Thinking outside the box

August 2019—This is the question Amazon is asking: Why do we have to ship things in boxes when they’re already in boxes? We’re still designing packaging as if we’re in the 20th Retail Store Century instead of increasingly an e-Commerce Century.

Kim Houchens has led that Amazon team for four years.

"My goal would be zero packaging of any type over the next couple years," Houchens says, "by working with the manufacturers to think through product design and their primary package, to make sure that it serves the needs of transportation all the way to your door so that we don't have redundant packaging added during the process."

Of course, that would save them a lot of money and eliminate a lot of jobs. But I’ve talked to someone who worked at an Amazon fulfillment center and it wasn’t a lot of fun. The time to pack each box was measured in seconds.

Cardboard is recyclable, of course, but according to this article, the US is doing a particularly pitiful job of it, due to a number of factors: cheap pulp, long distances, and factories geared for virgin fiber.

For those reasons, only about 35% of North America's total manufacturing capability is geared toward recycled content, according to Fastmarkets, compared to 80% in Europe and 93% in Asia.