Online Retailers

Reducing Plastic Packaging Waste in the Ecommerce and Fulfilment Industry

By Ian Hart
Reducing Waste Blog

There is growing consumer concern around the impact of plastic packaging waste, and therefore many retailers and fulfilment partners are seeking ways to be more sustainable and reduce their own plastic waste produced throughout the fulfilment process.


From April 2022, businesses in the UK also need to register to pay Plastic Packaging Tax if they import or manufacture 10 tonnes or more, of plastic packaging components, that contain less than 30% recycled plastic, resulting in the further need to reduce the use of plastic for fulfilment.


As a leader in the industry, Amazon are already investing in sustainable packaging options and are reducing their packaging waste, stating “Since 2015, we have reduced the weight of outbound packaging by more than 41% on average and eliminated over 2 million tons of packaging material.”


Changing Consumer Attitudes towards Plastic Packaging


The world produces 141 million tonnes of plastic packaging a year and in the UK, plastic packaging accounts for nearly 70% of plastic waste


The amount of single-use plastic and its impact on the environment is becoming more of a concern to UK consumers. In a recent report, following a global survey, Ipsos Scotland Managing Director, Emily Gray, said: “The British public are very aware of the impact that single-use plastics have on the environment and want manufacturers and retailers to make it easy for them to do the right thing. People want change to happen quickly and they want government to support it. And the British public aren’t alone in their concern about this issue – these results show there is a strong consensus globally that single-use plastics should be taken out of circulation as quickly as possible.”


It is also reported in a recent blog that consumers are willing to pay up to 16% more for an item packaged in paper-based packaging and that a paper packaged item is enough to make a consumer prefer it.


Based on the reports of consumers’ changing attitudes towards packaging, we will explore the ways you could adapt packaging in your ecommerce fulfilment operations to be more eco-friendly and the potential barriers to their adoption.


3 Ways to Reduce Plastic Packaging Waste in Ecommerce and Fulfilment


1. Source Alternative Product Packaging


For retailers, there are many ways you could consider, to reduce your use of plastic in packaging; some examples already being utilised in the industry are: 

  • Eco-friendly or biodegradable alternatives – perhaps the simplest way to reduce your use of plastic packaging, is to swap all packaging to an eco-friendly, biodegradable or recyclable alternative, such as cardboard and paper. 
  • Refillable/reusable containers – for example, you can continue to sell your product in its existing container, and then provide consumers the option to purchase more of the same product, in recyclable packaging such as cardboard, for them to refill their existing container.
  • Easily recyclable packaging – packaging such as plastic film is more difficult to recycle at home, with many local authorities unable to accept it through household recycling collections; therefore businesses could replace plastic film with a more commonly recyclable material such as paper or cardboard, or do without it entirely.
  • Circular economy – if using plastic is unavoidable, adopting a ‘circular economy’, in which consumers can return product packaging to be cleaned, recycled, or reused could be an option to remain sustainable while still using plastic packaging. Some retailers even offer a reward scheme to encourage packaging to be returned, so it can be responsibly recycled or reused.

2. Replace Plastic Wrap for your Transport and Storage Packaging


In a warehouse, goods are regularly delivered on pallets and are often secured with various types of plastic wrapping. This wrapping is typically disposed of in landfill after it has served its purpose. Unfortunately, not all types of plastic pallet wrap are recyclable, and it is not always clear whether you can recycle it or not; therefore, choosing a more sustainable and non-plastic wrap option may be best.


For example, you could seek to make arrangements with the senders of the goods, to secure pallets with non-plastic materials or use a method that avoids using plastic entirely such as, securing goods on pallets with ratchet straps or reusable pallet wraps.


However, if you’re confident and able to identify the plastic wrap that is recyclable versus the wrapping that isn’t, setting up separate ‘flexible plastic’ recycling bins, and partnering with a company that can collect and recycle it appropriately is a great way to ensure no plastic is going to landfill unnecessarily.


3. Use Recyclable Fulfilment Packaging

Fulfilment packaging is perhaps one of the simpler changes a retailer, fulfilment house, or businesses together in partnership, can make to reduce the use of plastic in the fulfilment industry. Some of the ways this can be achieved are to: 

  • Replace plastic mailing bags with paper mailing bags or cardboard boxes
  • Replace bubble wrap filling with shredded cardboard or brown paper
  • Do not over-package i.e. use appropriate packaging sizes for the goods being shipped
  • Package full shipments together and no longer send split shipments (this may require a clear policy communicated to clients and their consumers)
  • If plastic must be used, utilise recycled plastic vs. virgin plastic


Barriers to Reducing Plastic Packaging Waste in Ecommerce and Fulfillment


While reducing plastic packaging waste is the ideal that many aspire to achieve; there may be some barriers that prevent businesses from being able to adopt all of the methods they want to.


1. Cost


For some businesses, the cost of adopting eco-friendly, recyclable or biodegradable packaging materials to replace plastics may be too high; and some may be reluctant to pass the cost onto their clients and/or consumers. 


While the initial outlay of replacing plastic packaging may seem large, the impact of switching to more sustainable packaging options could have a positive effect on your relationship with clients and consumers and lead to further business opportunities to offset the cost.


2. Brand Awareness


Many brands utilise their product and fulfilment packaging to cement their brand image and further their brand awareness. Therefore, brand awareness may be perceived as a barrier, if branding opportunities are more difficult to implement on the non-plastic packaging options.


While branding opportunities may differ on sustainable packaging options, many businesses still print onto cardboard and paper packaging to maintain brand awareness and the use of eco-friendly packaging can have a positive impact on your brand image with many consumers.


3. Consumer Behaviour


Some brands may be concerned that their consumers would be less likely to purchase their products if they change their packaging. However, it is reported that consumers prefer products that are in paper packaging, and that even the addition of a label on the eco-responsibility of the packaging is enough to orient the consumers choice. 


In addition, – choosing eco-friendly packaging may make your products more appealing to a new market, that are eco-conscious and prefer products that avoid the use of plastic.


Reducing your own Plastic Packaging Waste


Your business may be feeling pressure from consumers and others in the industry to reduce its own plastic packaging waste, and to take a more sustainable approach to its fulfilment operations. In addition to reducing plastic waste, reducing your business’ carbon emissions can also contribute to satisfying consumer concerns about their environmental impact. 


If you’re looking to make some positive changes towards reducing plastic waste in your business but are feeling overwhelmed, we suggest starting small. Take stock of all the potential improvements that could be made and assess which changes you can make quickly and easily. Over time, build up to bigger projects and before you know it, sustainable choices will be the first and only option. 


While Mintsoft’s order fulfilment software cannot directly contribute to your reduction in plastic packaging, it can help you fulfil ecommerce orders efficiently, and avoid unnecessary fulfilment errors that could contribute to extra packaging being used.


If you’d like to learn more about Mintsoft’s software capabilities, please book a personalised demo with one of our fulfilment experts.

Ian Hart
By Ian Hart Senior Product Manager

Ian is Head of Supply Chain Products at The Access Group, looking after a host of ERP products, including Mintsoft. He has extensive experience in software products, which he uses to sculpt Mintsoft into the industry’s go-to platform for all its order management and warehouse management needs. Ian is always looking ahead to drive Mintsoft forward for its customers and create a stand-out solution.