The environmental benefits of packaging-free shipping

September 4, 2020
StoreShippers - Nienke van Meekeren
September 4, 2020
StoreShippers - Nienke van Meekeren

In the e-commerce sector, sustainability is the magic word for the coming decade. Consumers are becoming increasingly aware of their shopping habits and the impact of their choices on the environment. For online retailers, this means that sustainability is no longer a theme that can be put on the back burner, but a must in order to remain competitive. They understand that sustainability is the key message during the years to come. A great way to get this message across is through the way e-commerce companies pack and ship their orders. This could include the use of sustainable packaging material and reusable packaging, or even better, to ship online orders packaging-free. Let’s take a look at how packaging-free shipping gives online retailers the opportunity to improve their brand values while saving the planet.

The environmental impact
Packaging plays an important role in making the e-commerce sector more sustainable. Every year, hundreds of millions of parcels are transported in the Netherlands alone, consisting of tons of packaging material. These e-commerce packages are on average only 63% full. The remaining space consists of air and void-fill packaging material. The use of excessive packaging material is harmful to the environment, mainly because it causes unnecessary CO emissions in production and a large amount of delivery vans on the road. After all, the more packaging material and air that is shipped, the fewer packages can be transported in one load, the more trucks are on the road and the larger the carbon footprint.

Excessive packaging material causes unnecessary CO₂ emissions

Packaging-free shipping
A convenient and simple way to solve this problem is to ship items without packaging. Online orders are often shipped in a double packaging: in the box of the manufacturer and in the box of the online store. Most items come standard in the original factory packaging upon arrival at the warehouse or store. In many cases, this packaging already offers sufficient protection. Instead of placing orders in a (often too large) extra box, they can simply be shipped in the box of the manufacturer. This is referred to as packaging-fee shipping. If the extra protection of the items are necessary, e-commerce companies can use a reusable shipping box or bag instead of a cardboard box. These reusable bags and boxes come in different sizes, which prevents unnecessary air being shipped.

Sustainable packaging measures can have a significant impact on reducing the direct ecological footprint. More and more companies are therefore researching the possibilities of packaging-free shipping. Bol.com is an example of such a company. In the past year, the company shipped 3.5 million items without the recognizable blue and white Bol.com box to reduce its environmental impact.

The pros
Packaging-free shipping provides a number of advantages:

Packaging-free shipping reduces the environmental impact. It saves space, allowing more shipments to fit in one delivery van, which means a reduction in CO emissions per shipment.
Less CO emissions not only benefit the environment, but also the reputation of the e-commerce company.
Packaging-free shipping is cost-effective. Online stores no longer need to purchase or develop packaging and it simplifies the whole packaging process. This reduces the shipping costs.
Less frustration for consumers who would otherwise be saddled with piles of packaging material.

The cons
On the other hand, packing-free shipping also provides some of challenges:

A con of packaging-free shipping is that online stores miss an opportunity to improve their brand experience through the packaging. For example, the original factory packaging does not show the logo of the online store.
Due to the vulnerability of some items, it is not possible to ship every item without the packaging. 

Our opinion
We at StoreShippers believe that the future of e-commerce logistics depends on its sustainability and efficiency. The way in which products are shipped and packaged plays an important role in making the e-commerce sector more sustainable. The fact that large e-commerce companies such as Bol.com opt for packing-free shipping ensures that smaller companies also get moving and follow suit. This makes it an important step towards a climate neutral e-commerce sector. With ship-from-store the packaging can be limited to a shopping bag only. 

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Blog by: Nienke van Meekeren
Sources used: Analyse Nederland, Bol.com, Duurzaam Bedrijfsleven
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