Reusable Packaging: The Sustainable Future

Packaging is the 'single-use' problem of eCommerce. Reusable packaging gives an opportunity to improve sustainability and customer experience.

Everyone loves great packaging with the new frontier being reusable packaging. As online retailers, we spend vast amounts of time, energy and money trying to create that customer wow factor when the package arrives through the door. The packaging is a significant opportunity to surprise and delight our customers; however, this moment can be fleeting. Beautifully designed packaging quickly ripped open and discarded.

While the upside for our business is hard to quantify, the impact on the environment is clear. Millions of tons of packaging discarded every year, within seconds of use by the end consumer.

One clear battlefront in reducing the environmental impact is the packaging material itself. Even with more sustainable material, any product made for ‘single-use’ is always going to be an issue for the planet. Using valuable natural resources during both the creation and disposal of a product only used for a short period is a significant problem.

A solution is reusable packaging with three of the leading reusable packaging examples below.

1. No Packaging!

Instead of sending products in disposable packaging, why not use more heavy-duty materials designed to protect the product during delivery and then be taken away by the courier and reused. This idea of reusable shipping boxes is commonplace with online grocery shopping (or should be) so why not with other online products.

Chinese powerhouse recently announced they would allow customers to have thousands of products delivered in reusable transport packaging for small and medium-sized parcels, making e-commerce more environmentally friendly and reducing costs. Reusable Green Packaging Box

“By using this green packaging, and taking part in our other innovative recycling programs, JD’s customers can enjoy the convenience of e-commerce while knowing that their purchases have involved minimal carbon emissions.”

Bing Fu, Head of Planning and Development, JD Logistics

2. Reusable Packaging: Return the packaging

Another approach is to design packaging for repeat use. By incentivising customers to send back and reuse packaging, a once single-use product becomes something used repeatedly. Increased packaging price per item balanced by an overall reduction in cost due to less packaging volume.

Smart retailers, in turn, offer store credit as payment for the returned packaging. A fundamental sustainability improvement, a reduction in packaging costs, and a new retention strategy to encourage repeat customers. While far from simple to implement, a potential win-win for everyone.

Repack is a European based company leading the way in this field. They provide retailers with reusable shipping bags with customers incentivised to send back the packaging. Repack recently partnered with Patagonia and Australia Post to launch a pilot scheme for reusable packaging in Australia.

Infographic showing how RePack Reusable Packaging Cycle Works

3. Reusable Packaging: Alternate use

Once packaging has completed its work protecting your new purchase, another strategy for reusable packaging would be to find a secondary application.

One of the purest examples is ensuring packaging is reused for returns. By creating resealable bags and boxes, packaging lasts twice as long, with customers also provided an improved returns experience. Retailers are then also in possession of the used packaging, with further reuse or recycling possible in collaboration with the manufacturers.

Premium brands, in particular, have a pivotal opportunity to leverage their brand image with reusable packaging. By working out ways in which packaging can be given a secondary use, whether as a storage box or shopping bag, the brand desirability ensures customers look to retain and reuse rather than disposing of.

Gucci Box that can be reused for storage

Further Reading: Plastic Packaging Alternative: Sulapac. Read More

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