Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Eco-Friendly Packing Materials For Ecommerce Order Fulfillment

The most ubiquitous packaging materials at ecommerce order fulfillment operations are of course bubble wrap and peanuts. The pros and cons of both are well documented, but the most important thing to know is they are typically made from plastics (as in oil) and are not bio-degradable. With the amount of bubble wrap and peanuts used around the world each day the problem is pretty self evident.

These products are made from some pretty nasty stuff Polyethylene, Polystyrene and Polyurethane (which consists of all sorts of harsh chemicals including acetone, methylene chloride and fluorocarbons).

Aside from the toxic chemicals used with most plastic based packing materials and the huge energy resources that going into creating them; the amount of landfill taken up after they are discarded is significant.

Here are some ideas for alternative packaging options to consider using when preparing your customer orders for shipment.

Soy based expandable foam products are a more eco-friendly option. Derived from soy, and therefore renewable and biodegradable, this product conforms precisely to the shape of your products. This maximizes protection by minimizing movement on the inside of the carton. The product is also very light weight, reducing the additional shipping expense of heavier materials. Realistically expandable foam is best for larger operations due to the space the specialized equipment and process will require.

Consider using old newspapers as they can also be a good option as well. Shredded or balled up newspaper has decent cushioning ability. My opinion is that shredded paper has a neat look in the box and adds some “eco-cred” to your products. Aaesthetically the balled up news print leave a little to be desired, and there is no efficient way to “ball up” enough paper to keep up with a high volume fulfillment operation. Shredded paper, although requiring an extra step (to shred) does led itself to a higher volume set up.

Again, it’s not as pretty, but old cardboard boxes can be cut into strips and then rolled tightly. Place the rolls vertically into the packing box around the item in the box, the rolls will then expand providing a cushion. Similar to newsprint, if some care is taken up front to cut or prepare the boxes neatly the end product could work in a way that looks good to your customers.
Reusing something like paper or cardboard for packaging is always preferable to recycling, and of course, MUCH better than throwing those items away. Cushion packaging is sold that is made from one hundred percent post consumer waste paper – give that a try if you don’t like the look of used newspapers.

Biodegradable packing peanuts are available, made from grain sorghum and corn starch. For environmentally friendly soft foam in rolls, starch-based products such as GreenCell have the added bonus of being anti-static which is great for cushioning computer parts and electronic equipment.

For wrapping and packaging inside the box, use or reuse something. And the same goes for the cartons you are using - go for boxes made from recycled cardboard. The options these days for recycled corrugated boxes are very diverse and any place selling boxes will likely provide these product options as well .

Ken is a 15 year veteran of logistics and supply chain operations. He has founded companies in the ecommerce order fulfillment and transportation management system markets.