Excessive packaging – the war rages on

On-line shoppers are continually frustrated by the excessive amount of packaging and ridiculous waste, as even the tiniest of items are being delivered to them in huge packages.

While we all love bubble wrap, and it’s a great stress-reliever, over-sized, excessive packaging must become a thing of the past and soon!

Chris Choi battles with excess packaging.

Chris Choi battles with excess packaging. Credit: ITV News

Frustrated customers increasingly voice their frustration at the amount of excessive packaging that online retailers use. Their homes will be filled to bursting this Christmas with excessive packaging – over-sized, excessive, unwanted and environmentally unfriendly packaging and with ecommerce in the UK expected to grow massively, this problem is only getting worse (1). The UK produces more than 31 million tonnes of waste each year. Just a tonne of rubbish is equivalent to the size of a small car. At least 12.5 million tonnes of paper and cardboard are produced in the UK every year, which on average is around 200kg per person. This shoots up rapidly at Christmas time as people exchange gifts. Other shoppers express just how fed-up they were with the huge boxes stuffed with huge amounts of infill such as, polystyrene packaging peanuts, bubble wrap, air bags or brown wrapping paper along with the item. Although there is a need for protective packaging for delicate items, shoppers constantly add pictures to social media exposing just how much packaging arrives in the post for even the smallest parcel, with comments such as: ‘What an incredibly wasteful way of packaging a tiny unbreakable item.’

What happens if excessive packaging continues?

We have all seen and heard the recent war on waste on TV, news articles and features regarding recycling waste, fly tipping and the environmental damage and issues all UK house holds increasingly face(4). It has become our responsibility to recycle waste responsibly. But at what cost? Many local councils now charge for use of their recycling centres but with our recycling bins already overflowing on to pavements, and landfill in short supply we think, in short, we can only be facing increased refuse, waste and recycling costs.

Why are our parcels excessively packaged?

Many large UK online retailers and/or third party logistics companies, known as 3PLs, who fulfil, pack and ship for retailers, continue to excessively package our items because they have the following concerns and pressures to contend with:
  • Speed – we all expect our orders to be on our doorstep next-day in perfect condition;
  • Inefficient operation – leads to increased costs, time and overheads, especially at peak times, such as Christmas;
  • Labour – more labour required to manually cut boxes to size to suit items;
  • Damages – leading to returns and a poor customer experience;
  • Lost products – resulting in additional cost for replacement items;
  • Poorly packaged items – causing customer dissatisfaction and negative publicity;
  • Changes in demand – varying peaks in demand and ensure products get to customers on time;
  • Price pressures – packaging operation needs to be efficient and as cost effective as possible;
  • Shipping costs – being a relatively high percentage of costs, returns need to be kept to a minimum.
While many large retailers have promised to slash the amount of packaging used, after reading this list of concerns and pressures they face, we begin to appreciate why the excessive packaging problem persists.

Can retailers prevent and stop excessive packaging?

Since 2015, Australian and US retailers and 3PLs have been charged to ship items by DIM weight (5), which is by volume/volumetric weight, meaning they are charged for the size of the package where the dimensional volume weight exceeds actual weight of the item being shipped. This has forced large US and AU retailers to reduce or remove as much empty volume within parcels and packages as much as possible, which has now started to be mirrored in the UK and Europe. There are now automated machines and systems on the market (such as BoxSizer®) that can re-size and/or size boxes on-demand, so there is no reason to continue excessively packaging. In fact with the right system in place everyone will quickly benefit. References: 1. https://www.techbullion.com/future-outlook-predictions-uk-digital-commerce-market/ 4. https://www.itv.com/news/2016-12-06/itv-news-investigates-retailers-excessive-packaging-in-deliveries/ 5. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dimensional_weight