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GUEST COMMENT Protecting the future: The growth of sustainable and reusable packaging in ecommerce


The ecommerce industry is under more pressure than ever to raise sustainability standards. Environmentally-conscious customers are demanding it, and new legislation is forcing greener ways of working too. With so many cutting-edge products available today, it should be easy for ecommerce businesses to adopt more environmentally-friendly packing and delivery alternatives. These are things customers who make online purchases care about deeply, writes Luis Barros, chief operations officer, at Asendia UK.

Luis Barros, chief operations officer, Asendia UK

In a recent poll of 8,000 international ecommerce customers, Asendia found that the top shipping consideration for shoppers was reusable packaging. This was rated as crucial by consumers by a whopping 40%, with carbon-neutral delivery coming in second at 30%.

Another survey found that as of January 2023, 81% of consumers demand sustainable packaging when they shop, a great jump towards eliminating waste and plastic. It’s evident that this is the new way forward for businesses and retailers. With many more options on the market than ever before such as recycled plastic polybags, compostable packaging made of starch, and paper-based alternatives to plastic, many are able to meet this demand.

Plastic abandonment
In addition to responding to consumer preferences, retailers are abandoning plastic because of 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 01 April 2022, 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 aims to increase recycling and reuse, stop the production of new packaging waste, and make all packaging recyclable by 2030. As a result, packing waste will soon become a significant problem for e-commerce firms and retailers.

Sustainability opportunities
Deliveries and fulfilment for ecommerce 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. The boxes can be traced and stock may be managed 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 IPC Pallet 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.

Brand to consumer transparency
The future will be all about transparency. 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 and why they matter. Small yet effective packaging stickers, such as those that state “carbon neutral delivery,” can reassure customers and assist businesses in gaining their trust. Not everything you do can be green at this stage, but explaining your sustainability achievements clearly on your website, and in marketing communications is well worth doing.

Luis Barros, chief operations officer, Asendia UK

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