• Innes McArthur

Return to Sender. Sustainable and Returnable E-Commerce

Updated: Sep 21, 2020

Tired of your home being full of Amazon parcels too? That could soon be a thing of the past!

Admit it - your online spending has gone through the roof since the current global pandemic began and countries imposed national lockdowns. I don’t blame you: what else were you going to do with all the spare time on your hands? Plus, you’re not alone - our monthly online purchasing rates have increased dramatically compared to last year.

The reality is, while we have been frantically buying random items online in an attempt to cure our lockdown boredom, we often overlook the issues posed by e-commerce packaging. Companies like Amazon are notorious for their use of cardboard and plastic packaging, which have devastating impacts on the environment.

However, while we are seeing an increase in businesses adopting sustainable packaging solutions, it doesn’t answer the issue many consumers currently in lockdown face; where on earth am I meant to put all this packaging? Sustainable or not, packaging from e-commerce retailers (at a time where online shopping has never been higher) is consuming households that are buying much more on the internet. If your home is anything like mine, it is filled with cardboard Amazon boxes, plastic packaging from clothing companies and more.

Thankfully, for you and your cardboard infested home, LimeLoop has come to save us obsessive online shoppers.

Born in California from the idea that there must be a better packaging solution for retailers than the wasteful and harmful traditional materials, LimeLoop emerged almost three years ago with a resolution. Sustainably crafted reusable packaging that is used for more than just one delivery, bringing a refreshing sense of efficiency to a notoriously inefficient industry.

Killing two birds with one stone, LimeLoop’s B2B model offers businesses a recycled and sustainable packaging solution to dispatch their products in which can then be returned by consumers once they’ve received their item.

And with big brands like Toad and Co. proudly flaunting their use of LimeLoop’s packaging (with great success, I may add), could this be the future of e-commerce packaging?

Standing the Test of Time

If you’re as frequent an online shopper as I am (and that’s pretty frequent), then you’ll know that cardboard and plastic are the retailers’ favourite packaging solution. After all, why wouldn’t they be? They’re cheap and produced in great volumes, en masse. But they are also limited to single usage, making them highly inefficient.

Purposefully staying clear of these materials however, LimeLoop opts for solely sustainable resources to manufacture their product. Their packaging solution is up-cycled from billboard vinyl and recycled cotton. This not only makes it a sustainable solution, it also means it’s far more durable than the traditional materials (funnily enough, we happen to have a great article right here all about the sustainability issues posed by cardboard and plastic).

LimeLoop claims that each parcel has a predicted lifespan of 10 years, roughly 200 uses per package. Compare that to the popular single use materials like cardboard and plastic and it’s really a no-brainer. What’s more, when the packaging’s lifespan runs out, it can easily and quickly be recycled into a new package - while a lot of plastic can take up to 1000 years to biodegrade.

But what makes LimeLoop special? They’re certainly not the first company to try their hand in the recycled and reusable packaging market. Instead, LimeLoop’s innovation is in their ability to help businesses incentivise their consumers to actively take part in successfully operating a reusable eco-system for e-commerce delivery and packaging. But how does it work?

Return to Sender

Let’s start at the business level. LimeLoop’s model allows companies to rent their zipper packages to replace the plastic and cardboard solutions both businesses and shoppers have become accustomed to. Pretty straight forward, right?

Retailers then send out their products in the reusable packaging. Once consumers receive their delivery, they can attach the free return sticker to the exterior of the parcel and then return it to the retailer through the mail. Not only does this let businesses operate a far more efficient delivery system in terms of their packaging, it also allows them to promote a truly sustainable packaging solution to their customers.

This is incredibly popular with current audiences, especially the younger generations who are much more eco-conscious consumers. With Toad and Co. as an example again, consumers are offered LimeLoop as an opt-in delivery method they choose in the checkout. This allows customers to choose whether or not they are willing to return the packaging without forcing them to, meaning Toad and Co. aren’t losing packaging from customers who aren’t prepared to return it.

LimeLoop also offers a snazzy little app for their clients to help integrate their company with what they call ‘Smart Shipping’. The packaging company’s software allows businesses to digitally follow their parcels so they can keep track of their packaging inventory, as well as seeing the positive impact their business is creating, through adopting LimeLoop’s sustainable packages.

On the customer side of things, the packaging provided by LimeLoop offers just as many benefits. Firstly, it gives consumers an easy way to get rid of their packaging instead of driving to the nearest recycling centre or waiting for their recyclable waste to be collected. With the increase in online orders, consumers have found themselves accumulating a huge amount of cardboard packaging. One shopaholic was able to build a ‘second home’ with the 62 cardboard boxes delivered to her during the current lockdown (you kind of have to respect that commitment).

Secondly, it allows your brand to help consumers make a positive difference. Why does this matter, you ask? Well, 88% of consumers want businesses to help them improve their environmental impact on the planet. While many brands have utilised this, as we’ve witnessed a huge growth of sustainable lifestyle companies, their identity as a sustainable business is easily shattered when their organic-based products come in wasteful packaging. LimeLoop have identified this contradiction and are pushing to help eco-businesses become 100% sustainable.

The Future of E-commerce?

But what does the future of LimeLoop and forthcoming reusable packaging companies look like? Will it take off? Or will consumers fail to be proactive and get behind the idea? It could be the case that many do not want to receive an order only to return the packaging it came in.

Perhaps consumers will stick by the most popular packaging solutions, cardboard and plastic, as they don’t require a trip to the post office after each order. However, in the UK, half of consumers said they would be prepared to spend more if it meant they could avoid plastic packaging - suggesting that an option of reusable packaging, that’s free to return, would be incredibly successful.

With a consumer base that’s more eco-conscious regarding the materials that are in the items they purchase, the idea that consumers would be willing to make a trip to the local post office or post box doesn’t seem too outlandish and unreasonable. They might not be spending more for the packaging, so they may be willing to spend some of their valuable time returning the packages, it is made extremely easy for them after all.

LimeLoop and partnered retailers also make it incredibly easy for businesses, and subsequently their consumers, to see the positive impact something as seemingly mundane as their packaging choice has on the environment. In fact, LimeLoop pride themselves on the notion that with every 150 shipments a business makes with their packaging, they are saving 13,000 gallons of water, one tree and three gallons of oil. Businesses using LimeLoop’s packaging and app are able to share this information with their customers who, as mentioned earlier, strive for businesses they shop at to make a positive environmental impact.

Both LimeLoop’s product and business model of opting into reusable packaging helps to address and improve the packaging industry, an industry that has notoriously failed to provide sustainable solutions. The option allows consumers to continue receiving their orders quickly and directly to their door, without creating the issues posed by the wasteful materials traditionally used in e-commerce packaging solutions. It may take time to evolve and change consumer behaviours in order for them to actively return their packaging, but this may very well be the future for the e-commerce world, and they should embrace it.