Climate smart packaging is just one element of greener e-commerce operations  

Luis Barros
29 May, 23

Consumers have a big appetite for ‘climate smart packaging’ when they do their online shopping. In a recent poll of 8,000 international e-commerce customers[1], Asendia found that the top shipping consideration was reusable packaging. This was rated as crucial by 40% of shoppers questioned, with carbon-neutral delivery coming in second at 30%. Now that countless greener packaging options are on the market, such as recycled plastic polybags, compostable packaging made of starch, and paper-based alternatives to plastic, retailers and their logistics partners are beginning to source more wisely.

Recycled plastic is widely used now in e-commerce mailing bags, although these are often made with 30% recycled plastic mixed with new plastic. Such details are rarely made clear to consumers, but rules are being tightened to ensure transparency and greater understanding for shoppers. There are 100% post-consumer recycled plastic bags and certified home compostable and FSC paper alternatives on the market, and costs for these will come down over time as the recycling infrastructure scales up.

With accusations of greenwashing making headlines, and oversized boxes lambasted on social media daily, there is nowhere for e-commerce businesses to hide, and every reason to change for the better.

The stick of plastic taxes

Another big reason retailers are abandoning plastic is the introduction of plastic taxes, designed to tackle the most harmful types of packaging waste. The introduction of packaging levies in the UK and the EU has an impact on some online retailers depending on the volume of packaging they import and where they sell.

Having come into practice on 1st April 2022[2], businesses are now subject to charges under UK law for any manufactured or imported packaging that contains less than 30% recycled plastic. Since the fee was announced in 2018, retailers have begun reducing the quantity of virgin plastic used in packaging.

Many industries and 20,000 firms are expected to be impacted. Companies subject to the scheme must submit quarterly reports to HMRC that include information such as the weights of plastic packaging parts that were manufactured in the UK, imported into the UK, included 30% or more recycled content, or were exempt.

Additionally, businesses that sell in Europe will soon be compelled to address their packaging waste thanks to the EU’s Green Deal. The updated EU regulation on Packaging and Packaging Waste[3] aims to increase recycling and reuse, stop the production of new packaging waste, and make all packaging recyclable by 2030.

Under the latest proposals, EU member states would have to reduce packaging waste per capita by 15% by 2040 compared with 2018. Officials think this could be achieved by more reuse and refilling, as well as tighter controls on packaging. For example, e-commerce retailers would have to ensure that empty space in a box is a maximum 40% in relation to the product.

Delivering with a lighter footprint

Deliveries and fulfilment for e-commerce are seeing a rapid increase in sustainable solutions. Due to the popularity of e-bikes and electric vehicles, e-retailers can now offer green last-mile deliveries. The carbon footprint of supply chain operations is being addressed via artificial intelligence and energy-efficient warehouse technologies. Even if you air freight packages overseas, as Asendia does on behalf of brands, there are carbon-neutral shipping methods available.

Asendia has been completely carbon neutral since January 2022, offsetting all global emissions from international transportation, including those from partners. Since that time, Asendia has additionally offset emissions from parcel returns, structures, equipment, and business travel, completing scopes 1, 2, and 3. 

Across a three-year period, Asendia has been able to offset a total of 517,838 tCO2e having contributed to two EcoAct-verified wind farm projects in China and India. Also, in collaboration with the Woodland Trust, we planted 62,000 trees in the UK.

Goods in transit packaging innovations

The packaging consumers see when a parcel arrives at their front door is not the only packaging required to safely transport purchased items. Parcels in transit also require packaging, whether that be crates and pallets to be loaded into lorries and aircraft, or polymer films for protective wrapping. At Asendia, we are a proud participant in the International Postal Corporation (IPC) Eco Pallet Boxes project.[4] These can be traced thanks to the RFID technology included in them. As the boxes arrive, they can be reused and transported to other destinations in the network, minimising the need for pallet boxes to be returned.

The boxes also have many features such as being strong, long-lasting, and environmentally friendly. They can be flattened, which makes them simple to carry and store and improves the efficiency of warehouse operations.

Due to the employment of cages and other techniques, cross-border road transport methods in the past were ineffective. The IPC Pallet Box was developed to simplify international operations – where it has been historically hard to implement a circular economy concept for goods carriage packaging – while reducing expenses. The box maximises use of the load capacity while minimising equipment tare weight (weight of an empty container), allowing for more effective use of road transportation.

Customers expect to see advancements and a decrease in carbon footprints, but they want honesty and verification too. It’s important to be clear about your accomplishments without overstating achievements. Not everything you do can be green at this stage, but explaining your sustainability achievements clearly on your website and in marketing communications can go a long way to building trust. 

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