The online mail order company Zalando is launching a four-week pilot project in the next few days to test reusable packaging. During the test phase, 10,000 customers in Finland, Norway, Sweden and Denmark will receive their Zalando orders in shipping bags that can be used again and again. This reduces packaging waste, as the same packaging is used repeatedly for shipping and returns.
Returnable packaging is a new concept for e-commerce, but according to Zalando it could quickly become the new standard for shipping, as it tackles two environmental problems at the same time – carbon dioxide emissions, and waste. Unlike disposable packaging, reusable packaging keeps materials out of the waste stream and extends the life cycle of the original raw material. Eliminating waste and production of new packaging can reduce carbon dioxide emissions by up to 80 per cent. In an initial pilot project, the Group is examining the extent to which reusable packaging can be integrated into existing logistics processes.
The special packaging is a change for Zalando customers in particular. For example, the unpacking process is different from classic packaging, and greater care is needed. In order to reuse the packaging, it has to be returned to the cycle, which means that Zalando customers have to return the packaging even if they don’t want to return a product. However, an international survey of 4,000 consumers in Spring 2019 showed that people are willing to do this: 83 per cent of Germans and 67 per cent of Finnish respondents are trying to reduce plastic use in everyday life, and reusable packaging could contribute to this.
Uwe Streiber, Team Warehouse Consumables at Zalando, sees the challenge above all in the isolated approaches: “The entire e-commerce industry is needed to make the concept of reusable packaging scalable. It requires standardised processes and centralised return facilities for reusable packaging. Reusable packaging turns waste into recyclable material. A uniform system in which customers need not return the packaging but can drop it off at the supermarket, for example, would make the change easier for everyone,” says Streiber.
In the e-commerce industry, the requirements are diverse and expectations are high. FachPack is the place that brings together buyers and vendors on a level playing field. More information can be found here.
The test mailing bag of the Finnish start-up RePack is comparable to existing Zalando mailing bags. The reusable packaging is shipped from the Zalando logistics centre near Stockholm. In the cycle, customers fold up the used envelope, attach the return label and drop it in the post box. The bag goes back to a central location, where it is distributed to the logistics centres.
Zalando announced innovations in the field of sustainable packaging in May. In addition to existing approaches, such as the use of Zalando boxes made from 100 per cent recycled paper and mailing bags made from 80 per cent post-consumer recycled (PCR) material, the cosmetic bags were recently converted from plastic to 100 per cent recycled paper. At the same time, polybags – textile, with thin protective sleeves– made of over 60 per cent recycled plastic were introduced. These changes will reduce consumption of non-recycled plastic by around 625.6 tons compared to 2018.