moving etc. Always popular, a good bit of free advertising and it gets them used more than once rather than straight for recycling.
    So if it isn’t cost effective to resource more eco friendly packaging… make sure you are promoting how you try to reuse and recycle what you do.
    Shame about jiffy packs though as they are extremely useful and time saving.

  5. We do everything we can to re-use waste packaging but a lot of our UK fascinator suppliers still use acetate gift boxes for packaging and protection. Due to the delicate nature of hair fascinators they need boxes to keep them clean and avoid damage. We are hoping to see that more will switch to cardboard over the coming months so all packaging can be recycled.

  6. maybe some thought into the neanderthal courier handling /delivery process could save on bubble wrap and packaging
    we double wrap and wrap again and then wrap again when use my hermes

  7. We use biodegradeable foam chips in cardboard boxes, some customers do object about them thinking they are polystyrene, but they are happy when we explain they dissolve in water.

    Cost can be down to finding the right supplier, I can find plenty of companies selling the same product for nearly twice what I pay.

  8. A cardboard solution is often overlooked due to the manufacture’s emphasis on MOQs.

    Void-fill is only required if you are not using the Right-Size Box.

    Innovative fitment design can often overcome the need for Bubble Wrap protection.

    A Hand Applied paper tape ensures that boxes can easily be recycled.

    Not one of this options need cost you anymore. Truly sustainable options must take into account pricing

  9. One of the things i have approached some of my suppliers of boxed items about, is ask them what percentage of online only customers do they supply.

    Having left the High Street last year to be Online Only, and we were the last of 4 Gift Shops to close down in the town centre, its my belief that the percentage of online and online only retailers in my sector is in the majority and with that, my suggestion is that the suppliers have a look at supplying goods “Ship Ready”, ie the goods arrive already in an outer carton.

    The advantage being that this is done in the manufacturing country so should be cheaper.

    The outer box should not require any in fill.

    Save time at the packing stage.

    Of course this will only work with certain types of product, but as a previous poster said, suppliers should be looking at providing goods “online ready” and we have decided against certain suppliers/products because of the amount or extra work/packaging required to sell online.

    and of course there will still need to be a requirement for packaging if a customer orders multiple items, but the vast majority are single orders.

  10. I am a team member of Protega Global who exhibited at The Internet Retailing EXPO, we were overjoyed by how many big name company representatives came to our exhibition stand and were interested in our sustainable packaging innovations. We have invested a lot of time and money into producing products that will reduce damage in transit, are easy to responsibly recycle and enhance brand perception.

    Unfortunately it will take time for a majority of companies to see the bigger picture and realise that the end users values have changed because they do not want unrecyclable rubbish in their homes and are more likely to make repeat orders with companies who use well thought out, green packaging.

  11. Thanks for visiting our stand Tyler, which product were you interested in? I noticed that you mentioned Loose Fill Chips earlier in the post so based on that I am guessing you may have looked at the Paper Cushioning or the Dynasafe retention packaging which needs no void fill.

    One of the hidden costs we look at is also storage space required for packaging, I am sure you have factored that into your cost analysis. I am glad to hear that you have a extremely low returns rate, we have found that most damages occur when multiple items are packed together and clash during transit, that is why we developed Dynasafe.

  12. Hello Tyler,

    Our Paper Cushioning Machine comes free of charge with a minimum paper roll usage agreement. We have been demonstrating this machine all over the country for the last year which also includes training on the best techniques to apply. We have really enjoyed it when a customer moves away from using the plastic air bags and started using our paper cushioning.

    We are always happy to quote again on the Dynasafe.

    Feel free to give us a call, we are really friendly and are always happy to help. Details on http://www.protega-global.com

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