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Smart Tips for Eco-friendly, Cost-effective Shipping

3p Contributor | Wednesday November 30th, 2011 | 0 Comments

Shipping is the lifeblood of the modern economy, vital for businesses to stay active and meet the demands of their clients.  Often, in the rush to get products out, shippers will overlook practices which may be considered greener, for shipping practices that are easier because “it’s the way it has always been done.”  In a world of limited resources, this is an attitude that businesses will have to get away from.  It will become ever more important to choose environmentally-friendly shipping practices while also keeping costs down.  Here are a few tips in the right direction.

Choose the right size shipping container

Sometimes, shippers find themselves limited by the size of boxes they can use to ship their products.  For example, they can have a product that is about 2 cubic inches, but their smallest box is a cubic foot.  This equates to 1,726 cubic inches of wasted space.  It also equates to a lot of extra cardboard as well as extra packaging material inside to keep the nut, or bolt, or whatever it is from bouncing around.  The importance of having the right size shipping containers in stock is crucial for preserving resources and cutting costs.

Choose sustainable packaging materials

Recycled cardboard and paper for shipping are available for the same price as brand new materials.  Available recycled materials include corrugated boxes, paper & plastic mailers, packaging papers and cushioning, and padded mailers.

There are no laws in the United States mandating the use of such materials.  However, the European Union has passed a measure in 1994 known as the Directive on Packaging and Packaging Waste (94/62/EC).  This directive harmonized actions taken by EU nations to promote reuse and recycling and to manage packaging and packaging wastes.  Packaging waste represents 17% of Europe’s municipal waste stream, but this number had previously been much higher.  Similar numbers are likely in the US.  As in Europe, the percent of packaging going to landfills in the US can be significantly cut with the adoption of sustainable materials and remembering to recycle.

Use more durable packaging materials

As important as purchasing sustainable packaging materials, is purchasing materials that will stand up to wear and tear.  From pick up to delivery, the average package will get thrown, jostled, slid, shaken, and perhaps accidentally stepped on.  If the package cannot protect the product, that product will have to be resent, requiring the use of more packaging material.  For businesses to thrive, their products must arrive intact to the final consumer.

Another bonus of durable packaging is their ability for reuse.  A good quality cardboard box can potentially be shipped 5 or 6 times, at which point, duct tape may be required to hold it together.  Therefore, receivers should save the more durable boxes that come in for reuse by the shipping department.

Send items in bulk

Hundreds of individual packages may sometimes be necessary, but if they can be shipped in bulk, costs can be saved in transportation.  It may be economical to wait until packages build up rather than ship each thing as it comes. Trips to the post office can be minimized and special pickups from bulk carriers can be cut down.  Also, multiple items for a single customer can be shipped together in the same container, saving packaging material.

Choose an eco-friendly carrier

Another tip for more eco-friendly shipping may include using a shipping or trucking service that has a good environmental reputation.  For example, UPS is established as one of the largest shippers in the world, with an extensive network of hubs and distribution points.  They are activating a fleet of hybrid delivery vehicles and continuously creating more efficient routes for their drivers.  They are also adopting more efficient work practices and green technology at their distribution centers. And they have an eco-responsible packaging program to counsel companies how to make their shipping containers work harder and greener.   Choosing the right carrier who is green and cost-effective would be a double win for any business.

In the end, individual companies should make their own shipping decisions based on their customer demand and products which get shipped.  However, implementing these tips should help green a business’s image and reduce costs.  Shippers simply have to be aware of them, and conscious of the ecological and economic price businesses and society pay for the disposal of packaging waste and for the emissions from transporting goods.


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