Carboard boxed

Retailer warns of emissions caused by ‘shipping air’ to UK homes

Image credit: Foto 152134384 © Anastasiia Fomina |

New research from DS Smith has revealed that 85 million cubic metres of air is being shipped to UK homes every year due to unnecessary packaging, at a great monetary and environmental cost.

Every year, 85 million m3 of air – enough to fill 34,000 Olympic swimming pools – is being shipped to UK homes, according to a study commissioned by packaging giant DS Smith. 

This "air-commerce", as the research dubs it, is caused by packaging companies using oversized boxes to package items bought by UK customers, resulting in the use of 9,291 extra tonnes of cardboard – at a cost of £39.4 million and 480 million m2 of plastic tape – an area approximately the size of West Yorkshire.

The use of oversized packaging is not only cost-inefficient but also produces high levels of carbon emissions. 

According to DS Smith, UK 'air-commerce' is responsible for generating 86,071 tonnes of excess carbon dioxide emissions annually, equivalent to nearly 5 million online delivery journeys. 

 “Consumers want less packaging," said Stefano Rossi, DS Smith Packaging CEO. "Raw materials are more expensive than ever, and the benefits for the environment are significant, so now is the time to design the air out of online shopping."

Currently, 167 million packages are sent each month to deliver online shopping.

Overall, the DS Smith survey found that 80 per cent per cent of businesses that sell goods online often use packaging that is not closely sized to the product. However, more than half of the business owners surveyed said they are focused on the recyclability (55 per cent) and reusability (35 per cent) of packaging materials. 

In addition to the environmental impacts of this process, the use of oversized boxes also creates a negative effect on brand perception. When faced with a box with too much packaging, 43 per cent of consumers say it has made them feel frustrated with the retail brand, the company said. 

“Wasted materials are not an accident, waste happens because of choices made at the design stage," Rossi added. 

"The role of design in protecting our planet just can’t be overestimated – we need to adopt a circular approach, designing out waste to keep materials in use for as long as possible."

The survey found that a significant number of consumers would like to receive packaging made from alternative renewable sources (41 per cent), packaging that tightly fits oddly shaped items (32 per cent) or packaging that is waterproof (30 per cent).

DS Smith is working on more than 2,000 'circular' projects in partnership with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation to ensure that air-commerce "quickly becomes a thing of the past". 

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