New study: Too much empty space in packaging

According to a new study by DS Smith and Forbes Insights, size-optimized packaging can save USD billions and millions of tons of carbon dioxide worldwide.

A study by the packaging and display manufacturer DS Smith and Forbes Insights, including a survey conducted among 370 corporate executives worldwide, found that 25 percent or more of what companies worldwide ship in non-optimized packaging is air. This has a significant impact on the economy and on the environment.

For example, DS Smith estimates that eliminating empty space in packaging could save approximately USD 46 billion annually worldwide. The study uses real-life figures to show that packaging is one of the areas in which significant savings can be made: The retailer Marks & Spencer, for example, was able to achieve combined savings of USD 2.1 million in logistics, handling and reduced packaging.

Less CO2 through optimized packaging

The study continues that size-optimized packaging would also drastically reduce global carbon dioxide emissions. As an example, it uses shipping containers that are 24 percent empty, resulting in around 61 million containers being shipped unnecessarily each year, which would correspond to 122 million tonnes of carbon dioxide. According to the authors of the study, there is great potential for improvement in the form of more efficient, size-optimised packaging that protects the environment and saves costs at the same time.

34 percent of the managers of global companies surveyed admit that the packaging they ship worldwide is at least twice as large as the products it contains. 65 percent of them also believe they could reduce their packaging costs by at least 25 percent.

Reducing empty space is not yet a priority

Despite the considerable potential for savings in shipping costs and the possibility of reducing CO2 emissions, the reduction of empty space in packaging is not yet a high priority for management. Only 36 per cent have conducted an audit of the empty space in their product packagings and only 34 per cent have considered introducing optimised packaging solutions.

In this context Anja Röhrle, Marketing & Communication Manager at DS Smith Packaging, adds that sustainability and the avoidance of packaging waste is an important issue today. „It is no longer enough,“ she says, „to simply deliver undamaged goods at the agreed time. Excess packaging material and empty space in a delivered carton frustrate customers and create a negative brand experience“.


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As with all questions relating to the supply chain, according to Röhrle it is particularly important to take a holistic approach to the challenge. In manufacturing and in the distribution centres, greater emphasis must be placed on optimising product packaging. She says, „Innovations such as our Made2Fit automated packaging system are helping companies eliminate empty space. They also reduce product movement inside the packaging and thus possible damage during transport“.

The full report, including detailed figures and statements from leading retailers and brands, is available in german for download at: