A Reward for Returning the Box

If the start-up „wir.kiste.kreis“ has its way, shipping packages will no longer end up in the waste paper container in the future, but at a take-back point. The new system should be sustainable and economical for retailers and still offer a reward for customers.

„We are launching the largest sustainability project in the history of online retail,“ announce start-up entrepreneurs Rudolf Siegle (33) and Bastian Gegenheimer (38) from Pforzheim. Their company „wir.kiste.kreis“, one of the start-up exhibitors at FACHPACK, aims to help achieve greater sustainability through a new reusable system for parcels.

Siegle has worked in e-commerce logistics for ten years. For the past five years, he has been responsible for the procurement of packaging materials at dm. „I know that one can make a difference in purchasing when it comes to using less material,“ he says. At some point, however, one reaches a point where reusable is the even more sustainable solution. He had also noticed this before, while working for Amazon during his dual studies. Therefore, he says, it is his heart’s desire to bring a new concept to the market that is sustainable and economical. „Because if reusable packaging costs 2 or 3 euros more for the retailer, it doesn’t work. If the costs are too high, we don’t even need to start,“ says the young entrepreneur.

A spin on the wheel of fortune

The start-up’s concept in a nutshell: The online customer receives the order in a reusable cardboard box. If the package is no longer needed, they fold this, download the wir.kiste.kreis app, scan the barcode and take it to a return point. A reward then follows, made possible by tracking via the barcode: after the return, customers can spin the wheel of fortune – and win right away; either a coupon for their next purchase or a sustainable non-cash prize. „We reward every return with a surprise. Through the wheel of fortune, we offer coupons and sustainable material prizes and thus an incentive for the return. In the future, there will be a classic deposit model with the option to donate to ecological and social projects and organizations,“ Siegle explains.

Anyone who wants to return their order can use the shipping package without any additional effort. This „box,“ which comes in different sizes, contains a band with functional features: The band seals the crate, carries necessary information such as the shipping label, and provides space for custom branding. In the event of a return, the customer can seal the package with the second self-adhesive strip on the band, allowing the crate to be reused after returns processing.

„The idea of reusable packaging is clever, but not new. It has only worked moderately in the past because consumers have to go along and actually return the shipping bags,“ explaines Frank Düssler, public relations manager at the German E-Commerce Association (BEVH) in an interview with packaging-360.com. Siegle counters: „There is no alternative – linear economic concepts are not sustainable. Past pilot projects have shown that it works well. The important thing is that the reusable solution can compete with single-use packaging regarding price, has the potential to be cheaper, and that there is an incentive to return it.“ The raffle prize is one such incentive, he says.

Siegle says the numbers speak for themselves, too: one box used in a cycle reduces energy consumption by 25 percent by the second cycle. The goal, he says, is for one package to complete five cycles. People also want to consume more sustainably, he adds.

„If all 4.51 billion shipments were sent with our box and reused only a second time, Germany could save 329,531 tons of CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent) annually. That’s roughly equivalent to the amount that 14,200,000 spruce trees convert in one year,“ the start-up company explains. CO2e is a unit of measurement that aims to make the effect of all greenhouse gases on the climate comparable.

Four questions for Rudolf Siegle

According to your concept, enough retailers must be willing to accept the boxes?

Yes. We are planning for a launch in Germany with at least 2,000 return points and 100,000 shipments per month. That’s the minimum to realize a convenient return and a frequent cycle.

What is the advantage for the take-back points?

Through wir.kiste.kreis. every store automatically becomes more sustainable. The take-back offers an additional source of income and brings customers into the store. The space required is small. The boxes are collected in transport containers that can be reordered via an app. By scanning them, the take-back point decides whether to use the crate themselves, collect it in a transport container or dispose of it. Crates that are collected in transport containers are returned to the cycle and reused.

This „crate“ is a cardboard box? Why do you call it a crate?

When we founded our company, we didn’t know what material our crate should be. We analyzed, evaluated and compared all existing and our own reusable concepts. The result was that the cardboard box is the most sustainable, as we can already reach the ecological break-even point in the second cycle and save large amounts of CO2e, resources and waste. Changing our name because of the material used was never an option. Moreover, „crate“ (Kiste) is an umbrella term analogous to the word „box“. Cardboard is merely the material from which the „crate“ is made.

When do you start? And which customers do you already have?

We want to launch in Germany starting in April and are already in talks with major sustainable online retailers. We won’t announce the names until the launch. Things could also get underway soon in Austria. Reusable packaging has already been successfully tested there this year. From spring 2023 onward, reusable packaging should then be available as a regular service.

by Anna Ntemiris