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The waste challenge behind e-commerce

The booming e-commerce market is likely to put new challenges on the waste management industry, according to the American Institute for Packaging and the Environment.

E-commerce is one of the fastest expanding retail channels globally.

In Australia alone, the online retail market is estimated to reach some $10.5 billion in revenue in 2017* – making for a momentous logistical challenge along the entire length of the supply chain, from warehousing through to waste management.

In light of the task ahead, the American Institute for Packaging and the Environment (AMIREPEN) has now found that the traditional distribution model developed for “bricks and mortar” stores might not might to be able to sufficiently fulfil online sales, which require more touch-points for a product throughout the delivery process.

One key point of difference to the old model is packaging. According to AMIREPEN, e-commerce packaging has to be bulkier than usual to protect the product throughout the journey, in turn causing a “paradigm shift” in the packaging and packing recycling space.

“As e-commerce is beginning to be viewed as an independent distribution paradigm, the related challenges and benefits will provide an opportunity to design a new logistics system that significantly affects the future of packaging,” says a new AMIREPEN report authored by Kyla Fisher of Three Peaks Sustainability and Bob Lilienfeld, Senior Director Communications at the Institute.

“[But,] as e-commerce packaging changes, consideration must be given to the end of life management of those materials.”

While a paradigm shift in the packing industry will likely create new opportunities in the field of sustainability and supply chain optimisation, the duo points out that the resulting waste problem may offset some of the achievements made in paper recycling over the past decade.

“As corrugate rises in curb side collection, it replaces a agging paper stream lost from the decline of legacy newspaper circulations and home delivery,” Fisher and Lilienfeld note. “It also creates more challenges in terms of transportation logistics, as it takes up more space but weighs less in transport.”

The emergence of new materials, which may offer strong protective qualities at a lighter weight when compared to traditional protective packaging, also challenges existing waste streams that are not yet scaled to sort, process or commoditise these materials.

To read more, see page 46 or Issue 11.

*Statista