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Amazon, Target & Walmart: Which is the Worst Culprit for Unnecessary Packaging?

In recent years, our society has become ever more aware of its effect on the environment. The retail industry is no different and, if retailers want to keep up, they need to cut down on their use of extraneous packaging materials. This is particularly true of online retailers, who have the additional issue of postal packaging to consider.

But which companies are putting in the effort required to cut down on their packaging materials? We decided to compare three of America’s largest retailers with regards to the online component of their businesses, in order to find out which are the most environmentally conscious.

The businesses we chose were Amazon, Target and Walmart. Which one do you think is doing the best with its packaging, and which one do you think is the laziest? Read on to find out…

Methodology

We began the study by ordering five products from each retailer. These products were:

  1. Sony MDRZX110 ZX Series Stereo Headphones
  2. Hasbro Operation Board Game
  3. L.O.L. Surprise! #Hairgoals Makeover Series with 15 Surprises
  4. Hamilton Beach Single Serve Blender
  5. Black & Decker 12v Max Lithium Drill & Project Set

When each package arrived, it was weighed. We then measured each package’s void gap: the distance between the product and its postal packaging (the dimension chosen for each product is whichever is the largest one). We also took note of the materials used to package each product.

Results

Sony Headphones Packaging Waste

Amazon started off strong with the headphones: the packaging they used was by far the lightest of the three. Due to the use of a padded kraft envelope as opposed to cardboard, their packaging only weighed 2.1 oz, giving a total package weight of 9.8 oz. Meanwhile, Target’s packaging weight of 4.7 oz was over double the weight of Amazon’s, resulting in a total package weight of 12.4 oz.

Amazon did less well in terms of its void gap. While Target’s and Walmart’s were 3.5 inches and 2.25 inches respectively, Amazon’s was a total of 9 inches – over triple that of Target!

It should be noted that Amazon’s envelopes, padded with bubble wrap, have been subject to a lot of scrutiny in the past. Although the packaging is recyclable, the two different material types need to be recycled separately and, if this doesn’t happen, it can lead to issues in recycling plants. On the other hand, the use of this kind of packaging is helpful in terms of deliveries: they take up less space in delivery trucks, resulting in a more efficient postal system and fewer greenhouse gases produced in the process of delivery.

Blender Packaging Waste

Amazon’s blender delivery also did well with its package weight, again due to the use of kraft envelopes instead of cardboard boxes – their total package weight was by far the lightest. This does, of course, bring with it the previously discussed pros and cons that come with padded envelopes, but one can’t argue with the difference in weight here.

There was less difference in void gap with the blender than with the headphones. Amazon still didn’t come first (that accolade goes to Target, with a void gap of 3 inches) but it now matches Walmart with a void gap of 4 inches.

Board Game Packaging Waste

This is the third time we’ve seen Amazon in the lead for package weight. They didn’t even have the advantage of using a padded envelope this time: like Target & Walmart, the product arrived in a cardboard box. In spite of this, the total package weight was still less than half that of Walmart due to its box being far smaller in size.

A smaller box of course meant that Amazon’s void gap was inevitably going to be far smaller as well. Less than a third of the length of the other two, Amazon dominated with this product. The difference was particularly evident with Walmart, who placed their board game diagonally within its box. Needless to say, this isn’t a particularly efficient way of packaging: not only does the box take up more space in transit, but the empty space must be stuffed with filler to pad and protect the product.

LOL Dolls Packaging Waste

The dolls were the first product in which Amazon didn’t have the lowest product weight. That said, the results are definitely close: there was only a 1.3 oz difference between Amazon and Walmart (the lightest of the three), and less than an ounce in difference between Amazon and Target.

There were similar results when the void gap was measured – Amazon had the largest gap while Walmart had the smallest. Walmart’s advantage was strengthened further by its use of recycled film as packaging filler, as opposed to non-recyclable materials.

Drill Packaging Waste

Amazon returned to the lead with the final product, a Black & Decker drill set. The total package weight was 8.1 oz lighter than Target’s and a full 9.9 oz lighter than Walmart’s. Amazon’s package also stood apart due to its use of recyclable kraft paper for void filler instead of the plastic air bags used by the other two retailers.

Speaking of void gap, Amazon was the winner once again here. Their box was a far tighter fit than Target’s and Walmart’s, with the latter retailer’s product coming in a particularly large box compared to the other two.

Conclusion

Packaging Waste Final Results

It’s evident that, of the three, Amazon has the lowest amount of packaging waste. Its packaging was the lightest for every product aside from the dolls. The void gaps of Amazon’s products were marginally less impressive (it had the smallest void gap for two products, but the largest void gap for the other three). It did, however, still come first overall.

Meanwhile, the retailer with the worst statistics overall is Walmart. It had by far the highest total packaging weight across all of its products and, although Target had the largest overall void gap, Walmart was only a tenth of an inch behind.

Do you think our results reflect what you’ve seen with regard to ordering products from these retailers, or have you noticed different tendencies from our tested retailers? Let us know in the comments below. If you’d like to see our raw data, click here.

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