Does online shopping have a cardboard box problem?
With all those cardboard boxes piling up on doorsteps, what’s the cost for retailers and society?
The most obvious is environmental. Cardboard is more biodegradable than plastic, but the problem is that consumers are poor recyclers.
The Fibre Box Association contends that while 90 percent of corrugated packaging gets recycled, the leftover 10 percent still adds up.
Part of the reason is the overall confusion over what is recyclable. Consumers also don’t effectively break down the corrugated cardboard boxes to optimally fit them onto trucks. Any shrink or bubble wrap has to be removed at the recycling facility and can clog machines.
Some new sources of packaging, such as ice packs that support meal kits, are challenging to recycle, according to reports.
Moreover, the industry is trending toward speedy delivery, making it less likely retailers will have extra days to include more items from an order in a single box rather than needing to send out multiple boxes.
In an interview last year with NBC News, Heidi Sanborn of the California Product Stewardship Council said that while corporations have a responsibility to reduce package waste, consumers need to “be thoughtful and to tell companies, ‘Hey, I don’t want all this waste. I want to buy products that are in reduced packaging, or reusable packaging.'”
A Wall Street Journal article last month noted that Amazon.com is working on reducing the use of multiple boxes in orders and shrinking the size of its boxes in part because of environment concerns, particularly among Millennials. Other reasons include reducing shipping costs and the “general nuisance” of cardboard overflowing in garages.
Steps Amazon is taking include adding bubble envelopes for smaller items and tweaking algorithms to ship more items together. Some manufacturers are coming up with smaller packages specifically for online orders.
In a 2016 New York Times article, Don Fullerton, a professor of finance and an expert in economics and the environment at the University of Illinois, said one solution would be to make retailers responsible for taking back the boxes to encourage them to come up with more efficient packaging.
- All That Online Shopping Has Cardboard Consequences – NBC News
- Amazon Puzzles Over the Perfect Fit—in Boxes – The Wall Street Journal
- Are Meal Kit Delivery Services Good or Bad for the Environment? – KQED
- Retailers irked over bag ban – Boston Herald
- Recycling Contamination: What It Is, Why It Matters, and Pitfalls to Avoid – Environmental Leader
- E-Commerce: Convenience Built on a Mountain of Cardboard – The New York Times
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: How can retailers do more to reduce the amount of cardboard boxes and packaging that comes with online sales growth? Do you see the reduction of packaging waste as a business imperative?