Balancing Sustainability: Innovations in E-Commerce Packaging

Five innovative ways to lead sustainability in E-commerce packaging


01 August, 2023

Table of contents

Ever since the pandemic, E-commerce has seen gushing growth. In 2021, e-commerce sales were summed to a total of $5.1 million. The market is estimated to increase by 49%, valuing $7.6 million by 2026.

With this surge and growing consumer interest in being eco-friendly, the manufacturers of the products are going under immense pressure to offer sustainable packaging in addition to creative ways to implement a unique unboxing technique.

While thinking of e-commerce packaging, the manufacturers are keeping their minds on efficiency, customer experience, and satisfaction. More than that, they are finding ideas that balance their brand image and reduce single-use waste.

In the last six years, the capacity of packaging in global e-commerce has increased by an average annual growth of 20,1%. This drives the major goal for the producers to decrease the damage occurring in the environment due to the production and its waste. Furthermore, the use of plastic in e-commerce packaging is forecasted to grow to 4,5 billion pounds by 2025 (double the weight in the last six years). According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the global plastic recycling rate is 9%, leading the majority of the capacity to waste landfills.

There are only a few brands that take this matter seriously and work on reducing and eliminating excessive items, circumventing the shipping air in large boxes to avoid transportation emissions, and attaining zero waste.

Compact Packaging

DS Smith's research displays that over 85 m^3 of air is present in oversized packages that are being shipped to the houses of the UK every year. Around 86.000 tonnes of excess CO2 are emitted because of this and it needs a filling material that can stock 36 times the O2 level of London.

CVP Everest and Impack machines, created by Sparck Technologies, have succeeded in making more than 100m compact boxes around the world. The company evaluates that it has saved up to 34.250.000sq-m of space in cardboard. EcoCubly has produced reusable boxes that can extend to fit anything that is shipped. An Australian hair care brand named Formi has made sure that its products are correctly sized kraft boxes. Heights, a supplement brand from the UK, has manufactured packaging that is flat enough to fit in letterboxes.

Vahdam, an Indian company, provides its tea sample sets in gift packaging that also fits in letterboxes and can be used another time. Lenox recrafted its packaging to be more omnichannel and available to ship with its own container. This package is 83% lightweight and 78% small in size. Chinese brand Stellar Works is providing its flat-packed chair in packaging that is slightly larger than the seat’s diameter.

Capable of Returning

Returnability has always been a part of zero-waste packaging solutions. Returnity (US) states that around 7 usage cycles are showing a transparent benefit to the environment and expects its three top-ranked brands will be displacing the 20m pieces in single-use packaging.

Australia's Returnr is delivering groceries weekly with a reusable, and returnable container and bottle (which are free) that can be refilled and stored on the shelf. Mondial Relay, a French delivery company, collaborated with Hipli to design a shipping package that can be reused over 100 times. This reduces 300.000 tonnes of packaging waste in shipping per year happening in France. Vytal is a German company that offers Europe’s biggest digital structure for reusable packaging with no deposit. Its tagline is #UseMeBabyOneMoreTime and partners with more than 6.000 restaurants across Germany, Austria, and France. Packhelp, a Polish company, provides reusable packaging that withstands 100 cycles in logistics and its polypropylene structure makes it to be recycled up to 8 times.

Constructed with Paper

Paper is becoming the top material in e-commerce packaging with many advantages over single-use plastic. Its recycling rate is five times of plastic, can be recycled up to 7 times (2 times for plastic), and quickly biodegrades in landfills in 2 months (500 years for plastic).

Flexi-Hex has a protective strong sleeve that is patented from the honeycomb structure. The product has zero plastic and occupies 5 times lesser volume than the bubble wrap, resulting in reduced transport emissions. Germany’s first online retailer Otto (GmbH & Co KG) is shipping the orders in compostable mailers. These bags are produced from grass paper and upcycled waste from a plant that degrades in two weeks. Mondi introduced a Protector Bag named ExpandForm to be in the packaging system of a mattress brand Megaflex Schaumstoff. The package will give the product access to breathe. A Danish startup RE-ZIP offers its customers gift vouchers to encourage them to return the bags to a drop point where they are cleaned and ready to be reused.

Advancement in Materials

Using advanced materials is opening up various possibilities for packaging to achieve sustainability, reducing components of plastics that are easily biodegradable and recyclable.

Woola, an Estonian brand, is using waste wool to produce padded envelopes without any petrochemicals to replace bubble wrap. US’s Sealed Air has released its paper-wrapping systems made for retailers in e-commerce made with honeycomb paper and interleaf tissues that act as cushions and protect the products. Filtrona has a Rippatape Halo, a zero-plastic easy-open tear tape for boxes. The material used is a result of a single-ply, specialized coated paper. Germany’s Tesa created a packing tape with a paper backing, organic rubber adhesives, and natural resin. It can be recycled while it is still attached to the e-commerce box.

Memorable Unboxing Moments

With keeping sustainable packaging at heart, the manufacturers are also expected to keep creativity in their minds. Consumers are looking for brands to come up with thoughtful and innovative boxes that are interesting and fun to open.

Skin+Me, a dermatology brand from the UK, has launched a mailer shape that is different and crush-proof from transport. Additionally, it provides an adequate amount of storytelling when opened. The South Korean brand Gentle Monster partnered with Blackpink’s Jennie to create an unboxing experience with pedestal castors that will roll out when the ribbon in the outer packaging is pulled. Bromelias de Colombia is using a decorative shape that will crush resistance while in transit when it designs a striking structure for its packaging that gives a unique unboxing experience.

Cover Image: Formi Australia, courtesy WGSN