Smart Cartonization: A Solution to the Coming Packaging Waste Problem

A damaged box
March 11th, 2022

Lately, massive e-commerce volumes flowing through delivery systems have created unsustainable costs, an enormous packaging waste problem, and still sustained much more product damage.

In-transit product damage causes a whopping 20% of growing e-commerce returns, according to Invesp. These returns have become a significant headache for everyone in the supply chain: From online retailers who spend millions processing them--or hiring a reverse logistics firm to manage them--to consignees and customers who must deal with returning their damaged items.

To make matters worse, companies can't restock their damaged returns. At best, these flawed products are taken apart for their reusable bits. At worst, they end up heaped on top of massive, steaming landfills. Something to think about, as U.S. online retailers and their supply chain managers, face multiple "peak seasons" in 2021 and the glut of packages starts to flow through package deliverers' systems.

Why "throwing" More Packaging at the Damaged Returns Problem Won't Solve it (or Save You Money)

Customers are more eco-conscious than ever. Unfortunately, many products flying out of online retailers' doors and onto trucks or planes are bound for their destinations in wrong-sized or oversized boxes using the wrong dunnage (bubble wrap, crinkle paper, air pillows, recycled paper or kraft paper and the like).

Using a freewheeling packaging approach in the order fulfillment process creates more problems and expenses than it solves, and has long-term environmental repercussions shippers can't anticipate:

  • Products packaged based on the fulfillment department's best guess can't optimize all the shipper’s costs--from packaging and labor costs to myriad transportation and damage/returns costs.

  • Some online retailers have turned to expensive custom packaging or use a vast amount of fill/dunnage to "be on the safe side." Excess fill is frustrating to consumers and feels wasteful, simple because it is.

  • Other online retailers have replaced bubble wrap and styrofoam peanuts with recycled paper fill. But using too much of this dunnage shifts the environmental burden onto parcel carriers, who now have more giant boxes and need more trucks and planes to deliver the goods.

  • Determining the environmental impact of e-commerce--especially during peak seasons or due to short-term sales events--is complicated by local transportation practices, the type of delivery vehicles used, the rates or surcharges involved, and many additional factors.

  • Damaged returns can involve double transportation expenses--both outbound and back to the online retailer, recycling center, disposition location, or landfill.

  • Special sale days like Singles Day, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday place a burden on the environment due to the intense packaging, shipping, and delivery.

How to Implement an Eco-friendly Approach and Better Manage Your Packaging Waste

  • Use recycled materials and sustainable materials like starch packing peanuts.
    Materials such as corrugated cartons are usually over 80% recyclable and can be quick, easy solutions to help the environment. Replacing your styrofoam peanuts with biodegradable starch peanuts will prevent landfill overflow. No-fuss packaging like fiber-based or bamboo trays is sustainable and easier to use.

  • Invest in convertible shipping containers.
    Consider ordering some containers that can double as long-term storage for products.

  • Choose space-efficient packaging and avoid wasting fill.
    Avoid using overly large boxes to ship packages and choose the right dunnage for void fill to prevent the item from sliding around within the package. Suppose a driver carelessly tosses that package onto a porch, into a delivery van, or, better yet, throws it onto the ground (and yes, that happens!). In that case, void fill will minimize the harsh impact that can destroy the goods inside.

  • Take a tip from e-commerce giants like Amazon and Alibaba.
    These companies have massive, constantly changing product catalogs and use AI and machine learning for packaging optimization. Their sustainability experts rely on logistics efficiencies, delivery with electric vehicles, and the use of recycled packaging materials. But they are not winging it, when it comes to packaging optimization and cutting down on packaging waste. AI quietly helps them to make sustainable packaging decisions instantly.

  • Avoid the costs associated with in-transit damage.
    Good packaging is just a good supply chain practice. This often-overlooked function is too important to leave up to "rules of thumb" or guesswork. With AI supporting Paccurate’s packaging function, you can quantify the fragility of an item to ensure it has a safe journey, select the proper carton or envelope, and only use the fill/dunnage you need.

Smart cartonization isn't just about right-sizing your packaging. It's about using AI to select the right box configuration based on your overall costs. Damage is a considerable cost and should be part of any cartonization solution. Paccurate does it right.

Ready to get a better handle on your expenses? Book a Paccurate demo.

Alternatively, download the Cost-optimal Parcel Packing white paper to learn the secret behind efficient shippers’ successful packing processes.

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