i3 | January 31, 2017

Reducing the Impact of Packaging

Elliot Grimm

Consumers’ gravitation to online shopping – buying everything from tech devices and house supplies to food for home delivery – shows no signs of slowing down. This year, UPS expects to deliver more than 700 million packages globally in the days between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve.

While this upsurge of online delivery means each year more materials are needed to ship consumers’ orders, tech retailers and manufacturers are taking important steps to optimize packaging to reduce its environmental impact and minimize damage.

Walmart launched its Sustainable Packaging Playbook initiative (PDF) in October 2016, focusing on three key areas for its in-store retail operations—packaging optimization, increased recycling and sustainable sourcing. The plan encourages suppliers to use the How2Recycle label from the Sustainable Packaging Coalition (SPC) to inform consumers how to recycle their product packaging. Walmart’s push into smarter packaging was prompted by some surprising data: two-thirds of consumers don’t recycle empty packages unless there are printed instructions.

Manufacturers and retailers are making strides to use eco-friendly packaging as a way to minimize waste, while also cutting costs for the industry and consumers. Many are investing in more sustainable design, innovating ways to reduce the size and weight of their packaging while also increasing the amount of renewable content.

Amazon, the world’s largest online retailer, ships most of its orders in corrugated containers that, on average, include 43 percent recovered fiber content. In the retailer’s U.S. fulfillment centers, which primarily ship larger products like televisions, Amazon has introduced some packaging materials that are 100 percent recyclable and made of 50 percent recycled material.

And Best Buy last July joined the “I Want To Be Recycled” campaign, an initiative by Keep America Beautiful and the Ad Council to remind consumers to recycle shipping and product packaging. As part of the initiative, all orders shipped from BestBuy.com include customized packaging design that drives consumers to learn where, what and how to properly recycle at IWantToBeRecycled.org.

Manufacturers Help Too

Alongside the efforts of these retailers, manufacturers are also helping advance more sustainable packaging designs. In 2008, Dell launched its 3Cs program – Cube, Content and Curbside – to increase packaging recyclability. Eight years later, the program has upped its goal to eventually make 100 percent of Dell packages from sustainable materials, and by 2020 have them entirely recyclable or compostable. By the beginning of 2016, nearly 72 percent of Dell shipments were packaged in entirely sustainable materials and were recyclable or compostable.

HP implemented initiatives to use less material in packaging and optimize shipping densities for its products in 2012. In less than four years, one of their efforts to reuse wooden pallets has alone saved more than 23 million feet of lumber. And Microsoft has made its mobile packaging more than 95 percent fiber-based, out of which more than 78 percent comes from recycled materials. Even more remarkable, all Microsoft mobile packaging is 100 percent recyclable.

These companies and others are bringing about a new era of sustainability in the consumer tech industry. On top of innovating lighter, thinner, more sustainable and energy-effi cient products, the industry’s efforts toward smarter packaging are helping ensure consumers can enjoy their favorite tech devices and support a healthier future.

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