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How Major Online Retailers Can Reduce Packaging Waste

In the age of same-day deliveries, online retailers are hitting the headlines for creating packaging waste. For some, the issue is packaging materials that aren’t environmentally friendly. For others, it’s the sheer amount of unnecessary packaging waste involved in each shipment.

Sustainability policies are now considered a business standard. Online retail stores are increasingly conscious of the need to reduce waste. If you’re curious about how major online retailers can reduce their packaging waste, keep reading.

Reduce The Void Gap

Reduce the void gap

What’s the void gap? It’s the space between the product and what it’s packaged in. Imagine receiving a large parcel, only to find the item inside is pretty small and didn’t need such a big box. 

If items are placed in packaging which is too big, it’s not just a waste of packaging materials. The additional space an object takes up costs more in shipping.

You can’t fit large parcels on a truck in the same volume as small ones, so more vehicles are needed to accommodate larger box orders.

Reducing the box size will save on wasted packaging and shipping costs. There are several options available. One of the easiest methods of shipping multiple product sizes is the use of multi-layered boxes. Simply cut to size to make the proper size of the exterior box. 

Another option is listing out all products and combinations that can be shipped and determine box sizes that can accommodate groups of products. Skimping on the variation of box sizes is the reason many shipments have such large void gaps.

To reduce corrugated waste and excess, some companies are ditching the box for other materials. Shrink bundling film is approved by USPS and is strong enough to ship heavier products without tearing. Other companies use clamshell exteriors or cradle pack products to ship on pallets.

Help Consumers Recycle


In recent years we’ve seen the largest online retailers lead the way. They are replacing bubble wrap and plastic packaging with recyclable paper and renewable alternatives. Other home delivery industries are following suit; food delivery services are a great example.

Apps like Uber Eats now encourage users to rate restaurants on whether they use recyclable packaging. Attempting to incentivize businesses to make the switch while presenting options for customers to make sustainable choices. The same incentivization philosophy applies to online retailers.

When online retailers use recyclable packaging, it conveys that sustainability is important to the business. Research indicates that people are more likely to buy from sellers with ethical values. So using recyclable packaging not only benefits the planet but also helps businesses display a positive message to customers. 

Biodegradable, Compostable, and Bio-Based Packaging


Arguably one step up from recyclable packaging is biodegradable packaging. Biodegradable and compostable packaging not only decompose, but they also do so without leaving behind any toxins.

Biodegradable packaging options help businesses reduce waste. They’re also far more likely to be allergen and toxin-free, which is another big plus in the eyes of many consumers.

Using biodegradable packaging for your online business means that consumers can dispose of the packaging in a much more eco-friendly way. This reduces the amount of waste produced by the business.

Compostable packaging takes it a step further. It gives customers the option to add the packaging to their compost heap or put it in a neighborhood compost bin. Once composted, the waste can be used to fertilize plants.

Bio-based packaging options are usually biodegradable or compostable, but not always. Bio-based packaging is made from recycled raw materials. This could include paper made from recycled woodchip or plastic alternatives made from renewable materials such as mushrooms or seaweed.

Using biodegradable, compostable, and bio-based packaging not only reduces waste. It also reduces the use of virgin plastics as most options are made from recycled materials. 

Of course, bio-based packaging does have some drawbacks. Storage can be difficult and can have expiration dates and temperature requirements. In addition, most bio packaging costs are much higher than traditional packaging. Over time as processes become more refined, bio packaging costs will be reduced, encouraging companies to use alternative shipping methods. 

Online Retailers Pick Up Points

Pick Up Locker

You might be surprised to hear that online shopping can be better for the environment than shopping in-store. However, this only applies when consumers go to a pick-up point to collect their purchases.

Many big stores now offer click-and-collect or curbside pick-ups as an alternative to shopping in-store. Unfortunately, these aren’t always better options when it comes to packaging waste.

Many big stores still package their products or curbside pick-ups as if they were shipped. This unnecessary waste defeats the point of trying to reduce waste by offering shopping alternatives.

Pick-up points, however, do seem to mean less packaging waste and fewer emissions. If more of the top online retailers switch to using pick-up points, this can significantly reduce waste. Eliminating the amount of time spent in transit also reduces the amount of packaging needed to protect items as they are out for delivery.

More and more consumers are willing to visit pick-up points for online purchases, as the success of Amazon Lockers shows. The next step is for more retailers to follow suit and include pick-up points as an available option for consumers.

With retailers committed to delivering directly to pick-up points without needing to use the standard delivery packaging, this will significantly reduce the amount of packaging waste associated with the business.

Incentivize Bulk Buying

Buying in Bulk

The concept of buying more products may make one assume there’s more packaging waste involved. This isn’t the case.

If ordering routine products, such as food items, it will take more packaging to ship a mid-sized package once a month than one pallet every quarter.

Online retail stores can reduce packaging waste by incentivizing bulk purchases. This can be as simple as offering a better price for customers who buy many products upfront. Bulk buying helps the customer, the supplier, and the environment.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

In the present day, there’s no excuse for major online retailers not taking steps to reduce packaging waste. As industry leaders, they need to set the standards with innovative ideas.

If in doubt, they can always return to the simple concept of reduce, reuse, recycle. For more information on packaging options relevant to eCommerce packaging, contact us.


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