Less is more: why consumers demand less packaging

Choosing “lean” packaging is not only an environmentally sustainable choice: it is also a way to respond to a real market demand. This is confirmed by a recent research conducted by the Italian company DS Smith and taken up by Packaging Europe magazine (original article here). The project involved about 2 thousand UK citizens. The results should give us pause for thought:  

  • 43% of respondents say they feel “frustrated” when, upon purchasing a retail product, they come across a box with excessive packaging;  
  • 41% admit to preferring packaging made from sustainably sourced materials; 
  • 30% would like waterproof packaging 
  • 32% say they appreciate packaging modeled after the shape of the contained object. 

This last point is particularly relevant because it gives rise to the phenomenon of so-called “air commerce“: you will have happened to order a small, perhaps irregularly shaped item online (such as a gym dumbbell or a tube of extrastrong glue) and have it delivered to you inside an oversize box, wrapped in paper rags or styrofoam balls to compensate for the gaps. For transportation purposes, these packaging accessories have a slight weight but greatly affect bulk. DS Smith tried to estimate the impact of these ” dead freights.”  

  • 169,291 tons of unnecessary cardboard (because it actually serves to hold air); 
  • 80 million square meters of filling materials (polystyrene, airball etc) 
  • An extra 410 million square meters of plastic packaging use. 

Logistically, it is estimated to be equivalent to about 5 million unnecessary deliveries per year (equivalent to more than 86 tons of CO2 put into the atmosphere unnecessarily).  

Reading these numbers, it comes naturally to think of online marketplaces; but in classic retail, things are not so different. So-called “secondary packaging” is in fact overused for several reasons. A classic example concerns precisely tubes, in almost all their applications. For drugs it is understandable, since they must necessarily contain the package insert. But even toothpastes, sauces such as mayonnaise and pâte, but also many cosmetic creams, hardly show up on the shelf without a box.

The ever-present “cardbox” is adopted mainly to give products greater visibility and make it easier to stack them! There is certainly also a protective function, especially with regard to deformable aluminum tubes: just touching them leaves a mark that resembles a dent, and an “ungainly” appearance does not entice purchase. However, this is only a matter of appearance: the product inside is perfectly safe. But then wouldn’t it be wiser to work to change the consumer mindset? After all, a “dented” tube is an indication of sustainability: it means that the material it is made of is aluminum, which being 100 percent infinitely recyclable truly deserves the “golden palm” of sustainability.  

It was tried back in 2019 by blogger Alan’s Theory, who launched the #noboxtoothpaste mobilization to urge people to buy toothpaste without cardboxes: the hated cardboard n-box, in fact, ends up in the trash as soon as they get home, and this despite the fact that it affects the price of the product. The initiative dates back to before the pandemic, but today it is powerfully relevant again, given the scarcity of raw materials and the resulting price hike.  

Something fortunately is changing, and we see it even in the small things, such as counter displays in which tubes appear in neat vertical rows. Online and Offline, alternatives exist, and it is finally time to adopt them.   

Changing habits pays off twice: to the environment and… to the wallet!  

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