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Circular design principles aim to eliminate waste, save industry billions of dollars

DS Smith ‘Circular Design Principles’ info graph

As pandemic-induced online shopping has boosted demand for boxes, DS Smith, a sustainable packaging leader, has launched its Circular Design Principles, citing company research that shows better packaging design could save the industry $46 billion a year in logistics costs globally. 

New research reveals that consumers are carefully considering company sustainability practices before purchasing, especially when it comes to wasted space. Nearly all consumers (93%) reported they have received packages with wasted space, and nearly three-fourths (73%) have received packages that were twice the size or more needed. All this wasted space has left a bad taste in consumer's minds and wallets, as 54% reported they would think twice before ordering again from a company that had excessive space in their packaging. 

DS Smith developed the design principles in collaboration with the non-profit Ellen MacArthur Foundation, a global organization that promotes a circular economy to reduce consumption, waste and pollution by keeping products in use. The new program helps guide companies in designing reuse and recyclability into packaging. DS Smith recently marked its first successful year of collaboration with the Foundation, and in its second year will be working on a series of activities to further its ambitious circular economy agenda including innovation and circular design projects, training and development of its teams and engagement in its communities.

According to a survey of executives by Forbes Insights and DS Smith, eliminating empty space in packaging can produce big benefits for businesses that ship goods, from scoring significant savings to gaining an advantage over its competition - all while reducing its environmental impact.

About 60% of those surveyed estimate more than a quarter of their e-commerce packaging is empty space, from misshaped delivery boxes to partially filled international shipping containers. DS Smith said that based on its proprietary research, cutting those unnecessary logistics costs would result in $46 billion a year in potential savings for the industry worldwide.

"Sustainability is at the core of every business decision we make, and the issue of wasted space has been a pain point for many years and a key reason we developed our Circular Design Principles," said Mark Ushpol, managing director of packaging at DS Smith. 

"We see design as one of the essential elements of the circular economy and look at packaging through the lens of imagining not only the impact of design on the end user, but also the impact that design has across all stakeholders, from creation of the product to its final destination," Ushpol said.

According to Ushpol, DS Smith's Circular Design Principles provide support for its customers and other members of the packaging industry in their transition to a circular economy that's rooted in smart packaging and logistics initiatives. The five principles are:

1. Protect brands and products - Designers must ensure the packaging protects products and all the resources invested in them. Damaged products from poor packaging have an economic and environmental impact.  

2. Use no more materials than necessary - Optimizing the use of packaging materials saves resources and reduces waste.

3. Design for supply cycle efficiency - Developing an end-to-end approach that considers every step of the way, including storage and warehouse optimization, customers' factories, packaging lines and the layout of products within boxes for stacking in delivery vehicles. 

4. Keep packaging materials in use - Quality, durability and recyclability are key to keeping packaging products and materials in use for as long as possible. This means maximizing the use of the fibers and recognizing the value beyond the primary function.

5. Find a better way - Challenging ourselves and our customers to develop circular packaging solutions.

E-commerce, which has spiked amid the coronavirus pandemic, is a major contributor to the empty space design problem. DS Smith research found that on average, empty space ranged from 18% for clothing and footwear to 64% for glassware. 

In another example, DS Smith research determined that shipping containers sailing from Asia are 24% empty and cutting that empty space could save 122 million tons of carbon dioxide from being emitted into the atmosphere each year.

Ushpol said DS Smith - which recently expanded operations and now has 16 manufacturing, paper and recycling facilities in North America - has been working closely with customers to deliver optimized packaging solutions, thanks to the Circular Design Principles.

"Nearly two-thirds of consumers report they consider company sustainability efforts before making a purchase. By utilizing our new design principles, businesses can help drive the circular economy while gaining substantial financial savings, improved sustainability, and a better customer experience for all," said Ushpol.

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