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MARKETANALYST.US / ECONOMY & WORK

All About Amazon's Sustainable Packaging Solutions to Tackle a Massive Heap of Cardboard Boxes

Amazon highlighted that around 11% of global orders utilized original manufacturer packaging, signaling a drive to diminish dependence on their traditional brown boxes.
PUBLISHED APR 6, 2024
Cover Image Source: Amazon Boxes are prepared for delivery at Amazon's Robotic Fulfillment Centre | Photo by Nathan Stirk | Getty Images
Cover Image Source: Amazon Boxes are prepared for delivery at Amazon's Robotic Fulfillment Centre | Photo by Nathan Stirk | Getty Images

The amount of cardboard boxes that Americans use for shipping products every year can be stacked up to build a mile-high wall around the entire country or to pave a road stretching from New York City to Los Angeles three times over. To manage that kind of waste, approximately 11% of global Amazon orders in 2022 utilized original manufacturer packaging.

Image Source:  An employee pulls a pallet jack stacked with cardboard at the Amazon.com MPX5 fulfillment centre | Photo by Emanuele Cremaschi | Getty Images
Image Source: An employee pulls a pallet jack stacked with cardboard at the Amazon MPX5 fulfillment center | Photo by Emanuele Cremaschi | Getty Images

As part of its Ships in Product Packaging program, Amazon first identifies products that can be shipped without their characteristic brown packaging. It then reaches out to the manufacturers of these items, and products undergo stringent laboratory testing to ensure that they can endure the rigors of transportation, including bumps and shakes.

"We qualify products ahead of time to make sure that they are going to be delivered to customers without damage. Then we simulate the e-commerce fulfillment process as part of that testing process so as products are enrolled in the program, we make sure they meet that minimum standard to arrive safely," said Kayla Fenton, Amazon's senior manager of packaging innovation.

The testing protocols vary depending on the nature of the product. For instance, testing procedures for liquids differ from those for stuffed animals. The results of these tests are then fed into computer systems, which scour Amazon's product inventory to identify other items suitable for inclusion in the program. "For example, if a vendor sells a red tee-shirt, chances are the blue tee-shirt will perform just as well," Fenton said.

Each product undergoes testing on five separate occasions. Any failure during testing helps Amazon in identifying issues and devising preventive measures for the future. In addition to that, if customers frequently complain about damaged items and initiate returns, Amazon may opt to revert to using traditional packaging.

Image Source:  Amazon workers unloading boxes from a truck in Manhattan| Photo by Kena Betancur | VIEWpress | Getty Images
Image Source: Amazon workers unloading boxes from a truck in Manhattan| Photo by Kena Betancur | VIEWpress | Getty Images

Go North Group, a company specializing in home and garden items, health products, sports gear, and pet supplies, received an invitation to participate in Amazon's "ships in packaging" initiative. Johan Stellansson, their supply chain director, revealed that through testing, they discovered that 80% of their products could be shipped without additional packaging.

Remarkably, even their MalsiPree portable water bottle for dogs fell into this category. For certain products, such as their pet stain and odor removers packed in boxes, only a minor addition of extra tape was necessary to ensure the box's resilience during transit. But larger products requiring substantial padding did not meet the program's criteria.

Stellansson noted that this prompted the company to reassess the feasibility of continuing to offer such products on Amazon. "We wouldn’t develop a new product unless we can ship it in the manufacturer’s boxes," he said.

Image Source:  Amazon workers unloading boxes from a truck. The company will find recyclable alternatives to reemplazed the use of plastic padded bags for parcel shipments in order to impact on the environment, particularly the oceans | Photo by Kena Betancur | VIEWpress | Getty Images
Image Source: Amazon workers unloading boxes from a truck | Photo by Kena Betancur | VIEWpress | Getty Images

Amazon initially extended invitations to vendors to participate in the program, later including sellers as well. Vendors maintain close collaboration with Amazon, whereas sellers operate with more autonomy. With Amazon strategically situating warehouses closer to customers, they are now able to ship a greater number of items without the need for additional packaging.

Nonetheless, certain products, such as personal items, still require packaging for privacy reasons. During the checkout process, customers have the option to select whether they prefer shipping in the original packaging.

Efforts to reduce packaging waste include substituting plastic with paper materials and transitioning a fulfillment center in Ohio to utilize 100% recyclable paper.

Apart from this, Amazon is exploring reusable packaging solutions, although encouraging customers to return such packaging poses a challenge.

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