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The academic expert: “Sustainable packaging management is increasingly important as e-commerce grows”

Retail trends

E-commerce continues to grow and 2018 was another successful year. To look at Sweden, as one example, the e-commerce sales amounted to 77 billion SEK in sales, an increase of almost 10 billion SEK compared to the previous year. But increasing e-commerce also means that more and more goods must be shipped to, stored in and forwarded from different warehouses and distribution centers, which also entails large quantities of waste in the form of packaging material. Daniel Hellström, Senior lecturer in the field of packaging logistics at Lund University in Sweden, gives his views on how to accomplish a more sustainable distribution process.


Significant focus in his research is on finding ways to achieve circularity. It is not primarily about removing packaging material from the "cycle", but rather about how to recycle and reuse it. Mr. Hellström explains: "Here are two flows to take into account. We have the internal flow - in production plants, distribution centers and warehouses - where the companies themselves control the material they use and to what degree it is reused. The second flow revolves around the customers' handling of the packaging material, which the companies themselves have no control over. A growing number of companies are now beginning to understand the value of increased circulation in the internal flow - that it is a resource that can be recovered through recycling."


One of the materials that has been used extensively as packaging material for a long time is corrugated cardboard. Mr. Hellström considers it an excellent material that has great potential to be used for future packaging: "Personally, I believe very strongly in corrugated cardboard. Not only when it comes to packaging for consumers, but also in the industry for secondary and tertiary packaging. Here, I would like to highlight the initiatives taken by IKEA, among others, where wooden pallets have been almost completely replaced by pallets in corrugated cardboard. The cardboard can also be adapted to the product it is used for. Thereby, specific solutions can be applied for respective product, which also leads to a higher filling rate for transports. Furthermore, another advantage is that cardboard is completely degradable."


In pace with an increasing number of products being shipped, it is not only the product packaging, but also the outer delivery packaging that we must dispose of. Therefore, for the consumer, the disposal of the packaging materials will increasingly become a part of the customer experience and a service that companies provide. "If your customer journey ends with a visit at a recycling center, it will influence the overall experience of the purchase. The consumers' views on services have changed radically only in the last decade. For example, we have conducted studies on the parcel pickup machines used in certain types of e-commerce trade and we noticed that the opportunity to dispose of the packaging directly on site was high in demand among the customers. There is great potential for development and over time, e-commerce companies will find more and new ways to offer packaging disposal as a service to meet consumer expectations."


  • Sävsjö, Sweden
  • Sandra Wärenhed, Orwak