How to reduce overpackaging for more sustainable logistics?

How to reduce overpackaging for more sustainable logistics?

Julie Ribeiro

Julie Ribeiro

June 28, 2021

As an e-merchant, you are probably wondering if there are any solutions. At Bigblue, we have listed the best practices to help you optimize your packaging, making it less polluting and more pleasant for the customer experience.

So, how do you fight against over-packaging? Is it possible to lighten the weight of the package by eliminating superfluous layers? And above all, are there alternatives to polluting materials?

If, like us, you think it would be good for the environment (and for your wallet) to change the game, here are our 3 directly actionable tips.

1. Fight over-packing with the right size packaging 

Empty spaces: the first cause of over-packaging! 

Created by bublikhaus -

Some e-tailers standardize packaging for productivity reasons. This way, assembly teams don't waste time looking for the right size package for the ordered item. So, buying a single-size package in large numbers to hold small and large products seems to be rather logical.

A logical choice, certainly, but not very economical and not at all ecological:

  • According to DS Smith's study, on average, 25% of packages sent have empty space. But to adjust the package, you weigh it down with materials that impact the price of transport (yes, the heavier it is, the more expensive it is!). The same study estimates that $46 billion could be saved each year worldwide. How much could you save?
  • The empty space of the package is filled with bubble wrap, polystyrene, or the famous air cushions that do not give an environmentally friendly image to the consumer. And the consumer is right not to be happy: 122 million tons of carbon dioxide are emitted every year due to the transport of half-empty packages.

From a macro point of view, we can say that overpackaging is not a good business! But from a more micro perspective, it's no better. One of the crucial points to consider is the consumer: what does he think about all this?

In general, this aspect is not well received by the final customer, who doesn't plan to store a box the size of a bicycle in his dustbin when he has only ordered a simple bedside lamp. This is especially true for a consumer who has only ordered a simple bedside lamp (if you have ever ordered in a large store, you know what we are talking about!).

However, mentalities are changing: people are concerned about the environment. Logistics is, therefore, an element on which you will have to be attentive, at the risk of getting bad press!

Don't oversize your packages: simple and effective

We know that ingrained habits are hard to break. But the figures quoted above prove it: by remaining minimalistic in your packaging, you will not only optimize your costs but also please the planet and your customer.

So why not start slowly but surely? The truth is, there is no miracle solution. In fact, you just need to be pragmatic:

  • Order the right packaging for each product. The idea is not to do custom-made but to plan several sizes of packages. There are packages adapted to the weight, the sensitivity of the product, the size, etc. The customer experience will be better, and your brand will be more valued.
  • Call on a packaging specialist. Packhelp offers packaging adapted to the products and constraints of e-tailers. But you can also make the customer experience unforgettable by customizing your packages with your colors and logo. Packages of the right size, secured  according to the specificities of the object (the shipment of pottery differs from the shipment of a T-shirt), with the colors of your brand. What more can you ask for?
  • Go through a logistician whose job will be to help you fight against over-packaging. At Bigblue, we have created an algorithm that calculates the size of the optimized package according to the type of product being shipped. In concrete terms, you enter the dimensions of your product, and we choose for you the ideal size for transportation. What is the objective? To reduce the empty space in the package.

2. Do away with layers of unnecessary packaging: do less but better.

Why put one plastic inside another plastic that will be surrounded by another plastic?

The process of preparing an order described above is hardly exaggerated. For example, for a jumper and a pair of socks that come from the same store, we have:

  • the polybag for each garment;
  • the tissue paper for each of them too.

That is 4 packages in total. But we can still find:

  • another plastic to protect the two packages together in a parcel during transport (just in case);
  • and the sometimes-oversized cardboard.

Total of the operation? 6 layers for two items.

Overpackaging is responsible for pollution. To compare:

  • 122 million tons of carbon dioxide is produced every year because of overpackaging;
  • 22 million tons of carbon dioxide was produced in 2017 due to air traffic in France.

In addition, the waste these materials produce is not environmentally friendly at all.

So ask yourself: at your level, what packaging could you remove?

Remove unnecessary layers: a new way of working on logistics. 

At Bigblue, we've noticed that end customers place a high value on the delivery experience and packaging. The latter is part of the brand image.

An overlay of bags, plastics, and other additions do not make for a pleasant customer experience.

What do you think are the areas where you could improve? Here are some ideas to guide you:

Identify completely unnecessary packaging.

You know the ones that are not useful for your product or your customer. For each container, ask yourself what its real added value is.

Focus on less but better.

For example, to avoid the use of tissue paper and guarantee an optimal customer experience, you can adopt personalized packaging (inside). Sézane integrates this element in its marketing strategy.

Sézane example

Promote eco-responsible values.

Here, it is, of course, a question of being in phase with your positioning and values. Lush is ultra-transparent about the packaging material used. The site indicates that the cellophane bags used to wrap and protect bare items for orders are made of vegetable cellulose, 100% biodegradable, and 100% compostable. 

Lush example

3. What about using eco-friendly materials? 

Overpackaging, a factor that encourages the use of plastic

You guessed it. The side effect of the empty package is the need to fill it with readily available materials that seem economical.

Indeed, not having suitable packaging means fearing that the item ordered will travel poorly in transit. 

To alleviate this problem, the materials used to avoid any alteration of the object have components for which the logisticians remain unclear like:

  • Bubble wrap;
  • Air cushions;
  • Polystyrene.

Although practical for delicate and fragile goods, they have a significant disadvantage: they are made of plastic whose manufacture and waste are polluting. 

Moreover, it is difficult not to think of plastic tape when talking about packaging. This adhesive is unfortunately not recyclable and even prevents a package from being recyclable.

Abandon the overuse of plastic for eco-friendly materials

What could you replace plastic with? Easier said than done!

But rest assured.

There are environmentally friendly, affordable alternatives that can give you a good brand image (without greenwashing). 

For sensitive products such as Unbottled soaps that can break in transport, it is almost mandatory to have “protections”. You may wonder if other materials are as reliable as the ones you are used to. 

The answer is yes!

And here is what you can integrate into your logistics, being sure that all this is recyclable:

  • Kraft paper: perfect for cushioning products and wrapping them in the package;
  • Crimped paper: ideal when there are several products in a package; 
Big moustache example
  • Paper wrap: similar to an insulator for products;
Paper wrap example
  • Pre-cut packaging: practical for storing products, but also for closing a package in an ecological way and reducing the use of plastic as much as possible. Have a look at the Dollar Shave Club, which features 100% cardboard packaging, is tailor-made for the razors sold, and offers an excellent customer experience.
Dollar Shave Club example

To go even further, there is Hipli which offers packaging adapted to your merchandise while avoiding the use of materials that are harmful to nature. In short, environmental protection is clearly in their DNA as this brand focuses on reusable and responsible packaging.

Hipli example

In short, the triptych of over-packaging is not a fatality. You can start by doing an audit of where you stand:

  • What package sizes could you order?
  • What “layers” could you eliminate?
  • What affordable materials could you use to replace plastic?

At Bigblue, we're very aware of these environmental issues, which is why we talk about them. If this resonates with you, and you want to discuss it, you can always contact us! 

Main image created by vectorjuice -

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