Posted on September 9, 2010 by Dennis Salazar

The New eBay Reusable Box – Not Perfect but a Timely Idea

eBay's new Re-useable Box The new box that eBay has created for their customers to reuse is an excellent concept and it could not come at a better time. People are more focused than ever before on all of the “three R’s” of sustainability,” but especially the one I often refer to as “the other R” or “the forgotten R,” which is “reuse.” Don’t be surprised however if it is not necessarily accepted and heralded in the packaging community as it already has been in green circles. Even though I agree it is a great idea whose time has come, it also is a perfect example of how difficult it is to create a truly green package.

What’s Wrong with the eBay Reusable Box?

1. Corrugated Waste

First and foremost as any corrugated manufacturer or first year designer will tell you, there is no corrugated design that is more wasteful in terms of corrugated usage and scrap than a high profile, die cut mailer, which is exactly what eBay has selected to use. Unlike for example an RSC style, the very nature of this mailer design creates scrap and the higher the profile of the mailer, the more scrap is generated. Ironically this design costs more trees (compared to other designs) which is what they are attempting to save.

2. Usage and Compliance

Personally, I am what you would call an occasional eBay buyer but I rarely sell anything through them. Sellers are quite likely to use these boxes for economic or eco reasons but can you count on the buyers to, as they say, “pay it forward”? It will be interesting to see how many of these boxes are still in circulation a few months from now and how much corrugated board is actually saved.

It is unfortunate but a large segment of the population will do the right thing for the environment, only when they have to or it provides immediate savings or gratification. As almost any curb side recycling program will demonstrate, a carrot and/or a stick can greatly improve participation

3. Overly Optimistic Eco Impact

As is often the case in situations and projections involving the environment, the estimate of how many people will use them and how many trees will be saved is probably a reach.

I have not seen a mention of a board weight but regardless of whether it is 32 ECT or 44 ECT, or something in that neighborhood, in 35 years of packaging design and testing experience, I have rarely seen a die cut mailer used the projected five times eBay is optimistically hoping for. Perhaps five cycles is feasible in an intra-company application but not one where it is shipping via a public delivery system with undetermined contents and undetermined packing and packaging enclosed. All of these are factors that can greatly impact the durability and there by the reusability of a shipping container.

What is Right about the eBay Container? The art design is beautiful. I am not sure how it will look after two or three uses but it is eye catching and communicates their green message perfectly. A two color screen on brown Kraft probably added cost unnecessarily and I know the printing inside and out likely added 30% or more to the overall cost but the layout and look is flawless.

More importantly, this box makes people think and the value of that is immeasurable. There is nothing that any of us can do that is more beneficial to the environment than reusing a product that has already been manufactured and delivered. That results in the greatest savings of raw material, water, energy, transpiration costs and yes, even trees.

I applaud this clever and timely effort by the people at eBay and hope other companies who ship using huge amounts of corrugated containers will learn from the example eBay has provided. We truly won’t know how effective it is for some time but we already know it has us talking about reusability and that is always a good idea.

If you’d like to read more about this topic, check into the following posts:
The Many Faces of Reusable Shipping Containers