There are many wonderful things about the ecommerce boom that has erupted in recent years: products are easy to search and buy, there are no geographical limitations in reaching customers, and low operational costs are reflected in competitive prices and high-quality services.

Yet while there are plenty of positives, there is still work to be done to streamline the industry’s processes. Packaging practices in particular really need improvement — 35.4 million tons of containerboard were produced in the US in 2014, and the fastest-growing user group is e-commerce companies. With the huge increase in online shopping, e-commerce packaging waste is something we need to tackle and tackle fast.

Luckily, there are alternatives to how we package our products and they’re not that difficult to implement — we don’t have to run our industry like this. Here are three great ways to minimize your packaging waste as an e-commerce business.

Reduce your Packaging
E-commerce giants like Amazon are renowned for using stupidly large boxes and excessive packaging to deliver tiny non-fragile purchases — not great for a business that shipped five billion items last year through their Prime program alone.

The reasoning is that bigger boxes, more layers, and air pockets will better protect the contents being delivered. However, with online shopping industry increasing year by year, finding less wasteful alternatives is rising to the top of many companies’ to-do lists.

This is largely down to consumers clocking onto the wasteful packaging practices and expressing their unease with how things currently work. Excessive, wasteful packaging is enough to turn customers off a business and look elsewhere to spend their cash.

In fact, surveys show that consumers are far more likely to buy from a business if they know that they follow green packaging practices, and  72% of consumers around the world are willing to pay more for sustainable packaging.

Take small steps to make a big difference: reducing your packaging — even by 20% will ensure that you are working on your waste. Think about it: do you really need a box that size for a product that small? And if your customer has ordered two or more items, could you fit both into the same box?

You can also save on excessive filler material inside your package by using void filling paper, shredding paper or card holders to protect your items.

Use Green Packaging Alternatives Where You Can
Using eco-friendly alternatives to your packaging is a great way to minimize your e-commerce business’ packaging waste. There are packaging materials which are far easier to recycle or renewable than others — it’s just a matter of choosing wisely, and picking an option that suits you.

This could be as simple as choosing cardboard and paper over plastic. By now, we know that plastic is toxic and dangerous for us, wildlife and the planet in general. It can release harmful chemicals into the soil or water, is consumed by animals, and causes serious damage — in some cases, life-threatening — to hundreds of species, including humans.

According to Ocean Conservancy, eight million metric tons of plastics enter our oceans each year and plastic has now been found in 60% of all seabirds. If e-commerce companies commit to cutting their plastic use in packaging, this could make a substantial difference moving forward.

Cardboard and paper packaging, on the other hand, are great packaging options because they are reusable and biodegradable. Additionally, they will provide adequate protection and support to your products, mean that your customers won’t end up the unhappy recipients of damaged goods.

You can include your customer in your eco fight to reduce your brand’s waste by including a small instructional note inside your packaging encouraging them to recycle.

If you’ve got the time and money to experiment with other green packaging alternatives, there are some fascinating left-field option. Plant-based “plastics” (also known as bioplastics) are made using renewable biomass sources such as corn starch, mushrooms, and even seaweed.

Think Outside of the Box
As an ecommerce brand, you can also use multifunctional packaging designs to reduce waste and add extra value to your product. It’s imaginative, thoughtful and will impress your customers with your creativity. Plus it’s a chance to have a bit of fun with your packaging!

This could be anything from turning your delivery box into a wine holder or a kids toy. The point is, you’re extending the life of your packaging and bringing it an additional purpose rather than your customer just throwing it straight in the trash.

You can even branch out entirely and use a different material entirely like Puma did with their Clever Little Bag. The reusable bag fitted over a small recyclable cardboard box which replaced the traditional bulky shoe box. The bag could then be used for shopping and storage — encouraging the customer to reuse rather than using plastic bags.

Something like this is thoughtful and interesting; it improves the customer experience and means your customers are much more likely to sing your praises on social media.

These are our three favorite ways to minimize your packaging waste as an e-commerce business: reduction in packaging, finding green alternatives and coming up with imaginative new packaging concepts. You can start to integrate all or some of these ideas into your current business model to improve your waste-line. You can even start looking at greener alternatives for your own brand and products or greener ways to run your e-commerce store.

 It won’t save the world, but it’s a step in the right direction. If all e-commerce businesses followed these guidelines, we would see a huge reduction in waste. So get involved and do your bit for the planet!

 Recommended reading: Reducing Waste Through Recycling Fiber.
*Image courtesy of Unsplash.