Nothing is free—if you aren’t paying for it, then the environment is. The price of having packages conveniently delivered to our doorstep is an exponential increase of waste in both landfills and recycling centers. Boxes and envelopes galore, we’ve learned to love the momentary thrill of receiving a “present” in the mail.
The internet has led to the proliferation of B2C business models, where entire companies can thrive by selling directly to consumers instead of selling wholesale to stores. While this eliminates many inefficiencies in the B2B supply chain such as overstock, it creates other issues with delivery efficiency. Instead of shipping in bulk, many manufacturers are shipping individual parcels.
Containers and packaging waste constituted about 30% of municipal solid waste (MSW). Corrugated boxes were the largest single product category of MSW in 2017 at 32.5 million tons, or 12.2% of total generation. (Containers and packaging are different. Packaging is for wrapping and protecting food, beverages, medications, and cosmetic products; containers are for shipping, storing, and protecting products).
While about 88.4% of corrugated boxes were recycled in 2017, recycling isn’t a long-term solution. Recycling is an industry, and that industry is in trouble. Up until 2017, the world sold most of its recyclables to China. After China started turning away shipping containers full of recyclables from other countries, the global industry has been in disarray.
For all its environmental claims, recycling thrived because it was a profitable business model, and issues like contamination cut into margins. Ironically, for many plastic and paper products, it’s now more expensive to recycle them than it is to manufacture them new. Without legislation, businesses will simply do whatever is cheaper. In this case, it means continuing to produce more waste.
However, YOU can still take small steps.
The recycling diagram is listed in order of importance: reduce, reuse, and recycle — recycling is intended to be a last resort. Before then, reduce and reuse as much as possible. An easy way is to reuse shipping materials from your online orders. Keep a milk crate filled with various mailers and store it in a closet or garage. It’ll be handy when you need it.
Want to send a package to a family member? Or need to ship a low-margin item that sold online? I wouldn’t be offended to receive a reused package! In fact, I frequently sell online and ship with second-hand packing materials like mailers, boxes, and bubble wrap. I have yet to receive any complaints and my seller rating is 100%. I save money and reduce waste in one go.
Besides, all packages become dirty in the mail. It may look new and clean when you pack your item, but it won’t be by the time the customer receives it. Let’s let go of the idea of receiving a pristine, unwrapped present that was made just for us and accept boxes and padded envelopes for the purpose they serve: to keep the contents inside safe and dry.
Try to reuse packages at least once as you send that paper warrior back into battle one more time.