Single-use vs. reusable packaging in e-commerce: comparing carbon footprints and identifying break-even points
In Germany, the revenue of e-commerce amounted to over 68 billion euros in 2018 with over two billion shipments being delivered. Up to 30 percent of online retail’s carbon footprint comes from the use of shipping packaging. Reusable packaging could make a significant contribution to resource savings and waste avoidance. Few valid findings exist as to the environmental performance of reusable packaging systems in online retail. It is also difficult to ascertain which factors influence these results most (such as material, weight, number of cycles). Against this backdrop, we examined two types of reusable shipping packaging in terms of their CO2eq emissions: a reusable PP box and a reusable shipping bag. Both were then compared with single-use alter - natives. Compared to a single-use LDPE bag, the reusable shipping bag offered an environmental advantage after a few cycles, with the absolute carbon footprint of both bags depending on whether recycled material was used. For the reusable PP box, the break-even point was between 32 and 81 cycles, depending on which assumptions were made. For a broader application of reusable shipping packaging, further challenges arise, such as the cost-efficient design of return logistics or the optimization of the packaging design.
Document Type: Research Article
Affiliations: Ökopol Institute for Environmental Strategies | Nernstweg 32-34 | 22765 Hamburg | Germany | +49 40 3910020
Publication date: October 15, 2020
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