Posted on May 3, 2024 by Dennis Salazar

E-commerce Packaging Sustainability – Beyond the Good Intentions

Our company has been a leader in sustainable D2C packaging since our inception in 2007. We quickly realized compared to retail product sales, e-commerce shipments were going to create a lot more packaging waste. More importantly, that waste was no longer going to be at the retail store, where empty bulk shipment boxes could be efficiently unpacked, crushed, baled and sold for recycling. In most cases, that OCC (Old Corrugated Containers) waste was processed and used to make the inner “medium” layer of new corrugated board which was then used to make new corrugated boxes. Sadly, when e-commerce waste is generated at home, it is often not recycled the way it should be.

The Problem with Packaging Waste Created at Home

Survey after survey confirms most consumers are in favor of buying products that are packed and shipped using sustainable materials. However, a much smaller percentage are willing to pay extra, if necessary, for more eco-friendly packaging materials.

Unfortunately, the same holds true when the choice is between recycling and not recycling. Almost everyone is in favor of recycling but not everyone does it. So essentially, if you/we make it inexpensive and easy for consumers to do the right thing, more e-commerce consumers will do it.

The Sustainable Solution for E-commerce Packaging

The best way we can help solve this problem is if we (packaging creators and users) help the e-commerce consumers who are not sustainability inclined. In other words, if you can’t count on them to reuse or recycle, we have to utilize intentional design to minimize the amount of packaging that we/you ship into those homes.

Recently some people celebrated Earth Day and I was disappointed by how it has become a non-event. (See first two related posts below) Network and internet news coverage has dwindled to the point where some people realized on Tuesday that they totally missed it. That is sad but I believe it is because many believe packaging sustainability it is a completed task. There may be a lot of conversation and concern about plastic waste in our oceans and global warming, but popular opinion is that packaging is already as sustainable as it can be. As someone who reviews ours and others’ packaging designs daily, I can tell you we are not done and when any one of us on the design side becomes lazy, we get wasteful.

No Knock-on All Consumers

There are many great, sustainably minded consumers out there who take the time to separate packaging materials and do the right thing. On an e-commerce package they receive, they take the time to remove the bubble wrap, deflate it and recycle it with plastic poly bags. Flatten out the boxes and recycle them with paper waste. If you are fortunate enough to have curbside waste segregation rather than single source, correctly separating waste is relatively easy, and I think most people do it. However, many still don’t. I find very little as irritating as people who feel like if everyone else does it, I don’t have to.

Manage DTC Waste at the Source

Unfortunately, it still comes back to us. The people who make packaging and the people who use it to satisfy their customer orders. From the beginning in 2007, we decided it was our job to reduce packaging to the absolute minimum because it was good for the environment, and it saved our customers money in multiple ways:

  1. Inbound freight, from the packaging plant to our customers
  2. Outbound freight from our customers to their e-commerce customers
  3. Storage costs, a growing issue as 3PL’s and copackers charges have increased

Reducing the amount of packaging is not just the right thing to do, it is the smart thing to do. And if we happen to save the planet in the process, that is good too, right?

Contact us through this web site or call us at 630-551-1700 to discuss how we can create great minimalist packaging for you, or maybe, redesign your current packaging to save valuable time and money.


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