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How fashion retailers are tackling the issue of overpackaging as they improve sustainability

Image courtesy of the Very Group

Retailers from H&M Group to The Very Group are among those that are acting to cut the amount of packaging they use to send out online orders. They are taking action as shoppers make more of their retail purchases online, with a knock on effect for the amount of packaging used. The latest figures from the Office for National Statistics suggest that 50% of UK clothing sales took place online last month.

H&M Group is using recyclable bags made of certified paper as it works towards ensuring that all of its packaging is reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025. Mango has pledged to take about 160m plastic bags out of its supply chain each year. The pledge came in a year in which the retailer has said it added three million new online customers during 2020 lockdowns.  The Very Group, Lush and Stitch Fix are among 22 companies that marked Black Friday 2020 by signing up for the Pack4Good project from non-for-profit Canopy And VF Corporation, which owns brands including The North Face, Timberland and Vans, has pledged to remove single-use plastic packaging, including poly bags, by 2025.

Beth Wright, apparel correspondent at data and analytics business GlobalData, says: “The world as we know it is facing an overwhelming problem with regards to packaging, be it from single-use plastic or paper – both of which can have a devastating effect on the environment. What is more, the crisis is being exacerbated by the relentless hunger for fast fashion and the boom in online shopping.

“Fashion firms are beginning to find their feet after being dealt a devastating blow from the pandemic. Those moving to reset from the crisis are looking to prove they mean business when it comes to sustainability; rolling out new strategies and commitments to ‘build back better’. It seems sustainable packaging is en vogue, with pledges to eradicate single-use plastics in particular, proving popular.”

Wright says that the focus on sustainable packaging is welcome at a time when more people are shopping online, but says more needs to be done.

“Consumers do not want to receive mounds of single-use plastic and/or paper with their fashion items, no matter how much it might protect them on the journey to their homes,” she says. “Industry players must continue to recognise the impact this part of their supply chain has on the environment – and indeed on their reputation. Even if an item of clothing or footwear has been manufactured in the greenest of manners and with the greenest of materials, all of this hard work will be undermined if a consumer receives products wrapped in copious amounts of single-use plastic.”

Jo Bradley, business development manger at packaging solutions Quadient, says surveys consistently show over-packaging is a significant annoyance for shoppers – and that the use of oversized and wasteful packaging is both unsustainable and likely to cause damage. And she says the technology now exists to create boxes that fit each consignment properly. 

“Without adequate dunnage in the voids, goods can be damaged in transit and boxes become more susceptible to crush damage,” she says. “Oversize boxes create unbalanced loads, causing back problems for warehouse and delivery staff, even when the overall weight of the package is quite low. Oversize boxes also waste transport space and delivery vehicles invariably ‘max out’ on volume long before they reach weight limits. Shipping empty space simply doesn’t make sense – it’s wasteful both environmentally and financially.”

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