It has happened to all of us—you step into an electronics or warehouse store, buy a gadget the size of a keychain, and it is ensconced in plastic packaging the size of a coffin. Stores and manufacturers, however, are getting the clue. Costco has reduced the packaging on many of its products, so instead of those adult-proof plastic vaults, now those camera cards come in cardboard the size of a Frisbee. At least that cardboard recycles—just another positive step.
Electronic manufacturers are learning that buffering its products with less content like foam and cardboard adds to the bottom line. Cisco slashed packaging in a pilot project that saved the company $1.3 million dollars while it eliminated 4 million pounds of packaging. Experimentation with packing materials has increased as well: Steelcase, for example, is partnering with a start-up to grow their own packaging using a fungus. Now Dell has announced that it has slashed over 18 million pounds of packaging the past two years.
Dell’s initiative focuses on a “three C’s” packaging strategy: cube, content, and curbside recyclability.
The first step, or cube, involves the reduction of packages size so that packaging is more efficient, from the size of the boxes that hold a product’s components to the number of items that can be moved per shipping pallet. For example, Dell optimized one of its Inspiron laptop model’s entire packaging so that the number of computers per shipping load increased from 54 to 63—which cut costs by the reduced number of shipments, and spewed less emissions into the atmosphere.
Dell has also boosted the percentage of recycled products that goes into its packaging content. The company increased its usage of recycled foam, and has used more recycled plastic as well. An estimated 9.5 million half-gallon milk jugs went into Dell’s packaging—enough to stretch about 1500 miles. Bamboo, a fast-growing, sustainable plant material, has made its way into Dell’s packing materials mix as well.
Curbside recycling rounds out Dell’s packaging transformation. The company and its customers face challenges on this front: many municipalities do not accept bamboo materials in its recycling bins, but most of it is compostable. It is tempting to toss it into your green waste bin, but check with your local waste management company so you do not get that nasty-gram in your mailbox.
Expect more companies to follow the lead of Cisco and Dell—reducing the amount of packing materials is not just a “feel-good” bullet point to put in a sustainability report—it makes good business sense as well.