The surge in online shopping over the past six months has meant a flood of boxes and bags landing at homes and businesses, bringing with them waves of plastic packaging, most of which ended up in the trash.
To help reduce that plastic tide, international retailer H&M said it replaced the plastic packaging on the outside of delivery parcels with paper shortly before the end-of-the-year shopping crush. The paper packaging was released with the H&M brand in select markets, and also will be used at for women’s ready-to-wear and other products sold under its & Other Stories brand during the early part of this year.
“We are introducing a type of packaging that is better for both the customer and the environment,” Hanna Lumikero, the service owner responsible for H&M Group’s new packaging system, said in in a company statement. “It is yet to be improved, since we need to continue working on replacing the use of plastic throughout our logistics supply chain. But by introducing this new multi-brand packaging, we are creating a huge impact by replacing the outer plastic with a paper solution. This is a small step on a long journey.” The paper packaging also is recyclable.
First to get the new packaging were distribution centers in the Netherlands, the U.K., Sweden, China, Russia and Australia, and for the H&M labels Cos, Arket, Monki and Weekday, according to Women's Wear Daily (WWD).
“We use valuable input from our customers to improve and we know that they are happy about receiving their orders in more sustainable packaging. At the same time, we are committed to reducing plastic throughout our business and value chain. That is why we will implement this packaging solution in all of our brands,” continued Lumikero.
Branding labels on the new packaging also provide each brand with a chance to be “more relevant with messaging,” according to the company.
The fashion industry has long been dependent on plastic for wrapping, hanging, tagging and shipping, although of course the plastic packaging problem is not exclusive to fashion. In just the U.S. alone, 380 billion plastic bags and wraps are used each year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Many of these single-use plastics are not recycled or disposed of properly. H&M’s move comes at a time when companies have a growing number of choices when it comes to more sustainable packaging.
Designing multi-purpose packaging that can be used in retail settings and for shipping is one option, according to Prashant Jagtap, who started the firm Trayak to advise companies about reducing the environmental effect of the packaging. "Question every piece of your packaging to see if it is absolutely necessary," he added.
The Sustainable Packaging Coalition is another source, publishing guidelines and free resources on the characteristics of sustainable packaging.
And sometimes the results of tinkering are surprising. The online thrift store Thredup went back to recycled poly bags for small orders, after comparing the production and shipping costs with paper kraft mailers.
"We found that the poly mailers require three and a half times less energy than it took to make our previous kraft mailers," says Madeline Aaronson, Thredup's Organic Growth Manager. Research indicated that five times as many poly mailers could fit into a shipping truck versus the paper mailers, resulting in lower emissions. "We know there are drawbacks to plastics, but we couldn't ignore the energy savings on poly bags," Aaronson added in the Fashionista article.
H&M is aiming to reduce packaging by one-fourth, while at the same time designing packaging that is reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025. The company says it has already has eliminated much of its plastic packaging from its stores. H&M claims it is also continuing to try to find ways to limit the use of plastics within the logistics supply chain for online shopping and shipping. H&M’s overall approach, concluded the company, contributed to a 4.7 percent reduction in plastic packaging in 2019, a total of more than 1,000 tons of plastic.
Image credit: H&M Group
Ellen R. Delisio is a freelance writer and paraeducator who lives in Middletown, CT. Over the past 30 years, her writing has focused on life science, sustainability and education issues. Ellen is an avid reader and beach-goer.