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Are ecommerce retailers ready for sustainable packaging?

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Is sustainable packaging starting to make headway in ecommerce? Companies including Lil Packaging and Protega Global showcased paper-based alternatives to plastic packaging at their IRX 2019 stands and say they had high levels of interest in their wares.

Fred Lill, of Lil Packaging, says the aim is for his company’s packaging to be plastic-free by the end of this year. The retailer, which 10 years ago produced the Lil envelope as a sustainable alternative to bubble mailers when sending DVDs and CDs, and has since produced the Breeze box to send items in without needing bubble wrap, this year launched the Lil bag, made from kraft paper, for fashion retailers to send out their goods in. It features an eco-wax, developed in house to replace the red plastic tear strip that its envelopes previously featured, as it moves towards removing plastic from its packaging. 

“We’ve drastically reduced our use of shrink wrap to flow wrap pallets we’re supplying to companies because we want to eradicate plastics entirely from our operations – that’s what we stand for. So we’ve developed ecowax to replace the red plastic. It means that once the consumer has opened the package basically it can be shredded and biodegraded into compost in three months.”

Buying kraft paper bags will cost retailers approximately double the price of plastic bags. “But,” says Lill, “our commitment to the industry is to say this is the choice if you want to eradicate plastics.” He adds: “It’s a shame that for those under pressure the jump to paying double compared to a polythene bag will be hard to stomach, but sometimes the bigger decision needs to be made. We can’t fight global warming and increase landfill every year.”

Lill sees the kraft paper bag as a “gamechanger” for the business, and predicts that the company has the potential to sell ten times as many as they did the Lill envelope – designed for CDs and DVDs that are now being superseded by streaming. 

Fred Lill points to health and beauty retailer Boots as an example of a multichannel business that is taking is corporate social responsibility very seriously and is investing in sustainable alternatives to plastic packaging. “I’ve never met a retailer so proud of their CSR campaigns than Boots,” he says. “They’re inspiring and hopefully others will follow in their footsteps.”

Meanwhile, Protega Global, part of Salisbury-based Test Valley, started by developing paper pads, using its own paper machine, in 2012. Now it is bringing a US invention, Hexel paper wrap (pictured in action), to the UK as an alternative to bubble wrap. The paper features a hexagonal structure that both provides packaging and sticks to itself, rather than requiring packaging tape. So far, it says, it’s had high levels of interest from retailers, and Hexel is now being trialled by one large homewares retailer in its UK stores. Small retailers can also buy Hexel paper by the roll from its newly-launched online shop. The company also offers paper self-seal click and collect bags with a handle to carry it away. The cost is higher than plastic packaging, says Test Valley marketing director Michael Steedman, but “clearly consumers are demanding we go sustainable.” He added: “Companies have the commercials on one side but customer demand on the other and they have to meet that.”

He says that while Hexcel wrap may be more expensive than bubble wrap, it’s also easier and faster to use it to pack items.

Image courtesy of Protega Global/Test Valley

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