Aishwarya Ramesh

Amazon's green initiative ditches packaging - missing a physical touch point without boxes?

Products that are shipped without the packaging include tech accessories, home and home improvement products, shoes, luggage, and more.

Amazon's sustainable packaging initiative is making its way to Indian homes now. In 2019, Amazon India had announced a slew of initiatives to make its delivery chain more eco-friendly.

In June 2020, Amazon announced that it has eliminated single use plastic from its packaging. Instead, the e-commerce giant uses paper to cushion the contents of the package to ensure that they don’t get damaged in transit.

In a blog post, the company mentions that in September 2019, it had pledged to meet this goal in an accelerated timeframe by June 2020. It is part of its effort to build an environmentally sustainable supply chain.

The packages now sport 100 per cent plastic-free and biodegradable paper tape, which was introduced in 2020. Last June, Amazon India also announced that it has achieved an integral milestone towards minimising packaging waste across its supply chain by expanding its India-first initiative, Packaging-Free Shipping (PFS), to over a 100 cities in the country.

Amazon claims that PFS is a sustainable packaging solution in which customer orders are shipped in their original packaging without any additional packaging, or significantly reduced packaging. Amazon had first launched PFS in India in June 2019 in nine cities. Within a year, the company has been able to successfully expand this program to more than 100 cities.

Since PFS expanded to encompass more cities, more than 40 per cent of the orders shipped from Amazon India’s fulfilment centres are now free of packaging, or have little to no packaging. With PFS, multiple customer orders are secured and transported in reusable tote bags during deliveries.

The blog post also mentions that the PFS works with a specific algorithm. It applies the PFS system to orders based on parameters, like the location of the customer, distance the order has to travel, and the category of product ordered. Amazon also uses machine learning algorithms to adjust packaging protection depending on the product and transportation conditions.

Products that are shipped without the packaging include tech accessories, home and home improvement products, shoes, luggage, and more. Liquids, fragile items, and personal care products that need additional protection during transportation, continue to be shipped with packaging.

Phone case delivered without a box
Phone case delivered without a box

“At Amazon India, we are aggressively working towards building innovative and sustainable packaging solutions, which will help us minimise waste. We have been working with several brands to provide e-commerce friendly packaging to further reduce use of secondary packaging,” said Prakash Kumar Dutta, director, customer fulfilment and supply chain, Amazon India.

Household goods delivered in. a reusable box
Household goods delivered in. a reusable box

“The expansion of PFS to 100 cities within a year is a testament to our commitment towards sustainability. We continue to expand this initiative, while ensuring safe and secure deliveries of customer orders,” Dutta added.

Talking about the initiative, Ashwini Deshpande, co-founder and director of Elephant Design, mentions that she is glad the over-packaging is being checked and reduced.

“I welcome the move to deliver essentials in crates. BigBasket has been doing this ever since it started. Not just that, its fruit cartons used to have a clear message that one could return them to the delivery person during next delivery. It has probably stopped that initiative due to lockdown restrictions. But I am sure it will be brought back at an appropriate time.”

Ashwini Deshpande
Ashwini Deshpande

She adds that with increasing reliance on e-commerce in lock-downs, it's likely that companies have exceeded all estimates of cardboard and ink usage and the damage it causes. "Paper maybe recycled, but ink doesn’t get recycled that easily."

She acknowledges that a box was a good branding touch point, but the one that was being discarded in a moment. “I don’t believe it will impact brand recall to remove that as it is replaceable by the envelope or tag or even a tape,” she concludes.

Ashutosh Karkhanis, Creative Head, Open Strategy & Design explains that Design works best when you throw constraints at it. "The old paradigm of packaging design was built on brand identity, trust, experience etc. With the kind of wastage that packaging today creates, we are long overdue in making sustainability a core consideration and constraint in packaging design.

Ashutosh Karkhanis
Ashutosh Karkhanis

"Amazon, with its massive footprint, taking the lead is a great move towards sustainability becoming the default principle around which we imagine packaging. Packaging was invented to solve a few problems, now it needs to be re-imagined to account for the biggest problem that the world faces today.”

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