Example of excessive packaging send in by a reader. A rake ordered from the online retailer Amazonarrived in a large 5 foot by 4 foot box filled with paper packaging material. The handle of the rake arrived sticking out of the box and was damaged.
The company that shipped this package to our office will remain unnamed because I have written about them before and after a while it starts looking like I am picking on them. The truth is that this post could probably be written about any number of companies who profess to be green and claim to be tirelessly working to protect the earth.
Words to Green By
As a young packaging professional, one of my favorite mentors had two favorite sayings that he often combined together: “Do What Makes Sense” and “Be Brilliant on the Basics”. His philosophy was fairly straight forward and simple – if you use your head and do the little things right on a daily basis, you usually come out on top. Baseball games and business are typically not won by crowd pleasing, memorable grand slams. More often than not, the difference between winning and losing is decided by singles, and doubles combined with a large dose of hustle.
The “Little” Things Add Up
With all that in mind, I am always critical of all the companies who are always quick to grab the sustainability headlines but continue to do, REALLY dumb green things on a daily basis.
Here is what I see when I look at the packaging shown in the photograph:
Most obviously, the box is at least six times larger than necessary for the order and product it contained. Why aren’t they right sizing? End result – WASTE!
3” plastic tape to seal the top of the box – most of the world uses 2” tape. Why are they using 50% more tape than is normally necessary? End result – WASTE!
Standard corrugated box with probably 30 to 40% recycled content? Why aren’t they using a box with a higher or ideally100% recycled content? End result – WASTE!
Auto Lock bottom on box bottom sealed with tape. (now I am getting really packaging geeky on you) One of the features of an Auto Lock bottom box is that it does not require tape. Yet they feel it necessary to seal it with more 3” tape. There is something definitely wrong with this picture. End result – WASTE!
One air pillow for void fill – that single pillow does absolutely no good so you know, end result – WASTE!
What is the cost of NOT doing the little green things well?
It is very difficult to estimate without a complete analysis (which BTW I have offered to do for this company for free) but conservatively, I can guess their packaging cost is probably 20 to 30% higher than it really needs to be. That same percentage probably applies to unnecessary packaging materials used and additional post consumer waste being created. This does not even begin to cover the cost of transportation, space, fuel, energy, and all the other things that factor in.
Not doing the little green things well is VERY expensive to all of us. So next time a package like this arrives, I urge you to complain. It does matter and it is important but it will never be important to the companies doing the shipping until we let them know. If they are not willing to do it for the bottom line, perhaps they will bother when it impacts their top (sales income) line. That is a good reason to bother.
Dennis is president and co-founder of Salazar Packaging and he writes on the topic of sustainable packaging for numerous blogs and magazines, including his own blog, Inside Sustainable Packaging.
Dennis and his company provide custom eco friendly packaging solutions through Salazar Packaging and stock green packaging products via Globe Guard Products, which is the first internet store featuring all eco-friendly packaging supplies.
Amazon.com has been working the last two years on growing its Frustration Free packaging option for products sold on their website. The program which by all accounts appears to be a success for Amazon and its customers offers consumers the option of buying products with minimal packaging.
Frustration Free packaging not only makes it easier to open products purchased (eliminating the use of dreaded plastic clamshell packaging) but also significantly reduces packaging waste. The program has been heralded by consumers and environmentalists alike for its positive impact.
A recent piece in the New York Times highlighted the fact some major companies who sell products on Amazon like Philips, Polaroid, Procter & Gamble, Logitech and others all offer products in Frustration Free packaging. Of course Amazon's own e-reader Kindle comes in Frustration Free packaging as well.
Recently Duracell introduced a 28 pack of AA batteries sold in a Frustration Free plain cardboard box - the response from Amazon consumers was amazingly positive.
The piece in the Times highlights the challenges faced by Amazon and product manufacturers in continuing to grow Frustration Free packaging. Of the millions of products currently sold on Amazon only about 600 are available in Frustration Free packaging.
Manufacturers who make products available in the Frustration Free packaging are faced with tough decisions regarding their packaging. Its expensive to offer products in multiple types of packaging so it would be beneficial to manufacturers if other online retailers were interested in the new packaging as well.
Interestingly product manufacturers who sell on Amazon are finding other large online retailers like Target and Walmart not overly enthusiastic about carrying products in the Frustration Free packaging. Each company pointed out to the Times that they have their own programs or methods for reducing waste.
The whole Frustration Free packaging issue drives at the heart of the problems with retail packaging today and the systems that are in place to produce the packaging. Most retailers have physical store front locations where they sell products to consumers in the traditional sense. Retailers in these situations prefer clear plastic packaging like clamshells because they are difficult to tamper with and allow the consumer to see the product on the shelves.
Consumers are in the middle. Most will say they despise the clamshell style packaging popular at big box retaiilers and discount clubs across the country. However most consider packaging just a part of the retail buying experience and something beyond their control.
We'll see how Frustration-Free packaging continues to develop. As more and more major product manufactuers continue to receive accolades from consumers you'll start to see this type of packaging expand.
READ MORE ABOUT AMAZON FRUSTRATION-FREE PACKAGING ON SISG
Amazon has made tremendous progress in the last year regarding improving their packaging and making it more sustainable.
The online retailer introduced Frustration Free packaging which eliminates PVC clamshell style packaging in favor of plain customer friendly boxes with minimal excess.
Over the last year they have expanded Frustration Free packaging to more than 300 products and have shipped more than 1 million products in Frustration Free packaging according to a memo posted on Amazon's website from its founder Jeff Bezos.
Amazon has also done something revolutionary. They have created an extensive packaging feedback section where customers can rate the packaging of products they've ordered, post comments and even upload photos.
The Packaging Feedback section is available to customers and includes items they've recently ordered for ratings. I was impressed with the level of detail of the Packaging Feedback section. It is the first dedicated forum that I know of where customers can interact directly with a retailer regarding packaging.
Amazon says more than 115,000 customers have already more than 200,000 packages they've received.
I know Amazon.com has been working hard on reducing their packaging (frustration free packaging etc) and dealing with issues of excessive packaging their customers have complained about.
I've covered excessive packaging from Amazon and other companies readers have reported but until last week had never experienced an excessive packaging episode myself.
About a week ago I ordered an exercise poster. I was surprised to return home one day to find a gigantic Amazon "D4" box outside my door. Initially I had no idea what it could be - as I hadn't ordered anything that large. When I picked up the box and felt how light it was I thought - could this be that poster?
Sure enough it was. The laminated poster (rolled in plastic) was packed inside very large Amazon branded box filled to the brim with inflated air pak packing material.
I could not believe the size of the box and material used to ship a small poster which could have easily shipped in a standard size tube?
I know Amazon has been working on this issue - I've talked to senior staff on the issue before but this is nuts how could anyone think this made sense?
Amazon.com has launched “Frustration-Free Packaging,” a new initiative designed to make packaging both more user and environmentally friendly.
The company's initiative is unique in that it puts the interests of its customers first not packaging. Due to the fact Amazon's business is solely online based this new packaging concept is possible.
Amazon is focusing first on two kinds of items: those enclosed in hard plastic cases known as “clamshells” and those secured with plastic-coated wire ties, commonly used in toy packaging.
Frustration-Free Packaging is being launched in the U.S. with 19 bestselling products from leading manufacturers including Fisher-Price, Mattel, Microsoft and electronics manufacturer Transcend. The product is exactly the same – Amazon has just streamlined the packaging.
In addition to making packages easier to open, a major goal of the Frustration-Free Packaging initiative is to be more environmentally friendly by using less packaging material.
One of the first products to launch with Frustration-Free Packaging is the Fisher-Price Imaginext Adventures Pirate Ship, which is now delivered in an easy-to-open, recyclable cardboard box.
The new packaging eliminates 36 inches of plastic-coated wire ties, 1,576.5 square inches of printed corrugated package inserts and 36.1 square inches of printed folding carton materials. Also eliminated are 175.25 square inches of PVC blisters, 3.5 square inches of ABS molded styrene and two molded plastic fasteners.
Small items, such as memory cards, are also good candidates for Frustration-Free Packaging. Typically encased in oversized plastic clamshells to deter shoplifting, memory cards are then placed inside larger cardboard boxes for shipment to customers.
Working with Transcend, Amazon has eliminated the hard-to-open clamshell and the need for an additional box. Instead, the cards will now ship inside recyclable cardboard envelopes which use less material.
Amazon's new "Frustration-Free Packaging" plan comes as a Sustainable is Good reader in the UK sent us images of excessive packaging from Amazon UK from an order she placed for an Apple Macbook adapter. Excessive packaging is an issue we've covered extensively including a number of examples from Amazon.com.
Amazon's new packaging plan is excellent news for both consumers and those concerned about excessive packaging. Hopefully the company will expand the plan to more of their products in the near future.
You can order select items from Fisher-Price, Mattel, Microsoft and Transcend in the new Frustration-Free Packaging for immediate delivery on Amazon.com.
A Sustainable is Good reader contacted us this week with another instance of excessive packaging from Amazon.com. The reader works in the education industry and ordered ten (10) children's books, all the same title to be delivered to her office.
The books arrived in 10 separate large boxes all with multiple inflatable plastic air pouches. To make matters worse, the books Amazon sent were not the correct books.
The reader packed all the books up into one box and returned them to Amazon.com.
Many of these examples of excessive packaging occur because of issues with communication and packaging logistics.
Ordering systems may process orders of multiple items individually and generate packaging as if the orders were going to multiple locations. The prevention of excessive packaging is an area where shippers need to rely on human employees.
The results of excessive packaging incidents have a negative effect on consumers and generate a significant amount of unnecessary waste.
In one of the more remarkable examples of excessive packaging we've seen, the technology site The Register in the UK posted a piece on an example of excessive packaging from Hewlett Packard (HP).
HP mailed 32 individual pieces of paperwork in a very large box. Inside the large box were sixteen (16) individual smaller boxes each containing 2 pieces of paperwork wrapped in foam padding. A total of seventeen (17) boxes were used to mail thirty-two (32) pieces of paperwork.
We have not seen a response to the story from HP. The example is certainly one of the most egregious we've seen. Who has ever heard of shipping paperwork in such a fashion?
EXCESSIVE PACKAGING: If you have examples of excessive packaging we'd like to hear about it. Contact us by email.
Online retailer Amazon.com is the latest company to have an issue of excessive packaging come to light, and this example is bad.
In November of last year a customer thinking they were being efficient and reducing waste ordered a bulk order of 6, 32oz Ecover Delicate Wash detergents. To the surprise of the customer, each bottle was boxed in its own box and shrink-wrapped to cardboard and then packaged in a larger box again with additional packaging material.
Sustainable is Good learned about the excessive packaging last week while doing product research for upcoming stories.
The customer writes on Amazon.com, "A huge box arrived today, contained these six 32oz bottles that Amazon sells as a single order. It took me about 15 minutes to open up the big carton, then the 6 individual cartons within that carton, then remove the single bottle that was shrink-wrapped to another chunk of cardboard within that cardboard, bust down everything and jam it into the recycling bin.... Luckily all the cartons were kept safe from each other with an ample supply of plastic pillows. I haven't even used this stuff yet and I feel awful for purchasing it - there is no reason for this appalling waste of cardboard, plastic and shipping resources to get 6 plastic quarts of liquid from their warehouse to my house - it's packed as though it were ceramics!
I'm expecting the soap itself will be excellent. But the sad irony of wasting so much plastic and cardboard to ship this product - which Amazon sells in lots of six - just breaks my heart. I've uploaded an image of the earth carnage above.
I hope Amazon reconsiders such wasteful packaging in the future. There's absolutely no reason this couldn't be shipped in a box 1/4 the size and without any separation between the bottles - it's just laundry detergent!"
We've seen and profiled some examples of excessive packaging. In this instance the customer was ordering a bulk order of an "eco-friendly" Ecover product so the excessive packaging had a particularly upsetting impact on the customer. As awareness increases to issues of packaging and reducing waste we'll continue to learn of instances such as this. However its hopeful that retailers like Amazon will use instances like this to educate their distribution and shipping centers on the importance of maximizing resources and reducing packaging.