“There are no quick fixes”

Olaf Dechow, Sustainability Expert of the Otto Group, sees sustainable packaging as an important challenge in online retailing. Otto has prepared a new reusable shipping model, which is currently still being tested.

The subject of packaging is attracting growing public attention. Fast, sustainable and simple solutions are in demand, said Olaf Dechow, Senior Manager Corporate Responsibility at the Otto Group, during the Packaging360° Congress. “But: there are no good and quick solutions. It’s a complex issue.” Dechow talked about the challenges of sustainable packaging in online retailing.  Every other washing machine in Germany is purchased through the Otto Group, he said. The Group’s own packaging for all its products comes to 28,000 tonnes of PPK and 5,400 tonnes of plastic worldwide. In future, the task will be to use not too little and not too much packaging.  Otto’s packaging strategy is based on four elements: avoiding waste through packaging which is reusable instead of disposable, reducing waste through lighter and less packaging material, substituting more sustainable materials, and direct recycling. Specifically, the company is e.g. increasingly dispensing with filling material and testing new reusable packaging.

Sealing technology for reusable packaging is a challenge

Together with Tchibo, Avocado Store and Ökopol, the Otto Group has launched a research project on reusable packaging in online retailing. The Federal Ministry of Education and Research is funding the project. This is still a vision, as Dechow explains: if you order two pairs of jeans, you will receive them in packaging which you can send back to the shipper – i.e. the online retailer – as a letter, whether or not the jeans are returned. This sounds so simple, but it involves a lot of in-house hurdles. The company has to determine which IT systems and logistics processes need to be changed, and how much it will cost. “We have to clean the packaging, for example, to refill it,” he said. This surprised many listeners. “A lot of customers write on the packaging with a felt-tip pen,” Dechow explained, noting that sealing technology of a reusable packaging is also still an exciting challenge.

Another question, he continued, is how much extra work could be expected of the customer. Also, at what point does reusable packaging make ecological sense?  “There can never be a final ecological balance sheet,” Dechow said. Waiting for the life cycle assessment is counterproductive, you have to start now to develop sustainable packaging, “even if it’s not yet clear which is the right approach”, which is why he was happy to accept tips and help from the packaging industry.

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