Sustainable Converting

Cardboard perforators – offering a sustainable future for ecommerce

By HSM head of sales for the UK and Ireland, Mark Harper W

e live in a world where we can purchase almost anything online. From large ecommerce platforms to independent e-retailers, the web has become a sea of virtual storefronts. In 2018 alone, all UK ecommerce sales combined to a staggering total of £688. bn, cementing an economy that shows no sign of slowing down. In fact, reports show that the share of online retail sales in 2019 grew to 19%; with that number predicted to rise to 34.5% by 2023. These figures mean a huge number of deliveries and a monumental amount of packaging material. This year has accelerated that predicted growth. With the pandemic keeping people inside, online sales have surged. However, we need to take a step back and question the sustainability of the use of packaging within the ecommerce industry.

KEEPING UP WITH DEMAND The rapid growth in ecommerce means that online retailers are fulfilling a significant amount of orders; all using packing materials. With that in mind, predictions at the beginning of this year highlighted that ecommerce packaging was expected to grow over three times faster than the market average - and that was before the effects of a global lockdown.

With large quantities of packing material and quick delivery systems at their disposal, leading online retailers can mostly take this into their stride. However, this continued growth does pose additional issues for the small and independent online retailers. With tighter budgets and smaller facilities (if any at all), every order counts, and the need for companies to reduce waste is key; both financially and environmentally. Speaking in terms of the environment, more consumers are becoming increasingly eco-conscious, which is now giving organisations a new set of demands to meet. Consumers are often dismayed by the sheer quantities of new paper-based and plastic packaging that’s used to fill ecommerce deliveries. Soft plastic packaging, in particular, such as bubblewrap, is not only problematic

to dispose of (as it cannot be placed in domestic recycling bins) but it is also difficult to reduce in volume, meaning it takes up bin space. Because of this and other issues with plastic packaging, the fight against plastic has attracted a large number of advocates in the past few years, prompting real change in various sectors.

With this movement, packaging plants and their smaller counterparts have made a conscious effort to seek alternatives in the move away from plastic. Yet, this too poses potential sustainability issues. Now synonymous with our online deliveries, cardboard has become the go-to alternative to plastic packaging, so much so that 241 million tons of shipping boxes and other paper based packaging is produced yearly. The increased volume of primary cardboard packaging also leads to an increase in waste. According to reports, between 15 and 40% of online purchases are returned, which leaves online sellers with mountains of used cardboard. Not only can this put a financial strain on e-tetailers, but it also puts a strain on the environment. Recognising this issue, we’re beginning to see supermarkets reduce the amount of cardboard they use in a bid to raise efficiency in their e-fulfillment operations. But how can smaller set ups follow in their footsteps?

STRIVING TOWARDS SUSTAINABILITY Despite the ongoing sustainability pressures that ecommerce is facing around packaging, there are remedies readily available. From reducing the overall use of packaging material, to converting to more sustainable materials, decision makers can actively change their impact on the environment, whilst positively affecting the financial position and reputation of their operation. Many online sellers can benefit from ‘closed loop recycling’. This is the recycling of waste with the purpose of processing it into something new. By introducing a closed- loop system, ecommerce organisations can recycle their used packing materials, saving money that would otherwise be spent on new packaging.

Smart packaging solutions, such as cardboard perforators, are designed to turn waste into packaging material and are now more commonly available to online retailers. By perforating used cardboard offcuts and producing recycled packaging that is easily recycled itself, these machines are giving fulfillment teams the chance to help protect our environment.

As the ecommerce industry grows, the use of cardboard perforators could act as a lifeline for thousands of smaller and independent sellers. With some e-traders expecting a flurry of returns after Covid-19 restrictions ease, these machines can deal with the excess of used cardboard. Furthermore, with peak periods piling additional pressure on some, perforated cardboard can become an effective, instant and more sustainable packaging alternative, removing the wait time and additional costs associated with purchased packing material, which is likely to rise in price as the industry booms.


Sustainability isn’t a trend that’s going to disappear anytime soon.. So, with smart packaging solutions offering a solution, is there any excuse not to use this time to adapt to a more sustainable future?


November 2020


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