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Amazon's incredible, disappearing cardboard box

But that will not always be the case. Dealers and carriers work fast to shrink, make lighter and reuse all the extra packaging – and eventually, get rid of it completely.

Machines can now suck almost all the extra space around a set of items to be shipped. Paper mills are experimenting with techniques for bonding wood fibers together in a way that makes cardboard stronger with fewer trees. Amazon itself has an 85-person team dedicated to improving its packaging, and is pushing dealers to pack their products in a way that doesn't require another box on top.

Kim Houchens has led the Amazon team for four years.

"My goal will be zero packaging of any kind over the next few years," says Houchens, "by working with the manufacturers to think through product design and their primary package to ensure that it serves the transport needs all the way to your door so that We did not have excess packaging added during the process. "

Over the past decade, e-commerce has been a welcome increase for the cardboard industry at a time when demand in sectors such as food and manufacturing has stagnated. Shopping online is seven times more carton-intensive than picking up items from a store, According to the product data analysis company Fastmarkets, and e-commerce, 1.3 million tons of container tables in North America generated in 2018 – a jump up from 1.1 million the previous year.

"In a regular supply chain, products are put in blister packs, and then go into a box on a pallet and not leave the box until they are in the store, "explains Derek Mahlburg, an analyst with fixed markets." In e-commerce, the products are shipped to individual houses, so they are taken out of the box very early, and Then they are put in a new box. "

The growing demand has also driven prices upwards," says Mahlburg, and asked dealers and freighters to find ways to waste less cardboard in the packaging – which also has environmental benefits is

Why the US uses so much cardboard

The United States starts from a low baseline in cardboard recycling. Because America has ample space for tree plants, the mass is relatively inexpensive; The country has long been a major exporter of wood fiber. Boxes usually have to travel longer distances than they do in denser places like Europe, and historically boxes made of recycled material have not been strong enough to survive the journey intact.

There has not been much regulatory or consumer pressure to increase recycling rates, and depresses the supply of cardboard to be recycled. In these places, both companies and authorities have imposed much more ambitious sustainability goals. A strict new law in Germany requires manufacturers to report how much packaging waste they generate. JD.com – The Amazon in China – shoots for 100% recyclable or reusable packaging by 2020.

For that reason, only about 35% of North America's total production capacity is geared to recycled content, according to Fastmarkets, compared to 80% in Europe and 93% in Asia.

"It is not so fast to switch factories that have used virgin materials for many years," says Natasha Valeeva, analyst at the Dutch finance company Rabobank. "We expect more pressure from society. The trend is everywhere, but in Europe it can move faster in this direction. It comes from a consumer perspective, but also from regulations."
The US is constantly changing, as paper companies have turned old newsprint factories into recycling plants. They also lower the "basis weight" of cardboard, or the amount of material that has to go into each square foot.

"Corrugated companies are trying to take the paper out of cardboard," said Quint Marini, who runs the UPS packaging lab, working with businesses to reduce shipping costs.

Mills have become better at making recycled cardboard that stands up to wear, so it can be used for longer routes. Mark Schlossman is Chief Operating Officer of Accurate Box, a manufacturer in Paterson, New Jersey, who produces boxes to order for companies ranging from PepsiCo to Jimmy John's. He says that the company's boxes have gone from 70% virgin paper five years ago to 70% recycled today.

"The recycled liner board world has made great strides in recent years, both in availability and pricing, and in the quality of the paper," says Schlossman. "In the boxing world, strength can be very very critical."

However, recycling has one environmental impact – it requires large amounts of water and energy, so shippers are also trying to use less paper in the first place.

In the early days of e-commerce, retailers would order a large number of few sizes of boxes, throwing what had to be sent into one that seemed big enough and filled all the voids with bubble films and styrofoam peanuts.

No longer, in consultation with carriers such as UPS – which in 2015 began charging in volume, not just weight companies shrink their boxes using algorithms that can tell them the exact dimensions they need to get an order from point A to point B.

One of the leaders in "right-sized" packaging is a Salt Lake City company like H ether Packsize, which makes machines as retailers buy and use to create custom boxes in their own distribution locations. Their most advanced machine can automatically determine the optimum size for the combination of items that must fit a box as soon as a customer clicks "buy", and then route all the items on a conveyor that automatically cuts and size the box – no human help is needed.

"It's like an oversized Tetris that's been optimized," said Packsize CEO Hanko Kiessner. It not only saves on cardboard, it also allows shippers to pack boxes closer in their trucks, and requires fewer trips. "When you have many smaller sized Tetris cubes, you have holes, but the holes are significantly smaller," he says.

Amazon as regulator

With almost half of the ecommerce market, the biggest force in boxing is Amazon.

The company buys millions of cans a year from the producers near their fulfillment centers. It employs statisticians, business scientists, computer scientists, materials engineers, and computing engineers – the types of people who design fly wings – to think of boxes, bags and envelopes.

"We put together these groups, probably for the first time in the corrugated boxing industry, to ask," What happens to the corrugation box on the back of a truck? "Houchens says.

The different loads and loads on cans in different parts of the truck told them how much each one really needed to be and how thin his dad could get without putting the product in danger. Amazon also uses machine learning algorithms to monitor feedback coming from customers via call centers and social media about any transit damage, to see when they have gone too far.

Using pilot production lines and partnerships with large tape and adhesive manufacturers, Amazon creates new designs and materials such as suppliers find out how to produce on a large scale – like a completely recyclable plastic-free padded envelope mailer, for example, instead of the standard bubble-wrap-and-paper version, with all this combined, Houchens says they have managed to reduce packaging material with 19% in tonnes during 2016.

Still there is enough room for improvement.

Businesses begin to design e packaging differs for products that are tied to the customer's door instead of a store shelf, so those sold via e-commerce do not need an overcoat at all. Tide detergent now comes in a container that looks like box wine, instead of a plastic bottle shipped in a paper box.

Amazon has the scale and purchasing power to push these changes faster – and has been, since it helps its bottom line as well. In the past year, for big items and those weighing 20 pounds or more, the company has paid retailers $ 1 per package that is easily recyclable and can be shipped without a brown Amazon overcoat. As of August, it will stop paying that incentive and instead charge $ 1.99 per package that doesn't comply.
Dealers are starting to see better packaging as an opportunity too. Shipping in their own boxes also allows the brands to have a stronger connection with their customers, with specialized messages on the inside to enhance the experience of getting something in the mail. They are trying to capitalize on the "unboxing" trend, where people sign up to open a package and post the video to YouTube, making the box much more visible.

"It's a billboard, in a way. The last impression that people have last contact with someone is when the box comes to people's homes," said Rachel Kenyon, vice president of the Fiber Box Association, representing paper-based packaging manufacturers. you can take it one step further by improving the unboxing experience, it is a great opportunity. "

Consumers are tired of garbage

Facilitation, lightweight and offset overcases have reduced cardboard consumption so much that analysts believe that production Want to slow down, even if several items are ordered online, as shopping through the mail becomes more common, businesses and postal services are experimenting with throwing out disposable cardboard containers completely.

Amazon runs a pilot in India where the products are delivered to homes in plastic garments, as it is more common in India for someone to be at home the day to receive them. (Security and privacy is a big reason why overboxes are used at all.) O In China, a company called Suning.com uses shared plastic delivery boxes in 13 cities that can be almost endlessly reused. In the United States, the increase in delivery capabilities may allow box-free delivery to spread.

  US Addiction to Absurdly Fast Shipping Has a Hidden Cost

To all, reusable, paper-based packaging companies make the argument that at least cardboard is better than disposable plastic even when they take steps to make the packaging less harmful to the planet. And consumers point out that they are starting to reject products that come in garbage.

"With social media, you can see that people don't accept certain things anymore, and potentially don't rebook because of it," says Herwin Wichers, marketing director of Smurfit Kappa, a global Dublin-based paper packaging manufacturer serving both Europe and the United States. "Price is still an important part, convenience is still an important part, but the sustainability angle is beginning to affect people's decisions."

At the same time, however, there is still a clear difference between the progress in the United States vs. Europe and Asia, with their stronger government commissions and cultural community reduction.

Without equal pressure, even with Amazon pushing for change, the United States will fight to catch up.

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