What a load of rubbish

03. December 2018, Editorial

With more and more people making purchases online rather than in bricks and mortar stores, the amount of packaging waste cities have to deal with is growing all the time – particularly around Christmas. At the same time, consumers are calling on their favourite brands to up their sustainability game. But how can these two trends ever be reconciled? Very well, in fact, thanks to a number of innovative companies out there.


mountain of trash
sustainable packaging
wie mans besser macht

One of the biggest issues surrounding online shopping is the sheer volume of air that comes with each delivery. This is known in the trade as “shipping air”. Picture a small box containing an item, placed inside a much larger box and then held securely in place with air-filled cushions to protect it from damage in transit.


While this belt-and-braces approach ensures that the product gets to its destination intact – apparently, the average parcel bumps the ground 17 times before it reaches the recipient – it also means that many consumers simply view all the packing materials and extra boxes as wasteful. A win-lose situation. So, with this in mind, companies are increasingly looking for ways to transform this into a double win, without taking anything away from the convenience offered by online shopping. But that’s easier said than done.

An expensive business

The issue is as follows. It is safe to assume that the online retail sector will continue to grow. In the USA alone it expanded by 16% in 2017. By way of comparison, the retail sector as a whole grew by 3.8% during the same period. And it is mainly private individuals that are taking in all these parcels. Which was not always the case. Before online retail took off, the majority of parcels were bound for retailers who would sell the products at their point of sale, i.e. without any additional packaging. Taking the US in isolation, the growth of online shopping has seen the number of parcels shipped reach 165 billion a year. And in San Francisco this has forced the city’s hand, with an increase in the tax on waste needed to ensure refuse collection services are able to keep on top of the additional burden. Every day around 625 tonnes of reusable material accumulates in the northern Californian city, about 100 tonnes of which is cardboard. And with it looking like no-one is willing to go without online shopping, another solution has to be found – which is precisely what one start-up a short distance from San Francisco is working on.

Two thousand to one

Sustainable reusable packaging is not totally a new thing. The problem is that only around a quarter of people in the USA recycle their parcels. Many have no idea it is even possible or how it works.

The revolution of the way that online stores ship their deliveries.

With this in mind, Californian company LimeLoop has come up with a new system. Their dispatch bags – made using billboard vinyl – are durable, light and waterproof, and can be cleaned and repaired. Perfect for repeated use, over and over again. According to the company, its pouches can be put into action around 2,000 times. Saving pretty much the equivalent of 2,000 single-use parcels. All customers have to do is return the pouches after removing their orders, putting them back into circulation. Even though this is free, it still requires customers to play their part by putting the bags in the post box. But what if even that is too much effort?

Heightened environmental awareness

Concerns over participation were at the forefront of everyone’s minds at Finland-based company RePack, who created a reward system to go with their reusable packaging solution. Anyone who sends back their packaging via free post – when empty, the shipping materials can be folded down to the size of a standard letter – is given a discount the next time they make a purchase. They want to use this model to save the world from drowning in garbage.


Something that is desperately needed. If we continue to use so much plastic there will be more bottles than fish in the sea by 2050. The 165 billion packages used in America have to be produced in the first place – they come from around a billion trees that also have to be taken out of our environment. In response, there are companies that plant a tree for each product they sell – Woodchuck, an American timber producer, being one of them. Since 2015 the company has planted more than 1.3 million trees worldwide, and it expects to hit the 10 million mark by 2021. And individual consumers can always take a look in a local store for certain products, rather than automatically ordering online. While this might not save a whole tonne to begin with, every little helps. Taken together it has the capacity to turn into something really big. Particularly at Christmas time it is the gift that keeps on giving: one present for a loved one, and one for our environment.

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